by Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist
As the saying goes, ‘women are from Mars and men are from Venus’ and as women we need different things, like jewellery, a pair of new shoes each month, and perhaps a new handbag every so often won’t help - kidding (or not? depends who’s reading 😄).
All jokes aside, women go through more changes in our bodies than men. The changes on our bodies during menstruation, childbirth, lactation and menopause place undoubtedly more demands on us than what men need to go through in their lifetime. Clearly we are the more superior creatures! 😊
We could go indepths of all the nutrients and needs from childhood to adulthood but in celebration of Women’s Day this March this article will only focus on the top nutrients for women ensuring your superwoman superpowers are at full capacity.
WARNING: by following these guidelines you may become more youthful, energized and revitalized.
We all know that the first wealth is health. Without health, we cannot manage our families and homes, be the backbone to our men, and ascend mountains and battle storms with our friends near and far. So here are my..
Top 5 Nutrients Women Need
And a sneak peek into what I take for my own health and longevity
Iron is a common nutrient that many children, women, elderly and vegetarians are deficient in. Iron is a mineral that helps create haemoglobin, and enables our red blood cells to carry oxygen to our body. This is why we often see symptoms of fatigue and dizziness in those who lack iron. Since red blood cells don’t reproduce themselves, iron is vital for their regeneration. Women and men metabolize iron from food at roughly the same rate but because of menstruation where approximately 1mg of iron is lost per day of bleeding, women end up needing up to 18mg daily versus men who just need 8mg. Pregnancy, brings this need up to 27mg.
Food sources of iron :
- Red meat, chicken, turkey, pork and fish
- Fortified grains and cereals
- Dark leafy greens like spinach
- Beans and lentils
Not all iron that enters the body is absorbed, in fact the absorption of plant sources of iron are extremely low and wouldn’t do much if there is a deficiency. Iron absorption rate can be improved by the consumption of Vitamin C together with the food. While absorption can be hindered by tea coffee and other nutrients like Vitamin E and Calcium.
I like to recommend all menstruating, pregnant and lactating woman to take the Salus Floradix Liquid Iron that I has kept me going through long days and nights. This formulation is non constipating and suitable for vegans and vegetarians. The use of a highly absorbable form of iron together with herbs and fruits and vegetables makes this iron formula 98% available for absorption.
Calcium intake is recommended at every stage of a woman’s life, from childhood for healthy teeth and bones, to adolescent and preparation for pregnancy and the extra calcium needs a women will have during these times of child bearing and caring. All this is to protect our bones and prevent osteoporosis, a weakening of our bone structure.
Bone is living tissue that is always in flux. Throughout the lifespan, bones are constantly being broken down and built up. Specific bone cells called osteoblast, build bones, while others, called osteoclast, are responsible for breaking bone down if calcium is needed in other parts of the body. In healthy individuals who get enough calcium and physical activity, bone production can exceed bone destruction up to around age 30.
After that, destruction typically exceeds production which is why they say ’bone loss begins in your 30’s’.
The recommended daily intake is 1000 mg of calcium for women and pregnant women would need an additional 200 mg of calcium per day.
Food sources of calcium :
- Dark leafy greens : broccoli, spinach
- Dairy products (but be careful of too much dairy! Read more about dairy and calcium here.)
- Beans, legumes and soy
- Fish with edible bones like sardines
Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. The most important role of vitamin D is maintaining calcium levels in the blood , which it does by increasing calcium absorption and uptake from food as well as controlling how much calcium is lost in the urine. Magnesium is also needed to for the proper utilization and absorption of calcium. These three nutrients, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D are the three pillars to your bone health. A deficiency in one will almost automatically lead to a deficiency of another. It is also important to be aware of foods that draw calcium from your blood. Reduce or eliminate your intake of soft drinks as these contains phosphoric acids which can cause calcium depletion in your bones.
My go to calcium supplement that I personally take is the Salus Haus Saludynam bone formula with calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and zinc. This checks off all of the nutrient pillars for bone health and because we typically take in more calcium in our diet than magnesium, Salus’ bone formula understands this and provides us with more magnesium 83% of the RDA than calcium. This also prevents the possibility of calcification which can be of concern when taking regular calcium only supplements that may build up in your blood. For those who are not getting regular sunshine and not eating organic eggs and grassfed beef, it may also be wise to supplement with a Vitamin D3. Always get your D levels tested before or after a month or two of supplementation.
3. Omega 3
Omega 3 is one of the only two fats that are essential for life. Men are just in need of this as women, but for women, omega 3 can help balance out our hormones and provide some relief during menstruation and is also a crucial nutrient during pregnancy. 60% of our brains are made up of these healthy fats and so a deficiency in it could potentially lead to brain development delays in pregnancy, postpartum depression and also Alzheimers. The benefits of omega 3 are countless from healthy cholesterol, to heart health and even to maintain a healthy weight.
According to Harvard University researchers, omega 3 deficiency is more dangerous than trans fat intake. The study looked at 12 dietary and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle. And it turns out that Omega 3 deficiencies are estimated to cause between 72,000 and 96,000 deaths per year, in the USA. Deficiency problems are not just in the USA, but worldwide with around 60-90% of people deficient in this essential nutrient for life.
Read more about why I believe we all should be on an omega 3 supplement.
Food sources of omega 3 :
- Fatty fish: particularly mackerel, salmon, sardines - be careful to purchase wild and sustainable, otherwise you’re better off not eating it
- Flax, sacha
- hemp seeds
It is important to know that plant sources of omega 3 will need to be converted into DHA and EPA and so ensuring you are making that conversion and taking adequate amounts of these is crucial. Women are slightly more efficient at converting plant based omega 3’s than men but there are also genetic polymorphisms that make the conversion harder. Side note : I have this gene SNP! But I’m also plant based, so I just take more of the oil (I take Udo’s Oil) than the average person and on occasion when I can source a really good quality fish, I’ll have some fish. I will also try to get my levels tested every few years to make sure I’m meeting my body’s needs.
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that can mimic estrogen as it has similar chemical structures. When phytoestrogens enter the body, the body’s estrogen receptors treat them as if they were estrogen. This is why phytoestrogens are often used to help balance out and regulate hormones that are directly affected by too little or too much estrogen₁. Phytoestorgen has been used to help relieve menopausal symptoms but also has studies showing its benefits on osteoporosis, PMS, cardiovascular and breast cancer.
Food sources of phytoestrogens:
- Legumes :lentils
- Soy is my least favourite source. If you do take it be careful to take organic, Non-GMO soy and not in large quantities like soy milk)
- Flax seeds (this is my favourite type of phytoestrogen as it is very safe, contains lignans and some omega 3).
For those who want to increase their lignan intake without the bulking from the seeds, a defatted flax meal, since flax contains omega 3 that can oxidize, would be a great choice to add into your soups and smoothies.
With phytoestrogens moderation is key. The National Women’s Health Network warns that “since phytoestrogens act on hormone receptors within the reproductive system, they can behave like endocrine disruptors, with the potential for adverse effects.” If you know you have a hormone imbalance or have a hormone related illness, it is best to consult with your functional medicine practitioner to obtain guidance on dosages and how to include these foods into your diet.
5. B Vitamins
Okay so this fifth nutrient is really a cheat as it covers an entire group of nutrients. B vitamins are crucial for over health. The B vitamins work together synergistically and directly impact our detoxification capabilities, energy levels, brain function, nerves, hormones and metabolism. Pregnancy will also increase the needs of B vitamins.
Food sources of B Vitamins:
- Liver and kidneys (please ensure the source is clean as liver can be extremely ‘dirty’)
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark vegetables
In our modern lifestyle, B vitamins are often depleted from the stress and toxins that we expose our bodies to, and so often times, relying on B vitamins from food sources alone is not enough. If you are experiencing unexplained fatigue, anxiety, depression , you can look into supplementing with a B complex for 2 months to boost your levels. However a good multi/mineral vitamin will also help cover your bases as many of the times these symptoms are due to several nutrient factors.
At the end of the day, we’re unique and have unique needs, super powers and individual weaknesses. The above nutrients highlight common deficiencies and common women’s health needs. This list is far from an exhaustive list and does not guarantee and enhancement of superpowers but is a good starting point for those looking to level up.