At Best10, we believe that women are superheroes and should be celebrated all year round.
Being a woman can be fun, rewarding and empowering, but it is not easy (don’t worry gents, we’re not saying that being a man is a walk in the park, either). Women go through several different life stages, each presenting new challenges and lessons in resilience. This blog will go through these different stages, giving practical nutritional advice to ease the transitions and highlighting the extraordinary physiology of the female body.
Whether you’re planning to conceive/adopt, are pregnant, have just had a baby, are or aren’t breastfeeding, are going through menopause or are ageing, the best way you can celebrate yourself is through self-nourishment and self-care. So often, women put others before themselves, which may be instinctual. But, as the world is beginning to learn, the only way to take care of others is to take care of yourself first. This can mean many things. Whether it’s running a bubble bath, getting your nails done, going for a walk in nature or chatting things through with a psychologist; caring for your mental wellbeing is as important as nourishing your body with healthy food – every day.
The phenomenal relationship between the gut and the mind has only just started to gain the spotlight it deserves in recent years. However, we’re sure you don’t need a scientist to tell you that the food you eat affects your mood, the way you feel and your longevity! Food can affect hormones, which in turn affect mood, but what’s very interesting is that the gut lining acts as one of the first lines of defence against harmful things. The area of the membranes in your gut and the genitourinary tract is the size of two tennis courts (woah!). Can you imagine what happens to your body, mind and immune system when this protective layer is not in optimal condition? The harmful things have a field party (or a tennis party). The best way to protect this lining is through proper nutrition throughout the lifecycle. With an optimal immune system and healthy mind, you’re bound to tackle everything a busy woman faces throughout your lifecycle.
Healthy Food = Happy Gut/Mind = Superwoman
We understand that this is often easier said than done. Life is not straightforward, and you can’t be a superwoman all the time. But let’s take a moment to go through some key nutrition recommendations for the different stages of your life to make things as easy as possible.
Please note that this is just a general guide, and that you should always consult a professional.
It’s always best to ditch the fads and myths and go back to the basics of a healthy and diverse diet (ie eat the rainbow). A healthy and diverse diet contains foods from all food groups, with a special emphasis on non-starchy vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates (whole grains), protein foods, dairy products, and healthy fats. Examples of complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables (with the skin on) and minimally processed whole grains such as brown rice or wholewheat bread. Examples of protein foods include lean red meat (without visible fat), poultry (without skin), seafood, soya, split peas, beans, lentils, and eggs. Examples of healthy fats include unsaturated vegetable oils such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Foods and beverages high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium should be avoided.
Mix this knowledge with portion control, intuitive eating, and movement, and you’re good to go! If you’re unsure of what your portion sizes should look like, chat with your Best10 expert.
In the past few decades, there has been an explosion in research reports related to the effects of nutrition and fertility. Nutrient intake, calorie intake, and body fat all influence fertility, as they affect the hormones involved in the reproductive process and the environment in which the egg and sperm develop. Both undernutrition and overnutrition affect fertility, and improving a nutrition-related problem can generally improve infertility. However, it is always best to speak to a health professional if you are concerned, and note that there are many other things that can affect fertility.
Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and selenium are needed to protect the cells of the reproductive system. Again, eat the rainbow, as these are found mainly in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables. It is also important to correct an iodine or iron deficiency, avoid alcohol and smoking, and control blood glucose levels while trying to conceive.
The first 1 000 days of a child’s life (from conception to two years old) is the most critical period to ensure adequate nutrition and growth of a child. This means that it’s very important to nourish your body during this time. Generally, women need to gain 11 – 16 kg in pregnancy, but this can differ depending on your starting weight. Nutrient requirements do change throughout pregnancy but for the most part, needs are met through consuming a well-balanced diet. Folate is an especially important vitamin during pregnancy as it helps prevent congenital abnormalities. Calcium is an important mineral needed for your baby’s skeletal growth. Your doctor should give you a prenatal supplement which will cover all these needs. Some other things to consider include consuming enough fibre and water (to prevent constipation), avoiding alcohol (to prevent foetal alcohol syndrome), and quitting smoking (to prevent birth defects). Also, have meals that are satisfying and that you enjoy – this is a beautiful time and should be celebrated. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, we recommend seeing a dietitian.
If you’ve just had a baby, you would be aware of the different infant feeding options available. If you are breastfeeding, you will need an extra 300 – 500 calories a day (or an energy-dense snack like a peanut butter smoothie). Generally, you do not need to limit or avoid any specific foods while breastfeeding, but should rather focus on eating a healthy and diverse diet, and on holistic health (while again, avoiding smoking and alcohol). It is always best to chat to a healthcare professional first, especially if you’re worried about certain foods such as fish (high in mercury) or caffeine, an allergy, or if you’re a vegan. If you’re not breastfeeding, it is still essential to focus on consuming a healthy balanced diet and to be kind to yourself. Your doctor might prescribe a postnatal vitamin supplement.
Peri-menopause / Menopause
The decline of oestrogen production brings peri-menopause and continues through menopause. This is generally a time when women have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. Bone mass starts to decrease, excess fat is stored and the gut microbiome starts to change. This might sound scary, but don’t worry, the female body is resilient and strong. Because of these changes, you may need to eat less than what you usually do as your metabolism slows down. Focusing on eating the rainbow, and consuming foods rich in fibre, calcium, vitamin D, antioxidants, magnesium, and iron is the way to go. Your doctor might prescribe a calcium and vitamin D supplement, especially if you are on hormone replacement therapy. Once again, nourish your body with a well-balanced diet with little to no alcohol and smoking (if you haven’t noticed yet, there is definitely a common theme!).
The ancient Latin quote “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“a sound mind in a sound body”) is often used to emphasise a whole-body approach to health, and we agree. Quality of life from the perspective of a healthy body and a healthy mind are equally important. Food plays a valuable role here. You may have one or more of the following chronic conditions: high blood pressure, osteoporosis, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, gastric disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc., and even though these are all very different, they can generally be improved through diet and movement. The treatment of these conditions through food is too vast to cover in this blog post, but there are some things that apply to all elderly women. Remember to nourish your body at least three times a day to get in enough calories, vitamins and minerals – it is easy to forget! Drink plenty of water and eat fibre-rich foods. You may need to set reminders to drink enough fluids, as the elderly have a diminished sense of thirst. This can lead to dehydration and constipation. Lastly, eat the rainbow to get in those powerful anti-ageing antioxidants. If you forget to eat or are struggling with variety, a multivitamin is probably a good idea.
To close, can you believe how phenomenal your body is, to undergo all these changes throughout your lifecycle? You’re stronger than you think. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or incapable, take a moment to celebrate your body through nourishment, because wow – you deserve it!
By Best10 Head Dietitian Lauren Walsh