A Nutrition Guide For Women Through The Decades

Leslie Beck, RD See Bio

Copyright © Leslie Beck, 2016.

Leslie Beck, Registered Dietitian, is the best-selling author of 12 books on nutrition and health, writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail, and is a regular contributor to CTV News. Based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto, Leslie offers one-on-one diet coaching, personalized meal plans and evidence-based recommendations on the use of nutritional supplements. www.lesliebeck.com

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It’s no surprise that women have different nutrition needs than men. Hormonal changes that occur with menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause alter a woman’s daily need for nutrients such as calcium, iron and folate.

The fact that women are at unique risk for osteoporosis, breast cancer, and weight-related problems also influences what foods a woman should eat, and when, for optimum health. 

Tailoring food intake to keep up with a woman’s changing body can prevent vitamin deficiencies, unwanted weight gain and help guard against chronic diseases.

While the basics of healthy eating are essentially the same for women and men, unique nutritional needs arise for women as they age. The following strategies will help women eat healthfully and meet nutrient needs across the decades.

20’s

The main focus for women in their twenties should be building a strong nutrition foundation for the future.  And that starts with calcium, folate and iron.

Women continue to build bone density in their twenties. By the age of 30, peak bone mass – the maximum amount of bone a woman will have – is achieved.  Meeting daily calcium requirements (1000 milligrams) helps strengthen bones and lower the risk of osteoporosis.

Research suggests that a high calcium diet might even ease symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) including mood swings, fluid retention, food cravings and cramps.

To meet calcium needs, consume two or three daily servings of milk or milk alternatives. (One serving equals 250 ml milk or unsweetened soy beverage, 175 ml yogurt, or 45 grams cheese.) Other foods that add a fair amount of calcium to your diet – along with plenty of nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals – include canned salmon (with bones), calcium-set tofu, legumes, nuts and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, rapini and bok choy.

To keep bones healthy, women aged 19 to 50 are advised to get 400 to 1000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Since there are very few food sources of vitamin D, as supplement is recommended year-round.

At this stage it’s also important to ensure you’re getting the recommended amount of folate (a B vitamin), especially if planning a pregnancy.  Consuming 400 micrograms of folate each day from leafy greens, lentils, asparagus, fortified grains and a multivitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, birth defects which affect the brain and spinal cord.

Menstruating women need 18 milligrams of iron per day to help sustain energy, concentration and mood. (Vegetarians need an extra 14 milligrams to account for reduced iron absorption from plant foods.)

Good sources of iron include red meat, enriched breakfast cereals, whole grain breads, dried fruit, legumes, tofu and nuts. A daily multivitamin with minerals will also help women meet daily iron needs.

30’s

A woman’s metabolism starts to slow down in her thirties due to age-related muscle loss. To help keep weight steady, women need to eat less and exercise more.

For every year after 30, women require seven fewer calories per day. In other words, by the age of 40 women should be eating 70 fewer calories each day than she did at 30.

Trim unnecessary calories from sweets, sugary drinks and refined (white) starchy foods while still emphasizing foods rich in folate, calcium and iron. Continue to take a multivitamin and vitamin D supplement.

Magnesium requirements increase in the early 30’s to help the body maintain enough of the mineral. Women need 320 milligrams daily to help maintain strong bones, healthy blood pressure and guard against heart disease.

Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit, spinach and green peas.

40’s

During this decade, women begin the transition into perimenopause, the five to ten year period before the onset of menopause.

While vitamin and mineral requirements remain unchanged, women in their 40’s should concentrate on choosing nutritious foods to minimize perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia and to maintain good health.

Fine-tune your diet to reduce saturated (animal) fat, refined sugars and sodium.  Consume no more than seven alcoholic beverages per week. Limit caffeine to 400 milligrams per day or less if you suffer sleep disturbances. (An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 100 to 175 milligrams of caffeine). Incorporate more whole grains, oily fish, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Adding foods rich in phyto (plant) estrogens such as tofu, soy beverages and soy nuts may help some women ease hot flashes.

50’s and beyond

Most women reach menopause around the age of 50 and then enter post menopause, the phase of life when osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer risks increase. (Menopause occurs when 12 months have passed since a woman’s last menstrual period.)

At the age of 50, calcium requirements increase to 1200 milligrams daily. In some cases, women may need to rely on calcium supplement to ensure they meet daily needs. Speak to your dietitian about supplementing safely.

After 50, women should be getting 800 to 2000 IU of vitamin D3 each day.

Aging also affects vitamin B12 status, a nutrient needed for healthy nerve and blood cells and the production of DNA. Studies suggest that up to 43 percent of people over 50 don’t produce enough stomach acid to absorb B12 properly from foods.

To meet the recommended daily intake of 2.4 micrograms, adults over 50 are encouraged to take a multivitamin supplement, or eat fortified foods such as soy beverages.

While you can’t prevent aging, eating right and staying active can help women feel energetic, prevent weight gain and maintain good health throughout a lifetime.

For more information about Leslie’s nutrition and weight loss programs at Medisys contact lesliebecknutrition@medisys.ca or phone (416) 926-2698.


Copyright © Leslie Beck, 2016.

Leslie Beck, Registered Dietitian, is the best-selling author of 12 books on nutrition and health, writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail, and is a regular contributor to CTV News. Based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto, Leslie offers one-on-one diet coaching, personalized meal plans and evidence-based recommendations on the use of nutritional supplements. www.lesliebeck.com

 

 

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