The body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.
However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!
Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.
Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.
Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.
Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.
During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.
Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.
Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.
Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.
Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.
If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.
Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.
The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!
Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.
Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.
So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.
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