Nutrition for Women
Herewith outlines several key nutrition strategies women can follow to feel fit and fabulous, especially as we age!
Staying physically active is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle for women, particularly as we age. Unfortunately, many older women do not meet exercise recommendations (1). The benefits of exercise extend beyond just keeping fit. Sports such as walking, jogging and aerobics help keep the heart and blood vessels working properly and burn calories. Yoga, stretching exercises and tai chi maintain balance and flexibility. Workouts with weights help keep the muscles and bones strong. Some forms of exercise have a social component, such as taking a dance class or playing a team sport. Regular aerobic exercise can also boost mood and memory (2), and manage stress (3).
Physical activity and nutrition are very closely linked. Exercise and appetite interact dynamically, and exercise will cause both short- and long-term changes in energy needs and hunger sensations. When people exercise regularly, it becomes easier for them to maintain a healthy weight because the body is able to recognize feelings of fullness better (4). Another example of the close relationship between exercise and nutrition is in bone health, it’s the combination of regular weight-bearing exercise, and adequate protein, calcium and vitamin D intakes that helps to prevent falls in older adults.
An often-overlooked nutrient for women especially over 50 is dietary fiber. The benefits of a diet rich in fiber are many: as well as promoting normal bowel health, dietary fiber contributes to feelings of satiety and can lower cholesterol levels (5). Adequate fiber intakes therefore helps reduce chronic disease risk.
Constipation (6) is a common yet uncomfortable condition defined as having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week. It can affect people’s daily tasks, and lead to long term problems such as haemorrhoids and fecal impaction. Constipation affects twice as many older women than men (7). Increasing dietary fiber intakes is a good strategy to prevent constipation. Dietary fiber provides bulk in the colon and retains water, keeping the stool soft and easy to pass.
Dietary fiber’s effects on satiety and cholesterol levels both help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, heart disease and obesity. When meals contain dietary fiber, the speed at which food travels from the stomach to the small intestine slows down (8). Nutrients are released more gradually into the blood, providing better control of blood glucose and delaying hunger signals.
Dietary fiber can modestly lower blood cholesterol levels (5). This is important for older women because they are no longer receive estrogen’s protective effects on the heart and blood vessels and their risk of heart disease approaches that of men’s. Reducing cholesterol is a proven strategy to reduce heart disease risk, and dietary fiber can help. The mechanism relates to bile, a digestive tract secretion used for normal digestion. Bile is made from cholesterol. Normally, the bile used as part of digestive is recycled once it reaches the large intestine. However, dietary fiber binds to bile and prevents it from being recycled. The body has to make more bile from cholesterol, thus lowering cholesterol levels (9).
While international recommendations vary, consuming 25 to 30 g of dietary fiber per day is recommended in many countries. Few people actually meet fiber recommendations (10). Plant foods, particularly whole grain cereals and foods made from them, fruits and vegetables, provide dietary fiber.
Calcium and vitamin D
Two critical nutrients for bone health are calcium and vitamin D. Our bones are not just hard, inert scaffolding, but actually a dynamic, living part of the body. The bones are always undergoing a process called remodelling: bones are continually being absorbed into the body and built up again. That’s how we can recover from broken bones. Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in bones and adequate calcium must be consumed to help the body to build up bone (8).
Vitamin D helps bone health in two ways. First of all, it is needed to help the body to absorb calcium from the diet (8). Secondly, it contributes to normal muscle function. People with vitamin D deficiency suffer from poor muscle tone and muscle pain (8). Supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to improve muscle performance in older adults with low vitamin D levels (11). Improvements in muscle function and mass help older adults’ ability to balance and prevents falls (12). Given that older women are at much greater risk of osteoporosis that other people, it’s critical that they consume enough vitamin D and calcium together to keep their bones healthy (13).
|THE DASH DIET (14)
Fit and Fabulous Nutrition
Including more exercise in one’s weekly routine is a way to reach many health goals at once. A heart healthy diet such as the DASH eating plan will ensure women get nutrients such as dietary fiber and calcium into their diet (14). And taking a dietary supplement containing recommended levels of vitamin D is a good way to make sure that vitamin D requirements are met.
- Sun F, Norman IJ, While AE. Physical activity in older people: a systematic review. BMC Public Health 2013;13:449. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-449
- Zheng G, Xia R, Zhou W, Tao J, Chen L. Aerobic exercise ameliorates cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med 2016;50(23):1443-50. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095699
- Laird KT, Krause B, Funes C, Lavretsky H. Psychobiological factors of resilience and depression in late life. Transl Psychiatry 2019;9(1):88. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0424-7
- Blundell JE, Gibbons C, Caudwell P, Finlayson G, Hopkins M. Appetite control and energy balance: impact of exercise. Obes Rev 2015;16 Suppl 1:67-76. doi: 10.1111/obr.12257
- Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69(1):30-42. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/69.1.30
- Dahl WJ, Stewart ML. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. J Acad Nutr Diet 2015;115(11):1861-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003
- Andy UU, Vaughan CP, Burgio KL, Alli FM, Goode PS, Markland AD. Shared Risk Factors for Constipation, Fecal Incontinence, and Combined Symptoms in Older U.S. Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc 2016;64(11):e183-e8. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14521
- Otten JJ, Hellwig JP, Meyers LD, eds. Dietary reference intakes: the essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington, DC.: The National Academies Press, 2006.
- Ebihara K, Schneeman BO. Interaction of bile acids, phospholipids, cholesterol and triglyceride with dietary fibers in the small intestine of rats. J Nutr 1989;119(8):1100-6. doi: 10.1093/jn/119.8.1100
- Thompson HJ, Brick MA. Perspective: Closing the Dietary Fiber Gap: An Ancient Solution for a 21st Century Problem. Adv Nutr 2016;7(4):623-6. doi: 10.3945/an.115.009696
- Dawson-Hughes B. Vitamin D and muscle function. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2017;173:313-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2017.03.018
- Tanner SB, Harwell SA. More than healthy bones: a review of vitamin D in muscle health. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis 2015;7(4):152-9. doi: 10.1177/1759720X15588521
- Wade SW, Strader C, Fitzpatrick LA, Anthony MS, O’Malley CD. Estimating prevalence of osteoporosis: examples from industrialized countries. Arch Osteoporos 2014;9:182. doi: 10.1007/s11657-014-0182-3
- Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Hinderliter A, Watkins LL, Craighead L, Lin PH, Caccia C, Johnson J, Waugh R, Sherwood A. Effects of the DASH diet alone and in combination with exercise and weight loss on blood pressure and cardiovascular biomarkers in men and women with high blood pressure: the ENCORE study. Arch Intern Med 2010;170(2):126-35. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.470