Women's bodies have different nutritional needs to support the physical and emotional changes throughout her lifecycle.

Nutrition essentials for women at different life stages

Good nutrition is one of the most critical pillars of a healthy life. However, it’s even more important for women, who go through multiple life stages since their bodies undergo several changes. Whether it is the pre-pubescent stage or the childbearing months, women have specific nutrition needs that govern their overall health and quality of life.

Key growth years

The pre-pubescent to adolescent years are when the female body undergoes a drastic transformation. From the physical changes, such as breast enlargements, increase in height, and getting the first menstruation to the emotional changes, the macro and micro nutrition delivered to the body can significantly impact the overall development.

Adequate protein supply is required to build stronger muscles, which can either be obtained from lean meat, such as chicken and fish as well as vegetarian sources like cottage cheese, broccoli, flax seeds, etc. Along with this, women also need abundant dietary fat for new cell formation since cell membranes are essentially made of fat. In order to get through daily activities and ensure constant focus at school and college, the right amount of carbs need to be ingested by the body. This provides energy to the brain as the brain cells don’t store glucose and get their energy through dietary carbohydrates that disintegrate into glucose in the bloodstream. To avoid packing on the pounds, ensure that the diet is rich in complex carbs, such as oats, barley, quinoa, potatoes, which have more fibre and take longer to digest, thereby providing energy for a longer period and not getting stored as glucose that's synthesised to fat.

When it comes to micronutrition, it’s essential to gauge if the body is getting enough vitamins and minerals. Calcium and potassium help to strengthen the bones and maintain energy levels and are found in banana, apricot, dates, prune, raisins, and grapefruit.

However, note that the calcium absorption depends on the level of vitamin D in the body, and if there is a vitamin D deficiency, as is common in Indians, it could lead to lower absorption, and hence, brittle bones.

Additionally, the amount of energy produced by the body also depends on a B vitamin known as Pantothenic acid. Its deficiency can greatly impair the amount of energy produced, leading to constant fatigue and lethargy.

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During the childbearing stage, a woman is eating for two, and hence it’s critical to ensure that she gets all the right macro- and micro-nutrition. This ensures not just her healthy growth, but that of the fetus too. However, it’s important to understand that pregnancy is not a ticket to eating everything in sight. Drastic weight gain puts undue pressure on the body, especially the lower half, leading to joint issues. It can also lead to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

At this stage, iron supplements become highly important as the blood volume in pregnant women increases by double during pregnancy. Typically, pregnant women are advised to consume somewhere around 27 mg of iron daily. Folic acid is another essential supplement for better health of the fetus and can either be taken through a diet rich in leafy vegetables or through supplementation.

Calcium too shouldn’t be neglected as it promotes better bone formation in the fetus and strengthens the mother’s skeletal system. Additionally, good fat, such as Omega 3 is crucial for better brain and nerve tissue development. Since the body cannot produce these fats, women need to consume these through their dietary intakes by including salmon, anchovies, sardines, and oral fish oil capsules.

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Significant emotional changes mark the post-menopausal stage and taking ginseng can help with the mood swings. Physically, the body requires less iron since menstruation has stopped, but higher doses of calcium to avoid age-related bone deterioration.

At this stage, women should up their fluid intake as the kidney’s ability to flush toxins out of the body decreases. Plus, the body doesn’t absorb B12 vitamins as well, which could result in a tingling and pricking sensation in the hands and legs, fatigue, depression, etc. Vitamin B12 supplements are, therefore, highly recommended for menopausal women.

While this article highlights the overall macro and micro nutritional requirements of a woman’s body, it’s best to seek advice from your doctor for tailor-made solutions. Have a look at the unique features offered by different health insurers and pick the one which is best suited to your needs.