At every stage of a woman’s life, nutrition and regular exercise are the foundations of good health and optimal energy. While an array of nutrients is essential, the following are especially important for women to stay their healthiest. If you are not getting these nutrients, then ask your nutritionist or doctor about supplements.
1. Folic Acid
What it is: ‘Folic acid’ and ‘folate’ are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. Folic acid is the synthetic form of B vitamin found in multivitamins and fortified foods, while folate is the type found naturally in food.
What it does: Low levels of folic acid in expectant mothers can cause neural-tube birth defects in their children and since many pregnancies are unplanned, it is important to have ample folic acid during the child bearing years. Peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women can also benefit from the vitamin because it is crucial for new cell development.
How much you need: A minimum of 400 micrograms (mcg) per day.
Where to find it: Food sources of folate include dark, leafy greens like spinach and colassia leaves (alu), nuts and legumes.
What it is: Calcium forms the basic architecture for bones and teeth.
What it does: Calcium has been shown to promote bone growth and prevent bone loss, which affects millions of women worldwide. Research also indicates that women with a diet high in both calcium and vitamin D were less likely to experience premenstrual syndrome.
How much you need: Before menopause, women need 1,000 mg calcium per day and 1,200 mg after menopause to help offset bone loss that occurs with age.
Where to find it: Calcium-rich foods such as low-fat dairy products, almonds and some greens are the best sources of calcium.
3. Vitamin D
What it is: Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium from food.
What it does: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and it’s crucial for preventing osteoporosis.
How much you need: The current daily Vitamin D recommendation is 600 International Units (IU) for women up to 70. If you are over 70 or pregnant, then aim for 800 IU.
Where to find it: Vitamin D is made naturally in our body. It is produced by the skin from exposure to the sun’s UVB rays. Vitamin D is also found in oily fish like anchovies and salmon and in fish and cod liver oil supplements.
What it is: The mineral that helps the body’s blood supply deliver oxygen to cells.
What it does: Iron is key to maintaining energy levels. All Indian women are prone to anaemia (iron deficiency), regardless of income levels, and should get haemoglobin (iron level indicator) levels checked periodically.
How much you need: Post-menopausal women need 8mg iron per day, while women of child-bearing age and nursing mothers require 18mg. During pregnancy, the recommended daily amount increases to 27mg due to the needs of the developing foetus.
Where to find it: There are two forms of iron: heme iron, found in animal foods such as red meat, fish and poultry; and non-heme iron, found in plant foods such as beans and spinach. Non-heme iron is not absorbed well into the body and vegetarians need to make a special effort to get their iron. Vitamin C rich foods such as tomatoes, capsicum, green chilies and citrus fruits should be eaten with non-heme sources to increase absorption.
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
What it is: Omega-3 fatty acids, a form of polyunsaturated fat, are one of the “good” fats that can only be supplied by diet.
What it does: Omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglycerides, boost good HDL cholesterol, and decrease blood pressure — all of which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
How much you need: 1.1g per day
Where to find them: Fish is the best source, especially sardines and mackerel. Flax seeds also have omega-3 but do not contain the optimal composition as do fish.