Women's Health – Issues, Factors & Foods
Whether she is a homemaker or the ‘boss girl’ at work, multitasking comes naturally to women. Juggling many roles, sometimes time zones and schedules too, their days are mostly packed with a lot of action. The never-ending “to-do” list always keeps women in‘ rushing mode’ in order to get one or the other thing completed. As the work piles up, health takes a back seat. And this stressful and fast-paced lifestyle can spell bad news for women’s health.
As things get overwhelming and start spilling out of hand, feeling stressed, worn out, or completely caved in is a natural outcome. The overworked adrenal glands may start affecting your nervous system, reproduction system, digestive system, brain, and emotional health. The obvious signs could be hormonal imbalance, anxiety, depression, poor digestion, interrupted sleep, premature skin aging, and excessive weight gain, etc.
Women’s health is something that has been taken granted for years. Is there a way to prevent this? What are the key foods and habits that help boost women’s health? While we can’t separate stress from the modern lifestyle, we can definitely help our body tackle it with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Although health and nutrition are subjects relevant across genders, women’s health looks at some unique issues such as menstruation, pregnancy, hormone issues like PCOS and PCOD ( Also read: Natural ways to get Inositol for PCOS & PCOD) and menopause, and other lifestyle health problems in general.
Culturally, women are conditioned to put their needs secondary, and they often forget to care for their health as much as they do for people around them. The food we consume affects our physical, cognitive, and social health as each food item is a combination of different nutrients and minerals that constitute the elements needed for our organs.
Even though we get calories from all foods we eat, choosing the right proportions and the correct food type makes the difference to women’s health. Most lifestyle diseases can be controlled, and some even treated by switching to healthier diet choices.
As women, our diet becomes more significant when it comes to developing another life inside us during pregnancy. Post-delivery, breastfeeding and nurturing the little one becomes the priority. Diet plays a vital role in the overall women’s health care strategy.
From puberty to menopause, a woman's body undergoes many changes, causing even emotional stress. A balanced healthy diet would help to soothe the irritability that comes with hormonal issues as well as fortify women’s health.
IDEAL DIET FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH
One of the easiest and most effective health tips for women’s health is a balanced diet. The fact that women have more fat naturally in their bodies than men, which makes their metabolic activity different.
Planning a balanced healthy diet that improves metabolism and immunity is ideal for women’s health care. According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, a balanced diet provides adequate proportion of essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins and water, necessary for maintaining good health.
A HEALTHY BALANCED DIET FOR WOMEN
A balanced diet should include energy-rich foods which are predominantly carbohydrates and fats; body building foods that are proteins and protective foods such as vitamins and minerals. A holistic approach to women’s health is firmly rooted in balanced diet.
An average 5'2 woman needs 1600-2400 calories a day, with a low count for those who are less active and a higher bracket for those who lead an active lifestyle. Fixing your diet to keep your energy levels high is one of the best health tips for working women. Women’s health care starts with a balanced diet, and here’s is what it must include:
For an average woman, 45 to 65% of their calories should come from carbohydrates, which means women consuming 1600calories per day need approx. 180 to 260 gms and women targeting 2400 calories require 270 to 390 gms of carbohydrates a day from whole wheat, bajra (pearl millet), brown rice, ragi, jowar, and the like.
Protein needs vary; however, as a generic rule, the CDC recommends a 10-35 percent of daily calories come from protein.
Non-vegetarian sources include egg, fish, meat, poultry and vegetarian sources are lentils and whole grams.
To maintain a healthy weight and prevent unhealthy cholesterol and heart disease, nutritionists recommend a low-fat diet style, i.e. 25-35 percent of total calories for 2000 calorie intake, roughly calculated to 56 to 77 grams of fat.
Fibres are essential to control blood glucose, proper digestion and lowering the risk of heart disease. Women between the age group of 18-50 should aim for 25 grams a day, and 21 grams a day for 51years and older—Furthermore, for every 1000 calories, it's ideal to have 14grams of fibre in your diet.
Fruits, vegetables, oats, barley, and legumes provide excellent sources of fibre.
THE IDEAL DAILY CALORIE INTAKE FOR WOMEN
When it comes to women’s health, there are several parameters that factor the ideal calorie intake quantity, and among them are the age, metabolism, levels of physical activity and current BMI, among other factors.
From a general perspective, the preferred quantity of calories for the average Indian woman is 1660 kcal/day.
For girls in the age group of 10-12 years, it is 2060 k/cal per day. For those between 12-16 years, it's 2400 kcal/day; and for adolescents of 16 to 18 years, up to 2500 kcal/day is permissible.
For pregnant women, this calorie count varies, and so do the parameters. The criteria for determining the calories for pregnant women are the trimester they are in, the expecting mom's current BMI, and the desired weight gain goal, as per directions from a consulting doctor. However, on a wide spectrum, usually 300 to 350 calories per month, in addition to the existing calorie intake, which means approx. 1660+350=2010kcal/day.
DIET & HEALTH TIPS FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH
A nutrient-rich meal plan, which is easy to prep and includes all essential nutrients and elements, should help stay active and fit. The key to ensuring that healthy eating is done regularly is to make sure that all three meals are portion controlled and inclusive of all elements. Here are a few diet and health tips for working women:
∙ A portion of carbohydrate is ideal, which amounts to at least 85 gms equivalent of whole grains such as wholegrain bread, chapatti, rice, or oats.
∙ Three servings of dairy products including milk, curd or cheese; or calcium-fortified soy milk.
∙ Protein-rich food of approx. one hundred fifty gms per day is suitable, such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, and seeds.
∙ One-and-a-half to two cups of fruits.
∙ Two to two-and-a-half cups of seasonal and green leafy vegetables per day are essential.
NUTRITIONAL NEEDS OF A MULTITASKING WOMAN
Juggling between work and family, women’s health is a topic that hardly gets an attention it deserves among working women.Though we have come at par with our male counterparts in terms of career, the noticeable physiological and metabolic differences between both make the nutritional needs of women more vital than men.
From puberty through menopause, many bodily changes occur, such as mood swings, reproductive challenges, fluid retention, thyroid disorders, and more that impact women’s health positively and negatively. It would be fascinating to know that common symptoms can reduce simply by incorporating vitamin B6 rich foods in your diets such as broccoli, cauliflower , and cabbage.
Most working women in the reproductive stage of their life have a higher nutritional requirement and very specified macro and micronutrient demand to optimize their full potential. Some of these include vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B9, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and phytoestrogen.
Boosting productivity with the help of nutrition
A healthy diet packed with nutrients offers you the energy and strength to do all the multi-tasking. Great energy, strong immunity, and high productivity are somethings that all women desire and not just working women. Here are some health tips for working women:
Chances of getting sick with lower immunity are less while following a balanced diet.
Keeping the levels of Vitamin D, omega -3, sodium , and iron is crucial since a deficiency of these could lead to mental illnesses. Eating right can thus help improve mental health.
Having a healthy lifestyle increases the overall productivity by improving the physical strength to endure different work challenges. Certain health drinks like herbal tea have proved to improve concentration. Including the healthier options in the diet over-caffeinated drinks brings more alertness. ( Also read: 5 drinks that you can pack for work to boost immunity)
FOODS THAT HELP BOOST ENERGY LEVELS & PRODUCTIVITY
Most women’s health issues can be addressed with a nutrient-rich diet:
∙ Iron-rich Foods
Iron is crucial for women’s health. Due to blood loss during menstruation, women need twice as much iron as men. While men need around 19 mg of iron daily, women need up to 29 mg (or 40 mg if pregnant).
However, this quantity varies with age for women. Just as the pregnancy period requires more iron, post menopause it decreases.
While including iron as part of the diet, pair it with vitamin C rich foods for better absorption. (Also read: What does your blood report say about iron deficiency)
∙ Folate or Folic Acid during the reproductive years
Pregnancy is the most crucial phase of women’s health. More than for the expecting mother herself, folate or folic acid is crucial for the developing baby to avoid congenital disabilities and aid in proper brain and nervous system development.
The folate requirement for women who are not pregnant is 220 micrograms (mcg) per day, which doubles during pregnancy, up to 400 mcg per day. This quantity again increases to 1000mcg per day for twin pregnancy.
Including adequate amounts of food that naturally contain folate like broccoli, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, cabbage is preferable for women who are not pregnant and not tested deficient.Any inclusion of supplements should be post consultation with your doctor.
∙ Daily Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements
Calcium deficiency is prevalent among women post-mid-age. During menopause, women need to increase their calcium intake to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and other calcium-related issues. A decline in estrogen hormone during menopause causes bones to thin faster for women. Additionally, hypoparathyroidism may also arise from calcium deficiency.
For healthy teeth and bones, women need to include calcium-rich foods like low-fat or milk, yogurt and cottage cheese, sardines, in their diet. It's important to note that vitamin D aids in the proper absorption of calcium. Both are needed together, and vitamin D sources include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs, milk, and the like.
DIFFERENT STAGES OF A WOMAN’S LIFE & THE NUTRITIONAL NEEDS
Women's health care needs vary with bodily changes at each stage of life. Here are some health tips for women to tackle common women’s health issues as well as keep the body in perfect shape at every stage:
Teenage years: Girls between 9 to 18 need more calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones. Girls need 600 IUs of vitamin D and 850-1050 mg of calcium each day.
Adolescent years: Adolescents( between 16-18 years) should be encouraged to have iron-rich foods to compensate for menstrual blood loss. It's ideal for pairing iron-rich food such as green leafy vegetables, jaggery and meat, complemented with a Vitamin C like oranges, lemon, lime, and Indian gooseberries (Amla).
Young adults: Women in their 20s and 30s usually work for long hours coupled with erratic work timings to meet tight deadlines and face considerable stress. Along with this stressful environment at the personal and professional front, factors like dining out frequently, consuming junk food or skipping meals with a lack of exercise adds to poor health.
Before and during pregnancy: At this age is when usually women opt to conceive. The nutritional needs increase multifold during pregnancy to support the dietary needs of the child and the expecting mother. Iron, calcium, proteins, folic acid, and other macro & micronutrients should be at the forefront of the diet chart to be maintained at specific levels.
During breastfeeding: Post-delivery, breastfeeding mother needs to keep herself healthy and follow a balanced diet. Not having sufficient nutritional food could potentially interfere with the milk supply. (Also read: Superfoods for Supermoms)
5 COMMON WOMEN’S HEALTH ISSUES
A balanced diet forms the cornerstone for women’s health. Women should eat healthy to reduce the risks of diseases and illnesses.
1. Although there are no specific studies to indicate the nutrition status of working women, the latest National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) report suggests that 50% of all women between the age group 15 - 49 years are anaemic in India. In urban India, 54% of women suffer from anaemia.
2.Obesity and overweight issues are also affecting a larger proportion of women. NFHS-4indicates 20% of women under the category obese or overweight (BMI ≥ 25.0kg/m2). The figure is 15% and 31% for rural and urban areas respectively.
Busy work schedules bring a lack of time to cook food at home. Readily available packaged ready-to-eat or takeaway foods put an additional burden on the already nutrient-deficit platter of women.
Studies suggest that packaged food consumption in India has increased in the last couple of years. Online food delivery platforms have slowly become indispensable. With improved marketing strategies, ordering food has become common today.
3. Depression and anxiety are more common among women than men, and some studies prove that deficiency of certain nutrients like vitamin D and lack of superfoods can be causes of depression.
4. Osteoporosis is common in women post-menopause. The cause of this could be accounted to a decrease in estrogen levels, predominantly due to low intake of calcium and vitamin D-rich foods.Vitamin D increases calcium retention and is needed for bone metabolism.
The easiest source of vitamin D is sunshine. For office goers who are mostly indoors, dietary sources of vitamin D like eggs and oily fish (such as mackerel and sardines).are the next best option.
5. Women are more likely to have urinary tract problems by not having enough liquids and water in the diet. (Also read - Home remedies to beat UTI without antibiotics )
8 FACTORS THAT CAN BREAK A WOMAN'S HEALTH
1. Multiple and frequent pregnancies: It is not uncommon for young adults to have unprotected sex and undergo abortions or opt for frequent childbirth. As much as it is a choice, one cannot overlook that it adds to women's deteriorating health and nutritional status.
2. Lack of nutrition and information on the diet: Deficiencies during pregnancy and breast feeding either due to sheer misinformation or ignorance towards maternal and reproductive health.
3. Levels of stress: Stress-induced illnesses are nearly twice as much high for women as men.Job-related stress has been linked with heart disease, muscle disorders, and burnout. Though nutrition and diet are essential for mental and physical health, the right amount of exercise is significant to tackle stress.
4. Eating while standing: Half eating or eating bare minimum to finish the work in hand is common with busy moms. It's a usual scenario to just nosh over a counter while attending to kids. Eating peacefully by grabbing a chair before digging into your lunch or snack can be beneficial.
5. Nibbling on kids' Leftovers: Yes, calories from kid's leftovers count, and often their food is more fattening like mac and cheese and nuggets. These kid-friendly snacks add up to your daily calorie count.
6. Not planning meals: Women often prioritize others' needs over theirs, leaving very little time to focus on themselves. The issue of women’s health is brushed under the carpet. They mostly eat on the go or do not pay attention to what they should eat as per the nutritional needs of their body.
7. Skipping meals, especially, breakfast: Erratic work timings added to the myriad of other responsibilities often cause women to skip their breakfast which as per nutritionists is the most important meal of the day.
8. Lack of sleep: Compromising on sleep because of work and family responsibilities may impact a woman’s health in more ways than one. Lack of sleep has been associated with hormonal imbalance, irregular menstrual cycle, elevated stress, high blood pressure, overeating and excessive weight gain, etc.
10 FACTORS THAT BOOST WOMEN’S HEALTH
We have already discussed why there is a difference in nutritional needs of men and women. Here are some health tips for women to achieve their ideal diet goal in the simplest ways. These areas easy to incorporate as the new style trend in your wardrobe.
1. Start with portion control: Counting calories of each dish can be a pretty stressful and labor-intensive task and yet one can't be 100 percent accurate. The easiest way to keep a check on overeating is portion control.Additionally, have meals in smaller plates and bowls. Experts say a lot of the second helping food could be for psychological reasons, by switching to smaller plates satisfying the second helping behaviour without additional calorie count.
2. Identify sources of iron: It's essential to consume iron-rich foods to compensate for blood loss during the menstruation period. Add a cup of greens to your curries for a quick and easy fix. Take balanced meals—eating nutrient-dense choices from a variety of food groups.
3. Listen to your body and your satiety cues: Listen to the hunger cues and stocking healthy snack options in prior. On the flip side, stressful or emotional eating is a phase most women undergo, especially during the menstrual cycle. Though a scoop of ice cream does not harm, teach yourself to stop at that.
4. Planning out healthy meals is important: It's essential to focus on personal weight goals and to have a meal plan for the day. Eating consistent meals can help maintain energy levels and prevent becoming overly hungry throughout a busy day.
5. Prepare for breakfast the night before: If you prepare it the night before, there is no excuse to leave for work without it. There are greater chances that you might buy snacks from the vending machine or higher-calorie foods from the cafeteria if you skip breakfast. Start each day with a nutritious breakfast.
6. Do not skip meals: Skipping meals may look easier but it is one of the unhealthiest things that adversely affect your body. It slows down your metabolism, which not just results in weight gain, it also makes the task of losing weight all tougher.
7. Ensure a healthy sleep cycle: Tiredness and fatigue can result in overeating. Eight hours of sleep is vital to rejuvenate. Besides this, you must set a sleep routine which means fixing your sleep as well as wake up timings. This helps in maintaining the circadian rhythm of the body.
9. Exercise everyday: Exercise is an indispensable part of women’s health, and that could even be as simple as going for a walk. Once you get used to it, you can set up a target of 10,000 steps a day for yourself. Exercising is a fantastic de-stressor. It also helps boost your heart health, build bone health and muscle strength and ward off various health issues like blood pressure, obesity, etc.
10. Cut down stress: Too much anxiety and stress can adversely affect your health. There are many beneficial ways to deal with stress, like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, massage, or professional counsellor.
TOP 8 FOODS FOR WOMEN'S HEALTH
1. Whole Grains and cereals
Whole grains provide a complete package of essential nutrients, unlike refined grains stripped of nutrients post refining process.The bran and fibre in whole grain slow down the breakdown of starch into glucose, thereby maintaining a steady blood glucose level.
Fibres in the wholegrain also help to lower cholesterol and move waste through the digestive tract. Complex carbohydrates of whole grains help to keep your weight under control. Pack your meals with a portion of jowar, ragi, oats, bajra for improved health.
2. Milk and Curd
Both milk and curd are an excellent calcium source necessary for your bone health. Curd is suitable for your gut health and proper digestion of food. They also contain potassium and magnesium that are good for your blood pressure.
Adults till age 50 need 1000 mg of calcium per day.Women older than 50 and men older than 70 need 1200 mg, to avoid calcium-related deficiencies.
Almonds & walnuts are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts are low in saturated fat and help to improve good cholesterol. Having nuts instead of meat can help reduce LDL or bad cholesterol. They further contribute calcium, fibre, potassium to your diet, making them healthy protein.
Berries are superfoods that are low in calories and rich in powerful antioxidants like anthocyanins, folic acid and vitamin C. Be it raspberries, cranberries, or strawberries have anti-cancer properties and improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure while reducing oxidative stress. They also help to keep your skin free of wrinkles and make you look ageless.
5. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like mackerel, herring, and wild salmon owe their health-promoting aspects to their high omega-3s and vitamin D content.Omega-3s promote brain health and growth for infants during pregnancy, making it a must-have ingredient for expecting mothers.
The tomato is loaded with the antioxidant lycopene, which boosts the immune system, protects the eyes from light damage, and can fight breast cancer and heart disease. They also provide a great source of folate, Vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K.
7. Green vegetables
You can never go wrong with this one. Green vegetables like spinach are rich in folate, which improves the fertility rate in women.These are also rich in fiber and beta carotenoids. Green leafy vegetables help to improve memory. Some studies suggest that heart-healthy diets have the potential to protect the brain.
8. Beans and Legumes
These are good low-fat sources, and unlike animal proteins, beans provide protein and fibre without the harmful saturated fat. Having beans in your diet makes you feel full for a longer time and not craving to eat unhealthy snacks.