As women, we really tackle it all when it comes to our bodies. First with the start of menarche, for some their life may include pregnancy, and finally menopause. Not to mention the incessant need for diet culture to demand our bodies should fit a certain mould through means of weight loss, toning and exercise. As a result, our bodies grow and develop with each stage in life and this requires specific and tailored nutrition to our body's needs.
Nutrition During Menarche
Menarche is the first day of menstruation. Typically, this occurs around the age of 13 in British teenagers. The average years of Menarche typically last for around 30 years. Without any kind of contraception interventions, the typical gynaecologic cycle interval lasts 21-45 days, this is broken up by up to 7 days of menstruation. During menstruation, the average woman will lose 80ml of blood. A large component of this blood is iron. As a result, many women, post-puberty and of child-bearing age are anaemic, or iron-deficient. The UK prevalence of anaemia is estimated to be 23% in pregnant women and 14% in non-pregnant women. Whereas, the global prevalence of anaemia is estimated to be 38% in pregnant women and 29% in non-pregnant women. Iron deficiency more often than not is diet-related butt can be worsened by heavy-periods.
Iron can be found in plant and animal-based sources. Meat, fish and poultry are the most bioavailable sources of iron in the diet. That being said, plant-based sources also contain iron, they are just not as bioavailable as animal-based sources. Plant-based sources include green leafy vegetables, cereals, nuts, seeds, beans & legumes. Another source of iron includes supplements, try to opt for supplements with at least 14mg of bioavailable iron. When consuming iron supplements or iron-rich food aim to eat them alongside a source of vitamin C as this makes the iron more available for your body to absorb. However, try to avoid consuming iron alongside tannins in tea and coffee, or calcium as this can reduce iron bioavailability.
Nutrition During Pregnancy and Breast-feeding
The post conception diet is not only important for mother, but also for baby. The pregnant mother’s diet is split between the foetus and her own body while they grow. The advice for expectant mothers is to increase quantity and quality of the foods they eat. Focusing on nutrient-dense packed calories, high-quality fats, proteins and carbohydrates. In addition to this, focusing on specific nutrients that aid the development of the foetus, including Vitamin B9 (Folic acid), Iodine, Iron, Calcium, DHA and EPA (omega 3s). Folic acid has long been associated with maternal and foetal health as it said to be used for neural and brain development, which may help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in children. During pregnancy, the mother’s requirement jumps from 200mcg per day to 400mcg per day. Most women account for this increase by taking a pre-natal supplement. Iodine is a newer area of study when it comes to maternal health. Iodine has been shown to contribute to the normal growth and development in children. Studies have demonstrated that mothers with sufficient iodine statuses have children with higher IQs at ages 8 or 9 years.
Calcium is well known to support the development of bones. This is no different in the development of a foetus. Data shows that foetuses will leach calcium for their growth from their mothers bones and teeth if the mother’s diet is calcium deficient. A diet rich in calcium sources during pregnancy are essential for the baby's growth, however, there is a larger increase during lactation where mothers are expected to consume an additional 550mg of Calcium per day above the daily reference value (DRV). Lastly, mother’s are recommend to be mindful of not only the quantity but the quality of fats. Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA have been approved to support foetal brain and eye development whilst breastfeeding. Omega 3 fatty acids are found predominantly in oily fish, but can also be sourced from seaweed, nuts & seeds.
Most women choose to take a pre-natal supplement which covers all the nutrients shown above in one simple tablet a day. In addition to this, some women choose to increase their nutrients through food. This could be increased by consuming more dairy products, green leafy vegetables, oily fish, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
Nutrition During and After Menopause
Menopause is defined as the end of menarche. In the Uk, the average age for the start of menopause is 51 years. Menopause is characterised by a decrease in the hormone oestrogen. With this comes a whole host of symptoms including night sweats, mood changes, hot flushes, problems with concentration and memory. In addition, the reduction of oestrogen can cause changes in bone health, causing fragility and brittleness if not properly managed. At this stage more than ever, being cautious of bone health nutrition is essential. This means prioritising nutrients such as Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc and Vitamin K. All of which have been shown to contributes to the maintenance of normal bones. Also, helps to reduce the risk of falling associated with postural instability and muscle weakness. Falling is a risk factor for bone fractures among women 60 years of age and older. These nutrients can be increased by taking dietary supplements such as the Vytaliving Menopause Support tablets, or you may like to increase food sources such as dairy products, green leafy vegetables, tofu or soy-based products, beans, legumes, and wholegrains.
Some women like to minimise their symptoms in a more holistic and herbal manner using herbs such as sage, dong quai, gotu kola, damiana and black cohosh. Some of these herbs are believed to be effective by providing the body with ‘phytoestrogens’, this is the plant form of oestrogen. Many studies have shown that these herbals help to alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and night sweats.
Diet Culture and Weight Loss
Women have always been held to such high standards in terms of the way their body looks, whilst never prioritising a woman’s health or function. Of course, this is ludicrous considering that the female body is responsible for growing life, as well as facing multiple different phases which can affect women bothe physically and emotionally. Remember that a healthy diet is should be no different to that of a weight loss. Try to consider quality of food over the quantity, try to include a varied diet full of colour and nutrients. The important factor in a healthy diet, is avoiding food restriction and instead nourishing your body for health rather than for appearances. In the wise words of Beauty Redefined ‘your body is an instrument not an ornament’.
Quite simply, the female body is incredible. It is adaptable, powerful and the true source of life. It makes sense that we nourish our bodies to allow them to thrive against every challenge they face. All power to women and their incredible bodies.