Female Nutrition: Are You Deficient?

Getting an adequate range of vitamins and minerals is essential for health and as females, we are often at risk of falling short. The consequences of this could feel as minimal as being tired or low on energy but if we are seriously deprived for some time, symptoms can be much more severe.

A decent nutritional profile should boast a variety of foods, containing vital nutrients which will ensure we feel great day-to-day. Have a read through the following to familiarise yourself with the more common female deficiencies, the symptoms to watch out for and recommended daily intakes. It’s a good idea to evaluate your own diet and see if you can make some changes to include the best foods and remain in optimum health.

1. Vitamin B-12
A deficiency in B-12 tends to be more common in the more mature woman however, it is important for all of us. It’s necessary for red blood cell production, promoting a healthy digestive system and also helps with neurological processes. The most obvious symptom is anaemia (low red blood cell count which can be diagnosed through blood tests by your GP) but it can also cause fatigue, foggy-headedness, a swollen tongue, muscle weakness and even tingly or numb hands.

The recommended daily intake is 2.4mcg which increases to 2.6mcg during pregnancy.

Best food sources:
Many animal products contain adequate B-12 so vegetarians and vegans need to be extra vigilant. Whilst salmon, red meat and milk all contain a good dose of this vitamin, those who don’t eat meat or dairy should consume more fortified cereals, fortified soy products and rice beverages. Those who are sensitive to gluten may also need to look more carefully when it comes to foods containing B-12.

2. Iron
This is probably one of the most well-known deficiencies in women and consequently, one which we are better at keeping in check because we are so aware of it. As we lose blood each month, we lose iron and therefore we need to make up for that loss through the foods we eat. Pregnant women may be vulnerable to low iron as it is needed to help support the growth of their baby.

A low iron count can cause anaemia which can make daily activities feel more strenuous. Extreme fatigue, regular bouts of dizziness, difficulty breathing and weak, brittle nails are the common signs of iron deficiency.

The recommended intake is variable – 18mg per day for the average woman, 27mg for pregnant women and only 8mg needed for women over 51 years. It’s clear to see how gender-specific this mineral is as men are only required to have 8mg per day for good health.

Best food sources:
Fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, tofu, cashews and spinach all supply a decent amount of iron. Be sure to consume these foods with foods containing vitamin C to increase absorption – things like red peppers, oranges, sweet potato and tomatoes are good examples – but avoid eating with high calcium foods such as dairy as these could hinder the absorption of iron.

3. Folate
Folate is a type of B vitamin (B-9) which is most important for cell metabolism and red blood cell growth and is intrinsically linked with female physiology. Whilst it is most crucial for pregnant females as it plays a role in the development of the foetus, it also serves a very important purpose for the everyday, active female.

Unfortunately, a lack of folate has only subtle symptoms so can be difficult to diagnose. Persistent fatigue, shortness of breath, pallor and generally feeling weak are some of the tell-tale signs that we could be lacking in folate. You might however, get evident physical symptoms such as mouth sores and/or swelling of the tongue.

The recommended daily amount is 400-600 micrograms which is necessary to prevent anaemia or anaemic tendencies. We should couple this with B-12 and iron to limit the chance of developing anaemia.

Best food sources:
Boiled spinach and liver are particularly high in folate but you can also get it from more palatable foods such as broccoli, asparagus, chick peas, avocado and citrus fruits so add these into your diet.

4. Calcium
Most notoriously linked to bone health, calcium is something that is essential for both developing children and mature women. As we get older, we are at risk of developing osteoporosis (brittle bones) so alongside resistance exercise, we are encouraged to take in an adequate amount of calcium.

Calcium deficiency is difficult to diagnose often until it’s too late and breakages of the bone or significant loss of bone density has occurred. This is why it is so important to stay on top of this and ensure your daily diet supplies enough calcium.

The recommended amount is 1000mg (milligrams) daily and after 50 years of age, the amount increases to 1200mg.

Best food sources:
Dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese as well as calcium-fortified juices and leafy greens such as kale contain good amounts of the mineral. You’ll probably find that if you eat a healthy, varied diet, you will be taking in enough calcium and won’t need to supplement further.

Interestingly, calcium works with vitamin D – another vitamin important for bone health, and one which we are at risk of being deficient in.

5. Vitamin D
Also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D is an incredibly important and often overlooked vitamin. It can be produced within our bodies using sunlight and is essential for our bone health, immune system and even the regulation of blood sugar levels.

The symptoms for this are quite varied and as well as the obvious signs of softening, painful and/or brittle bones and general fatigue, it has also been linked to depression in women with polycystic ovaries, obesity and type 2 diabetes so is another reason to maintain a healthy weight.

The recommended daily amount is 600 international units (IUs) and if you’re concerned, a simple blood test could put your mind at rest.

Best food sources:
It’s a little harder to find good sources of vitamin D in food which, along with limited sun exposure, is probably why many of us don’t have enough. Salmon, fortified milk and egg yolks all contain vitamin D plus you’ll find it added to foods such as breakfast cereal and bread. Aside from dietary changes, try to get your daily dose of sunshine, recommended at 15-30 minutes daily and use sunscreens that don’t hinder the absorption of vitamin D. Be sure not to spend too much time in the sun though as this could have more severe consequences such as burning and skin cancer.

The takeaway message here? Assess your nutritional habits, look at your daily food intake and try and make the best food choices to stay topped up with nutrients. If you include a variety of some of the foods listed, you’ll be sure to avoid deficiencies and remain in good health. The importance of optimal health of course, means you’ll have good energy levels, feel less stressed, be able to maintain a healthy weight and feel generally good within yourself. These nutrients will nourish both body and mind and make you feel amazing so make sure you’re getting enough. If you are concerned, go and see your GP where they can do the appropriate tests and advise you further.

Look after yourselves and stay gluteyful!

Serene

Catch me on Instagram @serene_strong


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