It’s no surprise that women have different nutritional needs than men. Hormonal changes that occur with menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause alter a woman’s daily need for nutrients such as calcium, iron and folate.
The fact that women are at unique risk for osteoporosis, breast cancer and weight-related problems also influences what foods we should eat — and when — for optimum health. Tailoring food intake to keep up with a woman’s changing body can prevent vitamin deficiencies, unwanted weight gain and help guard against chronic diseases. Do you have questions about these or other dietary health issues? Click here to consult with a Registered Dietician.
The following strategies will help you eat healthfully across the decades:
IN YOUR 20’S
Women in their twenties are still building bone density and should focus on establishing a strong nutrition foundation for the future — starting with calcium, folate and iron. By age 30, peak bone mass (the maximum amount of bone a woman will have) is achieved.
Meeting daily calcium requirements (1000 milligrams) helps strengthen bones and lower the risk of osteoporosis, and research suggests that a high calcium diet might also ease symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) including mood swings, fluid retention, food cravings and cramps!
To meet these calcium needs, consume two or three daily servings of milk or fortified milk alternatives (one serving equals 250 ml of milk or unsweetened soy beverage, 175 ml of yogurt or 45 grams cheese). Other foods that add a fair amount of calcium to your diet — along with plenty of nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals — include canned salmon (with bones), calcium-set tofu, legumes, nuts and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, rapini and bok choy.
To keep bones healthy, women aged 19 to 50 should get 400 to 1000 IU of vitamin D3 daily too. Since there are very few food sources of vitamin D, a supplement is recommended year-round.
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At this stage it’s also important to ensure you achieve the recommended amount of folate (a B vitamin), especially if planning a pregnancy. Consuming 400 micrograms of folate each day from leafy greens, lentils, asparagus, fortified grains and a multivitamin helps prevent neural tube defects and birth defects, which affect a developing baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Menstruating women need 18 milligrams of iron per day to help sustain energy, concentration and mood. (Vegetarians need an extra 14 milligrams to account for reduced iron absorption from plant foods). Good sources of iron include red meat, enriched breakfast cereals, whole grain breads, dried fruit, legumes, tofu and nuts. A daily multivitamin with minerals will also help women meet their daily iron needs.
IN YOUR 30’S
A woman’s metabolism starts to slow down in her thirties due to age-related muscle loss. To help keep weight steady, women need to eat less and exercise more.
For every year after 30, women require seven fewer calories per day. In other words, by the age of 40 women should be eating 70 fewer calories each day than she did at 30. Trim unnecessary calories from sweets, sugary drinks and refined (white) starchy foods while still emphasizing foods rich in folate, calcium and iron. Continue to take a multivitamin and vitamin D supplement.
Magnesium requirements increase in the early 30’s to help the body maintain enough of the mineral. Women need 320 milligrams daily to help maintain strong bones, healthy blood pressure and guard against heart disease.
Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit, spinach and green peas.
IN YOUR 40’S
During this decade, women begin the transition into perimenopause, the five to ten year period before the onset of menopause.
While vitamin and mineral requirements remain unchanged, women in their 40’s should concentrate on choosing nutritious foods to minimize perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia, and to maintain good health. A Medisys Preventive Health Assessment is a great way to get a total picture of your current health and optimize your healthcare plan for the next stage of life.
Your 40s is also an ideal time to fine-tune your diet to reduce saturated (animal) fat, refined sugars and sodium. Consume no more than seven alcoholic beverages per week. Limit caffeine to 400 milligrams per day or less if you suffer from sleep disturbances. (An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 100 to 175 milligrams of caffeine). Incorporate more whole grains, oily fish, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Adding foods rich in phyto (plant) estrogens such as tofu, soy beverages and soy nuts may help some women ease hot flashes too.
Many adults have inadequate intakes of magnesium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. Ready to make a change? Click here to join the four week micronutrient challenge today.
IN YOUR 50’S AND BEYOND
Most women reach menopause around the age of 50 and then enter post menopause, the phase of life when osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer risks increase. (Menopause occurs when 12 months have passed since a woman’s last menstrual period). At the age of 50, calcium requirements increase to 1200 milligrams daily, and in some cases, women may need to rely on a calcium supplement to ensure they meet daily needs. Speak to your dietitian about supplementing safely as research suggests that too much calcium through supplements is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk.
After 50, women should be getting 800 to 2000 IU of vitamin D3 each day too.
Aging affects vitamin B12 status, a nutrient needed for healthy nerves and blood cells and the production of DNA. Studies suggest that up to 43 percent of people over 50 don’t produce enough stomach acid to absorb B12 properly from foods. To meet the recommended daily intake of 2.4 micrograms, adults over 50 are encouraged to take a multivitamin supplement, or eat fortified foods such as soy beverages.
While you can’t prevent aging, eating right and staying active can help women feel energetic, prevent weight gain and maintain good health throughout a lifetime. Looking for nutrition advice adapted to your needs and lifestyle? Click here to learn more about our nutrition services.