When you notice skin disorders or hair fall that indicate a nutritional deficiency, do you pop-in a multivitamin and move on? Take the time to understand what a nutritional deficiency is and you’ll find that in most cases it’s an adequate diet you need, as opposed to a pill!
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body’s development as well as for disease prevention. These nutrients are not produced by your body, but they are derived from your diet. When your body is deprived of these essential nutrients, you can fall prey to common ailments, digestion problems, stunted bone development, and even mental disorders.
Think it’s time to take a closer look at what’s on your plate? Let’s break down the kind of food and nutrition you need at every phase of your life.
Women’s Nutritional Needs During Puberty and Teenage
It might be a surprise but teenagers and adolescents do need a low-fat diet. During this stage in a woman’s life, hormones typically go into overdrive; and hormones are fat soluble, meaning they bind to the fat and stay there. In essence, the more fat you consume, the more you store up on hormones, thereby increasing your chances of hormonal imbalances. This could, in the long run, lead to conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
A low-fat diet, on the other hand, can help keep your hormones in check. A low-fat diet does not mean a no-fat diet, either. While unhealthy fats can damage your system, depriving your body from essential fats can also lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Calcium is yet another important nutrient that the body needs to stock up on at this stage. Calcium intake till the age of 25 years will help build a woman’s ‘bone bank’ for life. Between the ages of 28-30 years, the calcium stored in the body will amass to strengthen the bones. Post this age, any calcium intake will only serve to sustain this bone mass, but not add to it, which makes calcium-rich food a mandatory part of your diet.
Your diet must include healthy source of dietary fat found in olives, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, avocado and olive oil. Other foods with necessary fats and calcium are green vegetables, fortified cereals, milk, cheese, eggs, pulses, citrus fruits and oily fish.
Nutritional Needs in Your 20s
Apart from calcium, folate and iron are other important nutrients during your 20s. Folate is essential for producing and repairing DNA, which is the genetic material of cells. Women require about 0.4 mg of folate every day. It is recommended that women who plan for a pregnancy must pay additional attention to their folate needs as it can protect the foetus from birth defects. Folate-rich foods are spinach, broccoli, lentils, and avocado. Women looking to conceive are also advised to take a synthetic form of folate in the form of a multivitamin.
Iron is a wonder mineral that transfers oxygen to muscles, improves metabolism, helps with mental concentration and is also much needed to produce hormones as well as connective tissue. Women need 18 mg of iron every day, almost twice as much as men, to offset iron loss due to menstruation. Rich sources of the mineral can be derived from red meat, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, spinach, raisins and prunes.
Nutritional Needs in Your 30s
Protein and magnesium are vital in your 30s. In your 30s, age-linked muscle loss will slow down your body’s metabolism. You would notice that the same eating pattern from your 20s is likely to cause rapid weight gain. This means your calorie needs per day have declined. If you take up an exercise program, focus on strength training and also eat enough protein to help mitigate the muscle loss.
Here the focus should also be on what not to eat: avoid calories from refined starchy foods, packaged food and snacks, and excess sugar in beverages (packaged juices) and foods. Don’t forget your iron, calcium, and folate requirements, which continue to be essential nutrients for your body.
Magnesium is yet another vital mineral in your 30s as it helps in generating energy for your body, in maintaining strong bones, and in regulating blood pressure (BP) and blood sugar. A few sources of magnesium include nuts, yogurt, spinach, and whole grains. Processed food is stripped of magnesium in the process of refining, which once again lays emphasis on wholesome foods as a nutrient-source.
Women’s Nutritional Needs During and After Menopause
The nutrient supply needed for your body in your 40s and further is plenty: antioxidants, calcium, Vitamins C, D, E and B12. Foods rich in vitamins C and E and antioxidants help ward off free-radicals, which contribute towards aging and several chronic diseases.
Food sources for your Vitamin C include red and green pepper, kiwi, broccoli, citrus fruits, tomato juice and strawberries, while Vitamin E is abundant in almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, sunflower oil, and wheat-germ oil. Dietary antioxidants are found in beta-carotene rich fruits and veggies like apricots, sweet potato, carrots, and green vegetables. Apart from soaking in a bit of sunlight every day, other sources of dietary Vitamin D are milk and fatty fish. Read more about Vitamin B12 deficiencies here.