Women’s nutritional needs change as they do
As a woman’s body grows and changes, so do her nutritional requirements.
According to a recent clinical-practice guideline published by The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), created in partnership with The Dieticians of Canada, Canadian women need life-stage specific nutritional guidance to achieve best health.
Before a girl starts her period she will experience her largest growth surge roughly two years after puberty begins. This and subsequent growth increase her nutritional needs. At the same time, adolescent girls become more body image conscious, which can spark an interest in dieting. This may also coincide with a time when girls are increasingly responsible for nourishing themselves— like making or buying their school lunches.
As nutrition during the adolescent years sets a foundation for health later in life, it is important that parents and caregivers continue to supervise and engage adolescent girls on the topic of nutrition and provide guidance and intervention when needed. The highest prevalence of eating disorders is among adolescent girls.
Special attention should be paid to calcium (RDA 1300 mg/day), as needs are highest during this life stage but not likely to be met.
There are links among fertility, weight and diet. Good nutrition, healthy lifestyle, healthy body weight and avoidance of harmful substances optimize fertility and improve general pre-pregnancy health. On the other hand, when energy-demand is too high, as in too much exercise, or energy supply is too low, as in eating disorders, the body suspends reproduction in favour of more essential functions in the body. Obesity increases the risk of menstrual abnormalities and ovulation dysfunction.
Before conception health experts advise women to maintain a healthy body weight, in part, by eating the right amount of nutrient-dense foods. Special attention goes to folate (folic acid), which decreases the risk of certain birth defects and protects against some women’s health conditions like anemia.
For all women, even those who don’t plan to have children, experts say they must pay attention to meeting requirements for calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and folate as many Canadian women don’t get enough of these nutrients.
Despite popular misconceptions about eating for two, pregnant women only need slightly more energy from nutrient-dense foods. During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, from about three months onwards, one to three extra servings of foods from the food groups outlined in Canada’s Food Guide are sufficient to meet increased calorie needs of 340 and 450 respectively.
Special attention should be given to folate, iron and vitamin B12. Vitamin supplements are recommended to help women meet their increased nutritional needs during this time however only one daily multivitamin should be taken to avoid a dose of vitamin A that is harmful to a fetus.
While hydration is important to all women, lactating women need to drink even more fluids. Lactating women should aim to drink 3.8 litres of water daily, which is about 1.5 litres more than for teens and 1.1 litres more than for adults. Calorie needs are also higher during lactation.
Breastfeeding infants exclusively until six months is recommended and women need an extra 330 kcal daily for this. For months six through 12, that number goes up again to 400 kcal.
Special attention should be paid to getting enough omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D (RDA 600 IU).
Menopause and Beyond
Menopause is a time of many changes for women. As women approach and enter menopause, bone density decreases, metabolism changes, muscle mass and strength decrease more rapidly, and many women find they gain more weight around their midsections compared to their earlier years.
Experts recommend that women meet their requirement for calcium (RDA 1200 mg) and vitamin D (RDA 600-800 IU) by spreading intake throughout the day; increase protein intake to 1 to¬ 1.2 grams daily per kilogram of bodyweight; get regular cardiovascular and strength-training exercise to preserve bone mass and muscle; and aim for low-glycemic carbohydrates.
For more information, please visit HerNutrition.ca