When do women's dietary needs change?
Because women are generally smaller than men and have less muscle mass they require fewer calories.
However, women will need more calories during pregnancy (when eating for two), and if a woman decides to breast-feed she will need extra calories and nutrients to produce enough breast milk. Athletic women also need more calories than those with sedentary lifestyles.
Iron for blood loss
Throughout the reproductive years women need more iron in their diet to replace the iron in the blood lost as a result of menstruation. Otherwise they could be at risk of iron-deficiency anaemia. So it is important to eat plenty of iron-rich foods (see Which foods are good for women?).
Folate for pregnancy
During pregnancy, women need extra calories and nutrients and more of most of the vitamins and minerals. The B vitamin folate is very important: an increased intake of folate before conception and in early pregnancy prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies (see Increased needs during pregnancy). For this reason women who are thinking of having a baby, and women who are pregnant, should take a supplement.
New mothers need extra calories and nutrients. A woman's body needs to recover after delivery. Increased amounts of iron and various vitamins and other minerals are vital for returning to normal health.
Calcium for bone health
Breast-feeding is recommended as the best way to feed a baby for the first six months of life. Breast-feeding mothers need a balanced, nutritious diet, not just for themselves but to produce the nutrient-rich milk for their baby. Since calcium is lost from the bones to make breast milk, mothers will need extra calcium. By restoring the lost calcium, they will protect themselves from the degenerative bone disease osteoporosis in later years.
Which foods are good for women?
Folate, calcium, and iron are key nutrients for women. Try to eat foods rich in these nutrients.
Good sources of folate include green vegetables, such as cabbage and spinach, and pulses such as chickpeas and kidney beans.
This mineral is naturally abundant in dairy products, canned fish eaten with bones, and spinach.
Foods that are naturally rich in iron include red meat and offal; spinach; dried fruits; and pulses such as soya beans and kidney beans.
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