Women’s nutritional needs are unique and vary across different life stages. This article explores the nutritional needs of working women to support daily demands.
As women, our bodies go through different changes, reaching full adulthood, pregnancy, childbirth and getting older; our nutritional needs changes as we do. These physiological and hormonal changes warrant higher requirements for certain vitamins and minerals. On top of this, women have to balance having (generally) lower caloric needs as compared to men, and decreasing caloric needs as we get older.
Especially for working mothers, many busy working women tend to neglect our own dietary needs. This puts us at higher risk of anaemia, weakened bones and osteoporosis.
Whether it is putting family’s needs above self, or trying out the latest, extreme diets, many are falling short of adequate nutrition to support their needs.
Eat right, eat balanced
Let’s start off with the basics. Eating healthy does not mean merely nibbling on carrot sticks and deprive yourself of your favourite foods. There is a place for foods that we enjoy.
Instead, view healthy eating as a moderate and balanced approach towards eating and nourishing your bodies everyday, not just with calories, but also with nutrients – first through food, not supplements.
Use Singapore Health Promotion Board’s My Healthy Plate to guide you at each meal for a healthful nutrient-dense eating pattern daily to support daily demands.
Half the plate should be from non-starchy vegetables and mushrooms, and aim to get two servings of fruits a day. Choose a variety of types and colours for your fruit and vegetables every day.
One-quarter of the plate from wholegrains and starchy vegetables (e.g. potato, yam)
Remaining quarter of the plate are from protein sources – meat, poultry, fish and plant-based proteins like beans, tofu and tempeh.
Choose mainly water to hydrate yourself throughout the day. They are calorie-free and is the best form of hydration even after an exercise session. Use healthier cooking oils such as olive or canola oils to cook, and don’t forget to be physically active.
Iron is an important mineral needed to form red blood cells and prevent iron-deficient anaemia. With monthly menstrual losses and inadequate intake, women are at high risk of having low iron count, resulting in symptoms like feeling tired, low energy, headache and dizziness, short of breath – some of which can hugely impact how we feel and perform each day.
Iron needs are also higher for a woman during pregnancy. This is due to increased blood volume and additional iron store for your unborn baby for his or her first 6 months before starting on solid foods.
Iron-rich foods include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, red meat, chicken, pork, egg yolks, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils. Have some of these in your varied diet everyday.
Enhance the iron absorption of iron-rich plant foods by having them together with vitamin C-rich foods.
For example, adding berries into fortified wholegrain cereals, or pairing a spinach or bean dish with 100% orange juice or fruits like guava or kiwi with your meal.
Calcium and other minerals for Bone Health
Did you know that one in three women over 50 years old will have fracture due to osteoporosis or weakened bones? Fortunately this is preventable.
After 30 years of age, our bones start losing some of its density each year. If an adequate amount to replenish the losses and to deposit into the bone is not obtained from our diet, there will be more mineral losses from the bone stores, resulting in weaker bones and fractures.
It is possible for bones to weaken prematurely without a healthy diet and the right kinds of physical activity. Adults in their 40s can also have weak and brittle bones if they don’t have regular calcium intake.
Consuming high-calcium foods with adequate vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium and magnesium can improve the health and density of your bones, which then prevent fractures.
Good sources of calcium are low-fat dairy and soybean products, canned fish eaten with the bones, dark green vegetables and almonds.
It is possible for bones to weaken prematurely without a healthy diet and the right kinds of physical activity.
Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium in foods. You can get free vitamin D from sunlight exposure everyday for 15-30 minutes depending on your skin tone (darker skin tone requires longer time out in the sun), oily fish, eggs and vitamin D fortified foods such as dairy products and orange juice.
Vitamin K, magnesium and potassium are minerals that work together to help form strong, healthy bones. They can be found in green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, fruits, nuts and seeds.
In the child-bearing years, folate or folic acid, which is also known as vitamin B9, is critical in the early stage of pregnancy and so it’s important to have adequate amounts even before conceiving. Folate helps to form the foetus’ brain and spinal cord, and the lack of folate in early pregnancy can risk birth defects. Folate can also prevent anaemia in pregnant women.
Pregnant women or those trying should ensure they are eating a healthy, balanced diet with folate-rich foods before getting pregnant. Such foods rich in folate are citrus fruits, beans, peas, and dark green vegetables such as spinach, asparagus and broccoli. Folate-fortified foods can be found in breakfast cereals, breads and orange juice.
The recommended intake is 400 mcg (0.4mg) daily, and up to 600 mcg until first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In your family planning, doctors may prescribe folate supplements as the needs are higher at this stage.
Limit saturated fats, trans fat, added sugars and alcohol
The risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases increase with age, especially after menopause. In line with My Healthy Plate, saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and alcohol should be limited for optimal health, but can be enjoyed in moderate amounts.
According to the National Health Survey, about one in four women between 50-59 years old have high cholesterol levels that is seven percent higher than males. The post-menopausal drop in estrogen AND an unhealthy lifestyle lead to increased risk in heart disease. Don’t wait till you get older, start the prevention now.
Choose to get your fat from unsaturated fats – ‘good’ fats from nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish; instead of foods high in saturated fats and trans fats – found in full-fat dairy, animal fats and chicken skin, products made with shortening, margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm oil and coconut oil. Instead, choose low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat, omitting visible fats and skin to cut your saturated fat intake.
The World Health Organization recommends not more than 10% daily calorie intake from added sugars, and not more than 5% daily calorie intake for added health benefits. This means limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, all kinds of sweets and natural sweeteners, cookies, pastries, desserts and the brown sugar in your tea and coffee.
For a median 1,800 calorie intake per day for Singaporean women (and many require less than that), 180 calories will be from added sugars, which is roughly 45 grams, or 9 teaspoons of sugar a day.
If you choose to drink, limit to one drink a day. One unit of alcohol is about a 300-ml can of beer, 1 glass of wine (100ml) and 1 shot (30-ml) of hard liquor. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should avoid alcohol altogether.
Include healthful activities to complement your nutrition
Besides diet and nutrition, don’t forget to be physically active. Weight-bearing and resistance exercise help to strengthen your bones!
If you can’t add an exercise routine yet, think outside the box of your daily routine. Walk up the stairs, cycle to work, not driving if you are going to place you walk to, turn the house chores into a dance activity with music on! These are “incidental exercises” that you can include and squeeze in your schedule.
Besides the physical, take care of your mental and emotional health too. Engage in mindful activities that help you to manage or lower stress, and those that you enjoy, such as spending time with good friends and loved ones.
Take good care of yourself, so you can be in a tip-top condition to handle whatever challenges coming your way!
Resources and help are available
Every woman is different, and we know that the same, cookie cutter approach does not work for everyone. Are you eating right for your needs? If you want to know how you are doing in terms of eating and other aspects of lifestyle – all of which contribute to health, why not get a tailored guidance from a dietitian to help you at Nutriwell?