This Women’s Day, celebrate your health!

Nutrient requirements of women vary significantly from men’s; here are the 5 important things that women must have in their diets.

Every year, the 8th of March is celebrated as ‘International Women’s Day’ the world over and apart from a couple of award functions acknowledging successful women, some “feel-good” articles lauding the contribution of women, a few advertisements in the newspapers and wishes from friends and colleagues, there isn’t anything special about this day for most women!

Pic: wikimedia commons

Women today manage to do a balancing act between their professional lives and being a mother, wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law. This definitely fills us with pride that we are able to handle home and work so smoothly-a pat on our well deserving backs. But in all of this, the one thing that is being neglected is the woman itself. Sad but true!

Women from time immemorial have been known to be the sacrificing ones and this has stayed on in the psyche even today, especially among Indian women. We tend to focus on the family but somewhere along the way, we tend to lose ourselves in all this. Today, women definitely know what they want, but how many know what their bodies need?

This Women’s Day make it different from the ones in the past- be a little selfish and focus on your diet, your health and your body.

Did you know that a woman’s nutrient requirements vary significantly from men’s throughout life? Every nutrient plays an important role but here are five of the must have nutrients for women:

1. Iron: Several studies have shown that around 50% of Indian women/ girls are anaemic. Iron deficiency anaemia is common among women because of heavy menstrual bleeding, pregnancy, poor eating habits, crash diets and low dietary intake of iron. Symptoms of anaemia are unexplained tiredness, weakness, a pale skin tone, dizziness, brittle nails, irregular heartbeat and menstrual cycles, numb or cold hands and feet and frequent headaches.

Sources: Make sure to include iron rich foods like liver, chicken, fish, mutton, egg yolks, palak and other green leafy vegetables, nuts and dry fruits, pulses and dals (kalu and bele), soy products like tofu and nuggets/granules, peas, jaggery and foods made with jaggery like chikki, till unde (sesame laddu), avalakki/ poha, sprouts and even watermelon.

Though iron found through animal sources (haem-iron) is better absorbed by the body, including adequate amounts of vitamin C by squeezing lime on your palyas (sabzi) or salads, drinking some lime or amla juice, eating vitamin C rich fruits like guavas, oranges or mosambi with the meal can help in absorbing the iron found in vegetarian foods (non-haem iron).

Note: Avoid drinking tea or coffee along with your breakfast or meals as these contain tannins that reduce the absorption of iron from the meal.

2. Calcium: Most people tend to believe that calcium is important only for kids during their growing years. The truth is that even adults need to get adequate calcium and women especially require more of this nutrient than men. Most women focus on calcium only during their pregnancy and for some time during lactation but calcium is required to strengthen the bones throughout life. Not getting the required amounts on a daily basis will result in brittle bones (osteoporosis) later on in life. This is most commonly seen in post-menopausal women when they experience repeated fractures with simple falls. Studies have also shown that adequate calcium in the diet can reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and in some cases even breast cancer.

Sources: My 5 year old son once asked me if drinking milk was good for bones, why he doesn’t see “big-people” (read as mom and dad) drinking it!!! I explained that “big-people” (adults) aren’t fussy eaters and other than milk, calcium can also be got through curd, buttermilk, soybean, badam, sesame/ till seeds, green leafy vegetables like dantina soppu, methi, nuggekai soppu (drumstick leaves), pulses and dals and our very own ragi. You can even choose to be a role model for your kids and drink a glass of milk (skimmed) with them. Ragi can be used regularly in the form of mudde, kanji or dosas. For those who don’t have the time to cook ragi, you get ragi flakes that can be eaten like cereal for breakfast. There are a few brands like Kwality Ragi Flakes or Swastiks Ragi flakes, available in local supermarkets like Food Days.

3. Vitamin D: For calcium to be absorbed properly the body requires vitamin D.

Source: Also known as the sunshine vitamin, the best way to get it is by exposure to sunlight for about 15-20 minutes per day. Sounds simple, but surprisingly many Indians are reportedly deficient in this sunshine vitamin. With changing lifestyles and the fact that Indians are obsessed with the concept of “fair-skin”, women today feel that the sun is their enemy. Step out during the morning rush hour and you’ll see young girls and women covered from head to toe – long sleeves/gloves, socks, a scarf or dupatta covering the head and face and a pair of sunglasses (or an umbrella). Apparently this modern day “armour” is to protect the skin from the sun and pollution!!

4. Folic acid: A very important B vitamin required by women of child-bearing age as it helps in preventing neural tube defects during the first weeks of pregnancy (even before you realize that you are pregnant). For this reason, women planning to start a family are prescribed folic acid supplements by their gynaecologists so that when they conceive there is enough folic acid for the development and growth of the baby. Recent studies now suggest that folic acid is important not just during the child-bearing ages, but also later on to prevent strokes and heart disease.

Sources: Green leafy vegetables especially palak, eggs, peas, kabuli channa, liver, peanuts, brown rice, oranges and ladies finger.

5. Omega-3 fatty acids: It is an essential fatty acid that is required by the body for various functions like building cell membranes in the brain and controlling blood clotting. Gynaecologists now encourage pregnant women to take Omega- 3 supplements as it is believed to be good for the development of the baby’s brain. Besides this, it is also believed to be helpful in preventing heart disease, strokes, cancer, depression and arthritis.

Sources: Fish like sardines (mathi), mackerel (bangude), walnuts, flaxseeds (agase beeja), pumpkin seeds, palak soppu, soybean oil. Flax seeds can be made into a tasty chutney podi (roast the beeja (seeds), then powder in a grinder with garlic, red chili powder and salt) or ground and added to foods like salads, dosa batter, or mixed with wheat flour while making phulkas.

Try to focus on eating a balanced diet – that way you’ll get all the nutrients that are required by the body. Besides taking care of your diet, you need to also make sure that you exercise regularly and get a health check-up done periodically. It’s time to take charge of our health, because if we don’t, no one else will!

As Michelle Obama puts it nicely, “As women, we must stand up for ourselves, as women, we must stand up for each other. As women, we must stand up for justice for all.”
And oh, I almost forgot – Happy Women’s Day!!

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