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Are women at risk of a nutrient deficiency?

Get to know your nutrient needs and choose the right foods to support your body.

As you move through life and grow older, your nutrient needs can change. Your nutrient needs can also be affected by the lifestyle choices you make and yourgender.

Compared to men, women experience unique life stages (such as the menstrual cycle and menopause), which can alter the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

Women should be aware of their unique nutrient needs to eat the right foods to support their bodies. Want to make sure your diet is right for you? Let us look at some nutrient needs across the life course of a woman:

Nutritional needs of younger women.

Iron

Before you reach menopause (between the ages of approximately 12-50 years), it is normal for some women to have a monthly period. Because of this blood loss, your need for the nutrient iron is typically higher than for men or older women.

If you are a woman who falls into this age group, it is essential to include some good iron sources in your diet. The richest source of iron is red meat, but for those following a vegan and vegetarian diet, you can also find iron in seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and pulses. Consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables, can help your body absorb iron from your foods [2].

Experts have found that over a quarter of women may currently have dietary intakes of iron lower than their needs [5].

If you are experiencing symptoms of an iron deficiency such as tiredness, shortness of breath and pale skin, Medichecks offer a simple finger-prick Iron Home Blood Test. You can do this test in the comfort of your own home, and our expert doctors will interpret your results and guide you with any dietary choices you may need to make.

Calcium

You may have heard that calcium is an essential nutrient for maintaining healthy, strong bones.

Women keep building their bone mass until around 30 years - so calcium intake is essential to help younger women achieve the strongest bones possible. Despite this, about 1 in 10 adult women eat less calcium in their diet than their need [5].

Calcium is particularly essential for younger women because, compared to men, women are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis (fragile bones) as they get older [5]. The best calcium source in our diet is dairy products. But you can also find calcium in foods such as nuts, broccoli, calcium-set tofu, dried fruit and calcium-fortified plant milk.

Nutritional needs for women in pregnancy.

Healthy eating during pregnancy is essential for supplying all the nutrients your body and baby need to stay healthy. However, you do not necessarily need to follow a special diet during your pregnancy. On the whole, a healthy, varied, and balanced diet will support you and your baby’s healthy growth. But there are a few extra nutritional needs that you may want to consider:

Folate and vitamin D

Two nutrients are particularly important during pregnancy. These are folate and Vitamin D. Our skin can make vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight - but we don’t get good quality sunlight in the UK. Vitamin D is essential for both you and your babies bone health. So, experts advise that pregnant women or planning to become pregnant take a daily supplement of Vitamin D (10ug).

Experts also recommend that women trying to conceive or pregnant also take a folic acid supplement (400ug) and eat a diet containing lots of folate-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes and oranges. Folic acid is essential for your baby’s health because it supports the development of a healthy nervous system and prevents neural tube defects (NTDs).

If you are currently pregnant and want to check that your body folate levels are optimal, Medichecks offer a simple Folate Serum Home Blood Test. Our team of expert doctors can report on your results and direct you towards making any lifestyle or dietary changes, should you need them.

Nutritional needs for women in menopause.

Calcium

As women enter menopause, levels of oestrogen within the body fall. These hormonal changes increase the rate of calcium loss from bones and increases the risk of developing osteoporosis (a health condition that makes your bones weak and more likely to fracture).

Including calcium-rich foods in your diet, such as dairy, tofu and dark leafy green veg, can help protect against this calcium loss.

Other nutritional changes you may want to make around this time is eating more foods containing isoflavones (a special compound found in some plant foods) such as soy milk and miso. These compounds can help to reduce the incidence and severity of hot flush symptoms [4]. You may even want to consider a supplement: look for supplements containing 18.8 mg of genistein (the most effective type of isoflavone). Always speak to your GP before taking new supplements.

Nutritional needs for older age.

Protein

In older age, appetite decreases along with calorie needs. Alongside this, many experts and nutritional professionals believe that protein needs increase in older age, to preserve muscle mass and strength. This means that many older adults do not consume enough protein.

Sarcopenia is a breakdown of muscle and results in an increased risk of falls and fractures. If you are an older adult who is experiencing poor appetite, it is important to try and eat foods containing protein little and often throughout the day. Good sources of protein include nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, dairy products and meat.

Another nutrient important in older age is Vitamin D. Older adults can be less mobile than younger counterparts which means they can have less sunlight exposure. Also, older adult’s ability to convert Vitamin D in the skin decreases, meaning they are at increased risk of a deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of fractures in older age.

Everybody should take the recommended 10 ug of supplemental vitamin D daily and try to get some sunlight exposure. If you are concerned about your vitamin D level, and want reassurance you are within the normal range, Medichecks offer a Vitamin D (OH) Blood Test, which can measure the amount of vitamin D in your blood. Our expert doctors will report on your results and guide you in your next steps should you need to take them.

References

[1] https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/pregnancy-diet.html [2] EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), 2014. Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to vitamin C and increasing non haem iron absorption pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 12(1), p.3514 [3] https://www.nof.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/what-women-need-to-know/ [4] aku, K., Melby, M.K., Kronenberg, F., Kurzer, M.S. and Messina, M., 2012. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause, 19(7), pp.776-790. [5] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/lifestages/women.html?showall=1