Katie’s Key Nutrients

Katie is a 45-year-old woman who is married with a teenage daughter and has recently gotten promoted at work. Katie has noticed since starting this new position that she’s felt excessively tired, and on some days she doesn’t have enough energy to make it out for her usual evening walk. She makes an effort to eat a healthy diet, however between work and spending time with her family she’s been resorting to more convenience meals lately. She usually grabs an egg and ham sandwich and black coffee on her way to work. In the afternoon, she eats in the staff room where she has her packed lunch of a tuna sandwich, granola bar and apple. Once she’s home from work Katie usually makes dinner for her family, tonight they’re having shredded turkey taco salads. She feels full throughout the day and is pretty sure she’s eating enough, so why is Katie feeling so tired and lethargic?

Your Dietitians Advice

Women have special dietary needs, and their bodies require specific nutrients to function optimally. Katie’s story resonates with many ladies who strive to eat a healthy diet, however their busy lifestyles may create barriers. Let’s look into a few particular nutrients for women to focus on.

Female-Specific Nutrients

1. Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are the building blocks to creating strong bones. Together, they help not only support bone growth but also prevent osteoporosis (low bone density). And since more than 80% of those suffering with osteoporosis are women – we can see why females need to make sure they are getting enough of this bone-building duo. So how can we include these nutrients in our diet? Calcium is found in dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt and non-dairy options such as fortified orange juice, almond milk, tofu set in calcium, legumes and greens like kale. Vitamin D is a bit trickier; it’s made when our skin interacts with the sun or you can get it through your diet. However, if you’re living in a northern climate or working indoors, it’s unlikely you’ll be getting enough sun. Vitamin D is also found in the diet through fortified milk, cheese, some yogurts, fatty fish, fortified orange juice and almond milk, beef liver and egg yolks – but many people are unable to get enough vitamin D in their diet or made by sun.  This is why Osteoporosis Canada recommends all Canadian adults take a vitamin D supplement year round.

2. Iron

Iron is a mineral that helps carry oxygen all over your body. Women are at a higher risk than men for iron-deficiency anemia, which can leave you feeling tired, lethargic and irritable. Women have significantly increased iron needs during pregnancy that usually cannot be met by diet alone and therefore need to take a prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplement containing iron to meet their needs. Iron is especially important for active women since you’ll need additional oxygen to be transported during aerobic exercise such as biking, skiing and running. There are two types of iron known as heme (animal sources) and non-heme (plant sources). The best animal sources of iron include liver, wild game, beef, duck and oysters. The best plant sources are seeds, tofu, lentils, molasses and fortified cereals. However, animal sources of iron are more easily absorbed by our bodies than plant sources, so what’s the solution? Pair your plant sources of iron with vitamin C rich foods like citrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, tomato sauces or salsa, and red peppers.

3. Folate and Vitamin B12

Folate and B12 are two water-soluble B vitamins that work in our bodies to make red blood cells, keep your nervous system healthy, create your genetic blueprint and help your body use the energy from food. Folate is especially important for women of child-bearing age as it’s been shown to prevent certain birth defects. Great sources in your diet include dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach and dried legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils. As for vitamin B12 – try eggs, milk or milk products, meat, fish, shellfish and poultry. Vegans need to pay special attention as B12 is found mainly in animal foods.

Katie would benefit from focusing on eating foods from all four-food groups like fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, lean meat, legumes and nuts. Eating is never perfect, and women are tasked with the challenge of having an increased risk to certain nutrient deficiencies. Not to panic though! We can meet this challenge by trying eat a balanced, varied and colourful diet, which will give you increased energy, help you to feel better and include the nutrients for your body to function at its best!