By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.
As a woman, your nutrient needs change throughout your lifecycle. This makes eating a healthy, balanced diet and being aware of nutrients that support women’s health very important. Three key times in a woman’s life where nutrient needs require extra attention are: adolescence, pregnancy and menopause.
The following article outlines some of the key nutrients for women in various life stages.
Teen girls go through a lot of changes, especially physically. During this time, girls enter a stage of rapid growth, where their nutrient needs are at their highest.1
These are some key nutrients for teen girls:
Calcium & Vitamin D: Calcium is needed for building strong bones and Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, so they work together! In Canada, girls between 9–18 years of age do not get enough calcium.1This is an issue because bones form at a fast rate during the teen years.2
Iron: Iron is necessary for delivering, storing and using oxygen in the body to keep us alive. On top of teen girls’ rapid growth that increases their iron needs, the loss of blood during a girl’s monthly period puts her at greater risk of iron deficiency. This is a concern because a lack of iron causes tiredness and affects concentration and productivity.3
Zinc: Like iron, zinc is important for growth and development.4,5 During puberty, zinc requirements increase, making girls more prone to deficiencies. Also, many youth do not eat a balanced diet, and might be missing important sources of zinc.4Click on this link to add some zinc to your day: https://chicken.ca/blog/nutrition/add-some-zinc-to-your-day/.
When a woman is pregnant her nutrient needs are greater.6 It is important for a woman to be aware of nutrients that support her and her baby’s health.
These are some key nutrients for women who are pregnant:
Folic Acid: The body needs folic acid for building DNA. Folic acid is important in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in the fetus. Health care professionals recommend eating a diet rich in folate, as well as taking a folic acid supplement.6
Iron: During pregnancy a woman needs more red blood cells to carry oxygen to her growing baby.7 Iron helps form red blood cells, which makes increasing this nutrient essential during pregnancy. Like folic acid, an iron supplement is often recommended.6
Zinc: Pregnancy marks a time of rapid growth and development for an unborn baby, making zinc a key nutrient. Also, zinc plays an important role in strengthening the immune system, which is extremely important for both mother and baby.
Most women experience menopause in their late 40s or early 50s.8 During menopause, estrogen levels decline which increases the risk of osteoporosis (bone loss), cancer, and heart disease.9,10
The good news? Diet can help prevent some of these conditions.
These are some key nutrients to be aware of during menopause:
Calcium & Vitamin D: Experts recommend that women eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D to lower the risk of bone loss.9 Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often encouraged.10,11
Healthy Fats: Lower levels of estrogen increases the risk of high cholesterol, which impacts heart health.9This makes eating a heart-healthy diet important. Reducing saturated and trans-fats in the diet and replacing them with healthy fats can benefit heart health.9,11
Heart-healthy fats include:
- Monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados, almonds and pistachios.12
- Polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds and almonds.12
Know Your Needs
Eating a balanced diet from Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide can help keep you strong and healthy throughout your lifecycle. All nutrients are important to support good health.
Make sure you know your individual nutrient needs! Contact a health care professional if you would like more information on your specific nutrient needs.
- Health Canada. (2012). Do Canadian Adolescents Meet their Nutrient Requirements through Food Intake Alone?(Catalogue No. H164-112/2-2012E-PDF). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Health.
- Center for Young Women’s Health. (2011). Calcium and Teens: How to Prevent Osteoporosis. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from www.youngwomenshealth.org/calciuminfo.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Iron and Iron Deficiency. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/iron.html
- Gibson, R., Heath, A. & Ferguson, E. (2002). Risk of suboptimal iron and zinc nutriture among adolescent girls in Australia and New Zealand: causes, consequences, and solutions. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 11: S543–S552.
- Office of Dietary Supplements. (2011). Dietary Supplement Factsheet: Zinc. Retrieved November, 16, 2012, from ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
- Health Canada. (2009). Prenatal Nutrition Guidelines for Health Professionals. (Catalogue No. H164-109/3-2009E-PDF). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Health.
- The Royal Women’s Hospital. (2012). Iron and Pregnancy. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from www.thewomens.org.au/uploads/downloads/HealthInformation/FactSheets/English/Nutrition_IronPregnancy.pdf
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. (2012). What is Menopause? Retrieved September 29, 2012, from menopauseandu.ca/what-is-menopause_e.aspx
- Eat Right Ontario. (2012). Staying healthy through menopause and beyond. Retrieved September 29, 2012, from www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Seniors-nutrition/Staying-healthy-through-menopause-and-beyond.aspx
- The Hormone Foundation. (2006). Hormones & You: Menopause and Bone Loss. Retrieved September 29, 2012, from jcem.endojournals.org/content/91/3/0.1.full.pdf
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. (2012). Diet. Retrieved September 29, 2012, from menopauseandu.ca/lifestyle-questions/diet_e.aspx
- Eat Right Ontario. (2012). Facts on Fats. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Facts-on-Fats.aspx