by Katie Cohen Olivenstein RD
March 8th marked the 105th annual International Women’s Day, a day solely dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme is a Pledge for Parity – an opportunity for everyone, women and men included, to take concrete steps to accelerate gender equality. Great cause, right? I’d definitely say so.
This day not only gives us an opportunity to fight for gender parity, but also gives us an excuse to celebrate the amazing women in our lives (shouldn’t we be doing this every day?). And even though we’re a few days late on this posting, March is also Nutrition Month, so why not combine two great topics – Women and Nutrition – into one great post.
I wholeheartedly believe that the foundation of health and wellness lies in a balanced diet. A diet filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, low fat dairy, and a variety of lean sources of animal and plant-based protein. That goes for men and women. But what dietary choices can we make, as women, to ensure that were placing our nutritional health high up on our long To-Do lists?
Let’s break it down by decade because, although we may have tons in common as women, we also know that a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t cut it.
The 20s: Building Strong Bones
Being a woman automatically puts you at increased risk of developing osteoporosis later in life (You can thank your trusty friend estrogen for that). So how do we prevent or better slow down the unavoidable loss of bone mass that naturally occurs with aging? By focussing on Calcium in your 20s, the bone building years. This is the time to help your bones grow strong and dense because the more you start with the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Include 2 servings of calcium-rich foods daily including milk, yogurt, cheese, or other fortified beverages such as almond and soy milk. Not a big fan of dairy products? No problem. Be sure to enjoy at least 4 servings of other calcium-containing foods such as collard greens, broccoli, kale, bok choy, canned salmon & sardines, tofu, white beans, almonds, almond butter, and chia.
The 30s: Starting a Family
Women today seem to be starting their families at all different ages, some well into their 30s, making folic acid (or folate) a key nutrient for this decade. Folic acid is a vitamin that plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects that can lead to spina bifida and anencephaly in newborns. The catch is that folic acid is a nutrient that we just don’t get enough of, though this challenge has quite a simple solution. For those women who plan on getting pregnant, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) recommends a prenatal vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid beginning at least three months before conception, in addition to foods high in folate (think: dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, fortified grain products including whole wheat breads, and legumes).
The 40s: For the Long Haul
In your fourth decade, it’s likely you’ll start to feel the effects of aging on your body. Men tend to be luckier, feeling what us women feel in our 40s almost a decade later. So what can we do?
My top two tips to stay in tip-top shape in this chapter of life – fruits & vegetables and fiber. Though they are important pieces of the foundation of any healthy diet, they play a series of preventative roles that seem to be particularly important in our 40s.
Fruits & Vegetables are nutritionally dense and offer a lot of bang for your buck. Not in the financial sense of the expression, but in a nutritional sense. They’re jam packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber all the while being relatively low in calories and fat. A great rule of thumb is “Go for 2 and 5”, that is enjoy at least 2 servings of fruits and 5 servings of vegetables daily.
Fiber has long been known to keep us regular, but did you know that it also plays an important role in controlling blood sugar, reducing cholesterol, protecting against heart disease and even some types of cancer? Fiber also has a positive effect on satiety, keeping us feeling full for longer. How much do you need? Women should aim for 25 grams per day. How much are we actually eating an average? About half that, so we definitely have our work cut out for us.
The 50s: Perimenopause and Menopause
The years before and during menopause have proven to be a challenging time for many, filled primarily with hormonal changes that ultimately result in physical and emotional changes as well. These infamous hormonal changes have an immense impact on metabolism, slowing things down. This is when we tend to see the numbers on the scale creep up, particularly due to our ever-growing midsections. This type of fat, known as central adiposity, is associated with higher risk of an array of chronic diseases. But don’t let this decade get you down, let it motivate you to be a bit more active and to spend more time in the kitchen preparing foods that you love, but that also love you back.
Something else to a consider- include a Vitamin D supplement as part of your daily regimen. Health Canada advises all adults over the age of 50 take 400 IU of Vitamin D each day.
The 60s: Packing on the Protein
At this stage in life, its only natural that our muscles begin to break down. The loss of lean muscle mass can be due to a variety of reasons, some of which include general aging, the medications we take, or a condition we may have, but the fight to build muscle is most definitely not a lost battle. By packing on the protein, you fulfill half of the responsibility of maintain your muscle mass. Be sure to include both plant and animal sources of protein. With lean sources of animal protein, you also get the added bonus of Vitamin B12, a nutrient responsible for keeping the brain and nervous system health. Oh and that other half your responsibility? Fitting in some light strength building exercises.
With each decade of life comes a different set of milestones, celebrations, challenges, and health concerns. Celebrate the amazing woman within for this year’s International Women’s Day by making nutritional choices that just may provide you with a healthier path towards the Golden Age.