Women & Nutrition

Once physical and sexual maturity have been reached during adolescence, a woman�s size, strength, and general health have to be maintained. This can be difficult given the wide variety of physical, psychological, social, and environmental pressures encountered throughout life. Of all the nutrition-related issues affecting women, body weight often assumes a high priority. Sensible eating patterns throughout adult life, combined with regular physical activity, can help a woman maintain a weight with which she feels comfortable. This strategy may help in reducing the risk of psychological problems, heart disease, and breast cancer. Regular intakes of soya-based foods may also discourage breast cancer, while eating plenty of foods rich in antioxidants may help to delay both the visible and the invisible signs of ageing.


Weight Fluctuation
For many women, life-changing events such as pregnancy, child rearing, and the menopause can affect their weight and how they see their own bodies. Good nutrition and a realistic attitude play important roles in helping to maintain a sensible body weight. Metabolism gradually slows down after the age of 30. Maintaining muscle mass by means of regular exercise helps to limit this process and to control weight if combined with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables; slowly digested carbohydrates such as pasta; lean proteins such as chicken, pork, and fish; and low-fat dairy products.


Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is now a widespread problem. A woman should have 500mg of iron stored in her body, yet many women have just 150mg and some have none at all. In UK average intakes are about 11mg per day, compared with a recommended daily intake of 15mg. Iron is needed for the transportation of oxygen in blood. A lack of it leads to iron deficiency anaemia, causing poor concentration, tiredness, irritability, and hair loss. Heavy menstrual blood loss and pregnancies in quick succession deplete stores of iron even further.

Low bone density
Low bone density is a common problem after the menopause. As levels of the hormone oestrogen fall at this time of life, calcium levels in the bones also decrease. This reduces bone strength, making women prone to osteoporosis and fractures after the menopause. It is essential to maintain good supplies of both calcium and vitamin D throughout life. Diets rich in dairy products, soya substitutes enriched with calcium, fish canned with their bones, pulses, sesame seeds, and tofu provide calcium. Vitamin D is found in eggs, oily fish such as herrings and mackerel, and fortified breakfast cereals, and is also made in the skin on exposure to sunlight. Meats, fish, and foods rich in vitamin C help the body to absorb iron. Tea, coffee, and large quantities of dairy products, when taken at the same time as iron rich foods, lower absorption of iron.

Maintaining Looks
Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain cereals supplies an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that seem to play key roles in keeping the skin, eyes, gums, nails, and hair in good condition. Regular daily intakes may help to combat the physical signs of ageing. Plant oestrogens, such as the isoflavones, behave in the body like human oestrogen. Six to eight hours after foods rich in isoflavones are eaten, blood levels of isoflavones peak, before being excreted in the urine. Dietary intakes must be regular to maintain good plant oestrogen levels.

Isoflavones are similar to the human oestrogen, oestradiol. They can latch on to oestrogen receptors in the breast, but do not make cells replicate, so they may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Studies reveal that isoflavones depress blood cholesterol levels by ten percent and reduce vaginal dryness and hot flushes associated with the menopause.


Delaying Ageing
Antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene, as well as the phyto-nutrients found in many fruits, vegetables, and drinks such as tea appear to help to delay ageing. There is evidence that these foods may also slow down age-related damage to the eyes, improve the strength of the collagen under the skin, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Some foods may also help to relieve some symptoms of the menopause. Diets that are rich in plant oestrogens, which are found, for example, in soya and flax seeds, have been linked to a reduction in hot flushes and vaginal dryness.

Preventing Disease
Manipulating the diet has been shown to reduce women�s health problems. Regular consumption of cranberry juice, for example, can prevent and relieve the urinary infection cystitis. Removing sugar and yeast from the diet can prevent the fungal infection thrush, while cutting out wheat-based foods and dairy products can combat irritable bowel syndrome. Adding essential fatty acids to the diet in the form of oily fish, nuts, seeds, and supplements of evening primrose oil can help to alleviate a number of problems. These include breast discomfort associated with the menstrual cycle and also some premenstrual symptoms, including low moods and irritability.

A long-term diet that is both low in fat and alcohol and rich in the plant oestrogens found in soya beans, soya-based foods such as tofu, and wholegrain cereals may help to reduce the risk of breast cancer . Nutritionists recommend a diet that is low in saturated fats but rich in fruits and vegetables packed with antioxidants, and also high in folate. Regular exercise is also useful in helping to stabilize weight and prevent osteoporosis.

Foods to Avoid
Fried foods, meat products, biscuits, cakes, chocolate and most savoury snacks tend to be rich in fats. Fats have more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrate foods and high intakes are therefore likely to lead to weight gain. Reducing foods that are high in fats may help women trying to control their weight. Refined and sugary foods rapidly raise blood sugar levels and may lead to cravings. Sugary foods are often high in fat, which can adversely affect appetite control. Alcohol should only be taken in moderation, since regular intakes are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

(Food Type plus examples of serving size serving per day)

Breads, cereals, 1 slice of bread, 3 tbsp breakfast cereal, and potatoes 1 tbsp cooked rice or pasta, 100g potatoes 5-11

Fruits and 2 tbsp vegetables, small salad, pieces of Vegetables fruit weighing 80g each, 100ml fruit juice 5+

Meats and meat 55-85g lean skinless meat or poultry, Alternatives 55-85g oily fish, 110-140g white fish or eggs, 200g cooked beans, 40g cheese 3

Fats 1 tsp butter, margarine, or oil, 2 tsp low- Fat spread, 1 tsp mayonnaise or dressing 1-2

Refined foods Small portions of fatty foods, 40g sweets, 2 biscuits, 1 slice of cake 1-2

Plant Oestrogens

Of the four plant oestrogen groups, the most important to the human diet are the isoflavones and the lignans.


Isoflavones Soya beans, tofu, soya milk, chickpeas, cherries

Lignans Wheat, rye, oatmeal, barley

Coumestrans Green beans, sprouts, split peas, alfalfa, Soya

Resorcylic acid Oats, rye, sesame seeds, lactones


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