What women should eat throughout life.
Throughout her life, a woman’s body goes through various changes from childhood to adolescence, the childbearing years, menopause, and beyond.
During these various life stages, a woman’s body requires different amounts of certain nutrients in order to function at it’s best.
Are you meeting the nutritional needs for your stage of life? Keep reading to find out.
Young girls require nutritious, calorie-packed food to ensure proper growth. Kids need balanced diets that include a variety of foods from the four main food groups: breads, pasta, and cereal for energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals; fruits and vegetables for fiber, vitamins, and minerals; milk and dairy for calcium, vitamins, and minerals; and meat, fish, and eggs for protein, iron, vitamins, and minerals. Foods from the fifth food group (fat and sugar) should be limited.
As a girl reaches adolescence, her body prepares to bear children. As every woman knows, many changes occur at this time. During the teenage years, nutritious food is often low on the list of priorities, but a healthy diet is still crucial for proper development.
The two most important nutrients for adolescents are calcium and iron. Iron is used by the body to create hemoglobin, the substance in the blood that carries oxygen. Once a teenage girl starts menstruation, the loss of blood may lead to an iron deficiency, which can eventually lead to anemia. Hence the need for additional iron in adolescent girls’ diets. Girls at this age need 15 milligrams of iron each day. Foods high in iron include lean red meat, fish, chicken, fortified cereals, spinach, egg yolks, artichokes, and baked beans. Teenage females who suffer anemia may require iron supplements.
Calcium is also vital during the teen years, as the body’s bones are still growing, developing, and becoming denser. Not enough calcium in adolescence may lead to brittle bones and osteoporosis in the future. Teenage girls need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. Good sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, and broccoli.
The nutritional needs of women in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s change due to menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation. The reproductive years require specific nutrients for a women’s health.
Women at this age need plenty of fiber. They should also consume 18 milligrams of iron, 1,000 milligrams of calcium, 500–800 milligrams of magnesium, and 400–1000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D. Sources of magnesium include vegetables and seeds, and vitamin D can be found in sunlight, eggs, oily fish, and margarine.
Once you become pregnant, everything changes. A pregnant woman must not only nourish herself, but her developing baby as well. Eating a well-balanced nutritious diet should take care of this, but there are several key vitamins and minerals that a pregnant woman should be particularly mindful to consume. These include calcium (for the developing baby and to protect the mother’s bones), folic acid (needed for the growth of the baby’s new cells), iron (for the mother’s and baby’s blood), iodine (necessary for the baby’s brain development), zinc (for cell health), and vitamin C (important for the growth of healthy bone, tooth, gum, and body organs). It’s also recommended that pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant take a daily prenatal vitamin to ensure adequate amounts of these nutrients.
When baby arrives, women have yet more nutritional needs. Lactating women must eat nutritious food to produce breast milk for her baby. As with pregnant women, important nutrients when breastfeeding include protein, iron, calcium, iron, and plenty of fluids. A woman should be able to get the nutrients she needs from a healthy, balanced diet, but a prenatal vitamin may be recommended while breastfeeding.
Menopause and Beyond
Dietary guidelines during and after menopause include 1,500 milligrams of calcium, 600 IU of vitamin D, and 8 milligrams iron (post-menopause). High-fiber foods also are recommended to maintain optimal colon health and energy. Also during this stage, vitamin B12 is important for optimal brain function, and can be found in milk, fortified cereal, meat, and fish. And if there are any gaps in your nutrition at this stage, take a daily multivitamin.
Two Power Players
You may have noticed a recurring theme for women’s nutritional needs: iron and calcium. They’re obviously two very important nutrients for a woman’s health. So are you getting enough?