Let’s talk about what we need!
Okay, so for sooooo many things in the health world, we preach “eat a well-balanced diet”. And, sure, well-balanced for both men and women should be pretty standard, but there are some key differentiators with female compared to male nutrition. Of course, there’s the biological component. Women have different hormones and therefore different developmental needs, at all stages of life. Speaking of life, women are the ones who carry it! But then there’s also the emotional aspect. Perhaps if you share a house with a women, you’ve come to know that Ben & Jerry’s might be the only thing stopping you from flying daggers at a certain time of month. But what if I told you, the food, and the types of food that women eat, can mitigate some of those hormonal outcomes? Now I have your attention 😉
Too often, nutritional studies have been based on male subjects, neglecting the unique needs of women. From puberty and onward, women enter various stages of hormonal needs. While the specific needs of each woman varies, here are some overarching nutritional needs specifically unique to women:
Iron, Folate, Vitamin D… oh my!
- Iron needs are higher when a woman is pregnant, but lower after menopause. Iron is often associate when red meats, chicken, turkey, pork, or liver. However, there are a variety of plant-based foods high in iron like beans, lentils, fortified whole grains, kale, or spinach. Keep in mind these are better absorbed with foods that have vitamin C like, berries, oranges, or tomatoes.
- Folate is often associated with women who are pregnant, but is necessary for all women of childbearing age. It can be consumed from foods like oranges, leafy greens, and certain legumes, but a supplement may be necessary for pregnant or nursing women, whose needs are higher.
- Vitamin D can’t be discussed without also discussing calcium. Calcium helps keep bones strong and prevent osteoporosis and can be consumed from plant-based foods like tofu, tempeh, and other soy products, bok choy, sesame seeds, and leafy greens. Also, yogurt, cheeses, and other milk-based foods. Vitamin D sources include some plant-based enhanced beverages like almond milk or yogurts, and salmon, and eggs. Also, 30 minutes of sunshine daily will get your daily limit. And ICYMI, your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium!
- Magnesium is another co-vitamin and helps absorb calcium absorption. You can find this in green veggies, seeds, cucumber, halibut, and summer squash.
But what about supplements?
Supplements, vitamins or not, are all the crave. It’s a multi-million dollar industry. And while it may seem like vitamins are a fail-safe, they cannot replace a poor diet. You can’t put a bandaid on a broken bone.
Calories aren’t always less
If you missed the BMI blog, caloric needs were calculated by sampling a large population of white men. But what about the rest of us? Women are not just little men. And sometimes, that means we eat more! No, I’m not talking when we’re “feeding for two”, but sometimes our energy expenditure and bodily functions require us to fuel more, and that’s okay!
I can eat my way out of PMS?
Perhaps not out of, but away from. There are certain foods that will prevent PMS symptoms or help them in the long-term like:
- reduced sodium intake
- iron rich foods
- increased carbs during cycle
- reduced sugar, alcohol, and caffeine intake
- increased omega-3’s
And this is just scratching the surface. We haven’t even talked about things like endometriosis, PCOS, or other hormonal differences. Reality is, we’re all different, but if you’re interested in finding out how to support your health, as a woman, consider consulting your PCP along with a nutrition coach or RD.