It’s no secret that women differ from men! That also means our nutritional needs vary and this is often bound up with hormones and how they affect us on a monthly basis.
Whilst there are a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health, there are a few in particular that are important for women’s health specifically.
This International Women’s Day, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a deep dive into five of the nutrients that women need most.
This mineral is known to be deficient generally within the UK population, but it presents even more problems when low in women. Magnesium works as a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc (see below) but is essential in its own right for hormone balance, a healthy nervous system and bone health. And stress burns up more magnesium so depending on how you are feeling many of us may be deficient.
Magnesium is rich in green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli, but also in whole grains (oats are a great source), brown rice and whole wheat foods. Magnesium is also very relaxing and calming so can help if sleep is a problem. Eating about six almonds before bedtime (rich in magnesium) can really encourage peaceful slumbers.
Vitamin B6 is very important for women because it’s an essential co-factor in many metabolic pathways, especially relating to hormone production. Additionally, it’s needed to process key neurotransmitters essential for balanced mood and motivation, which are closely affected by hormonal fluctuations.
Vitamin B6 is needed for production of progesterone (a key female hormone), plus it aids the detoxification processes of the liver in order to excrete ‘old’ hormones. Vitamin B6 is water-soluble so should be eaten regularly, but is readily available in poultry, fish, bananas, soya produce, oats and wheatgerm, so there’s plenty of choice.
Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is essential for protein synthesis, key for building hormones and for healthy skin. Biotin also helps to stimulate production of keratin which is the key protein in hair. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to have thinning hair so having additional biotin in the diet and via supplementation can often be very successful in rectifying the problem.
Foods rich in biotin include eggs (poached egg on whole grain toast makes a great start to the day), organ meats, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, red meat and fish.
Zinc is probably the busiest mineral of all because it’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body. Whatever the body is doing, zinc will be needed somewhere. However, for women, it’s very important for fertility and reproduction because it’s needed to synthesise the key sex hormones. Additionally, zinc is a powerful antioxidant so helps to produce healthy eggs but is also essential for cell division, a key part of the conception process.
Zinc has been found often deficient in women, especially teenagers and those of child-bearing age. Red meat is a great source, hence a possible reason for deficiency as less people are eating red meat or at least eating it less often. Other great sources include beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood (especially oysters) and most cereals.
Chromium is essential for blood sugar balance which affects all other hormones. Interestingly, women with some of the more difficult hormone issues generally have problems balancing blood sugar levels, making mood swings more of an issue too.
Additionally, in research, chromium has been shown to help women with polycystic ovaries, the most common hormonal disorder affecting those of reproductive age. This generally also means that sufferers have issues with blood sugar control, which chromium can help to improve. As well as whole grains, chromium is rich in green vegetables, poultry, many fruits and dairy products.
Once any deficiencies are plugged, women may find overall health improves significantly, so why not review your diet or consider supplementation to ensure you are getting enough of these 5 vitamins and minerals.
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