As children, boys’ and girls’ dietary needs are largely similar. But when puberty begins, women start to develop unique nutritional requirements. And as we age and our bodies go through more physical and hormonal changes, so our nutritional needs continue to evolve, making it important that our diets evolve to meet these changing needs.
While women tend to need fewer calories than men, our requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are much higher.
Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, child-bearing, and menopause means that women have a higher risk of anemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis, requiring a higher intake of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B9 (folate).
Why supplements aren’t enough
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet through the use of vitamins and supplements.
However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet.
To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.
Calcium for strong bones throughout life
Among other things, you need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly.
Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis.
Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium, in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, to support your bone health
The importance of exercise for bone health
In addition to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors can also play an important role in bone health. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, while weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, dancing, yoga, or lifting weights) can lower your risk.
Strength or resistance training—using machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight—can be especially effective in helping to prevent loss of bone mass as you age.