Women do not need an entirely different meal plan from men. The basic dietary guidelines remain the same for both genders. However, a woman’s nutritional needs are different at different stages of her life – such as pregnancy, lactation and menopause.
Most often women need to concentrate on three nutrients for their health during these stages – calcium, iron and folate. Excess amounts of tannins, caffeine, alcohol or salt can interfere with the absorption of these minerals.
The balance between deposition and resorption of calcium changes with age. Menopause heightens the rate of bone loss, and therefore, calcium is a concern for women. As long as there is adequate calcium intake through foods and there’s no calcium deficiency, supplementation through calcium tablets may not be needed. Calcium is found in whole pulses (soybean, horse gram, channa, etc.), ragi, dairy foods, green leafy vegetables, fish, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, almonds, etc.
Iron is one of the few nutrients that females between the age group of 10 to 50 require in higher amount than males. Some of the iron-rich foods are dark green leafy vegetables, dates, black currants, rice flakes (aka beaten rice, poha), bajra, meats, soybean. The iron present in meat is easily absorbed by the body but the iron present in plant foods need the help of vitamin C for absorption. So, vegetarians will require lime juice, fruits like guava, berries, citrus fruits, etc., to help in absorbing iron into the body.
Folate plays an important role in pregnancy and lactation, besides many other functions. This B vitamin can be obtained from spinach, cluster beans, lady’s finger, sesame seeds, methi seeds, egg, bajra, whole pulses, etc.
To obtain good nutrition and maintain good health, it is vital to maintain dietary diversity during all stages of a woman’s life.
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