Nutrition for women: 5 nutrients to support your health

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

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.

Magnesium

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.

A range of foods containing magnesium

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

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.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

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.

Biotin

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 containing the b vitamin Biotin

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

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.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

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

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.

A range of foods containing chromium

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.

Stay well.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock

 

Nutritional advice for 5 everyday health concerns

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Good health is the most important part of life. Indeed, feeling optimally well has to be our ultimate aim so that we can embrace all that life has to offer. But what happens, when the body lets you down and health niggles start kicking in?

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Eating the right foods is the cornerstone of life and it’s never too late to get your diet on track. Most importantly, what you eat can have a really positive influence on many daily health issues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great nutritional advice for five everyday health concerns.

Ultimate immunity

Having an effective immune system that keeps out unwanted viruses and bacteria is essential for the body to stay healthy. Whilst nature is very clever in providing us with plenty of armoury, the right nutrition can also really make a difference. And as with everything, prevention is better than cure.

Sugar in all its forms is more disruptive than anything to the immune system. Refined, sugar-laden carbs such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and fizzy drinks and alcohol are not the immune system’s friend, so they need to be kept as low as possible. Allow yourself one or two treat days a week but try and keep sugar low on the other days.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Vitamin C is the key nutrient for the immune system. Of course there are many other key immune-loving nutrients but make vitamin C your focus. This means trying to eat as many vegetables as possible; peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes are especially high in vitamin C. Go easy on the fruit and make vegetables the main event. However, all berry fruits are loaded with vitamin C and in season right now, so try to include one portion of these per day.

Glowing skin and glossy hair

Who doesn’t want both of these! Glowing skin and glossy hair are primarily a reflection of what’s within; what you eat makes a massive difference to how you look. As both skin and hair contain protein in the form of collagen and keratin, it’s really important to make sure you’re eating plenty of protein.

A range of foods containing protein

Eat protein at every meal. Include meat, fish, chicken, soya, beans, lentils or dairy produce – all are great sources. It’s also worth bearing in mind that biotin is the most important B-vitamin when it comes to hair and skin. It’s rich in liver, eggs, dairy, and salmon so you might want to also consider these when making your protein choices to get double the benefit.

Smooth joints and strong bones

Having a strong skeletal frame is clearly very important; it works very hard for you! Peak bone density is reached at the end of your teenage years so having sufficient calcium, magnesium and vitamin D (being the key bone-building nutrients) is important in the early years.

A range of foods containing calcium

However, bones and joints need feeding throughout life to maintain strength. Key foods are dairy produce and green leafy vegetables.   Additionally, try and get 15 minutes of sunshine every day daily to help the body produce vitamin D. It’s also advisable to take a daily supplement of vitamin D all-year round because even when the sun shines, we’re not necessarily outside enough to reap the benefits.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Joints also need ‘oiling’ to keep them running smoothly and to this end the omega-3 essential fats are key. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the key foods, so include them in the diet as much as possible.

Abundant energy

We all want to feel vibrant every day with plenty of energy to enjoy life to the full. However, many people of all ages complain of poor energy levels which negatively affects their quality of life.

The main energising nutrients are the B-vitamins because they help the body produce energy from food. They are a family of eight vitamins and they can be found in a range of foods. However foods which contain most of the B-vitamins in one source are salmon, liver, eggs, beans, wholegrains, chicken and turkey, so there’s plenty of choice.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Additionally, B-vitamins are used up quickly during times of stress or by drinking alcohol. Interestingly, both of these factors also impact our immune system so it makes sense to balance these as much as possible.

Balanced mood

If you’re frequently feeling low, edgy, anxious or irritable then there may be something amiss with your diet. About 70% of the body’s ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is produced in the gut so what you eat makes a massive difference to how you feel.

Too much caffeine is never going to keep mood balanced; it’s very individual as to how much each person is affected. As a general rule, though, no more than 2-3 caffeinated drinks per day should be consumed; this includes cola and similar caffeine-containing drinks.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

There are some real stand-out foods in terms of keeping your mood boosted through the day. One of the best breakfasts is a bowl of oats, either as porridge or within an oat-based cereal. Oats are packed with complex carbs that keep energy and mood balanced throughout the day. Plus they contain tryptophan, the amino acid that produces serotonin. Top it with a banana, also rich in tryptophan, and natural yoghurt to feed the good gut bacteria and life will feel better for it.

So with a few simple tweaks, what you eat can really make a difference to how you look and feel!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts