Why good health starts with you!
What you need to know to improve your health and wellbeing this Women’s Health Week.
Women’s Health Week invites all women to take the opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing. With the physical and hormonal changes that occur throughout women’s lives, it is important that women stay on top of their health. Often our health can fall to the bottom of the priority list when balancing a busy lifestyle and juggling commitments. A great place to start when trying to meet the changing needs of your body is through food and nutrition. We all know the benefits of nourishing your body with the right foods, so let’s take a look at a few key nutrients that are important for women across all ages.
Iron is an essential mineral that is used by the body to carry around oxygen. It is also important for muscle strength, energy and good mental function. If your iron levels are low, you may experience symptoms such as feeling tired or fatigued, lacking concentration, headaches, weakness or dizziness.
Iron deficiency is more common in women than in men. In Australia, 34% of women aged 15-44 years are iron deficient, and this increases even more in pregnancy with around 60-70% of pregnant women having iron deficiency. That’s why it is a good idea for women to get their iron levels checked regularly during their routine health check.
To stay healthy, try to eat a range of iron-rich foods, such as:
- Meat: lamb, beef or pork
- Poultry: chicken or turkey
- Fish: salmon, sardines or tuna
These foods are all sources of ‘haem’ iron, which are more easily absorbed by the body.
Vegetarians or vegans are also at higher risk of iron deficiency. If you prefer to eat less meat or you follow a vegetarian diet then it’s important to include plenty of these iron sources regularly in your diet:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Nuts and nut pastes/butters
These foods are planted based sources of iron and are also known as ‘non-haem’ iron sources. Non-haem iron is not as easily absorbed by the body compared to haem iron. To help our bodies maximise iron absorption:
- Eat plenty of Vitamin C rich foods with your meals. Good sources of Vitamin C include fruits such as oranges, kiwifruits or strawberries and vegetables such as tomato, capsicum or broccoli.
- Avoid drinking tea or coffee directly after or during your meal, as this can block the absorption of iron.
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is also very important to keep our bones strong and healthy. This is especially important for women after menopause, as the drop in oestrogen levels can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can cause our bones to become weak and fragile, meaning they are more prone to fractures.
Unlike most nutrients, we cannot measure the amount of calcium our body has stored through a blood test. The only way is through a DXA scan, which may not be accessible for everyone. That’s why it is important for all women to make sure they are consuming their daily serves of dairy products and/or dairy alternatives to meet their calcium requirements.
Some key sources of calcium include:
- Cow’s milk or calcium-fortified milk alternative
To absorb and use calcium your body also needs enough vitamin D. Foods that are high in vitamin D include fatty fish, margarine, eggs and some milks. However, only a small amount of vitamin D comes from our diet. Most of the vitamin D that is needed by the body is made in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight.
5 – 10 minutes of sunlight at least 3 – 5 times per week can help make sure that you are getting enough vitamin D. To maintain adequate levels of vitamin D:
- In summer (UV Index is 3 or above) – spend a few minutes a day in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon to expose arms and hands to sunlight.
- In late autumn and winter (UV Index is below 3) – spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered.
Most women do not get enough fibre in their diet, even though it’s essential for their overall health. It is important that women have enough fibre as it can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and bowel cancer.
Eating a wide variety of plant foods and a high fibre diet can help with keeping your gut bacteria healthy and happy. Having enough fibre may also assist with regular bowel habits and preventing constipation, diarrhoea or bloating.
A meal that is high in fibre can help with maintaining a healthy weight and keeping you fuller for longer. Some tips to improve fibre intake include:
- Eating 2 – 3 serves of vegetables at each meal
- Having at least 2 pieces of fruit each day
- Increasing your intake of fibre slowly and drinking plenty of water
Things to Remember:
- Good nutrition means eating a wide variety of foods every day.
- Low intakes of iron and calcium are common in women.
- Drinking tea and coffee with meals may interfere with iron and calcium absorption.
- Book in for a regular health check with your GP.
Most importantly, remember that good health starts with you!
Good health is powerful! This #WomensHealthWeek join us and thousands of women around Australia from 6–10 September 2021 to learn how to #PowerYourHealth and have some fun. @JeanHailes
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Sarah Cinar is a recent Master of Dietetics graduate and a passionate advocate for nutritious and delicious food. She has a keen interest in nutrition research and loves to help others achieve their healthy lifestyle goals. Sarah has experience in a variety of areas including sports nutrition, research and health promotion. Her food philosophy stems from her love for food and culture and believes that variety, balance and moderation is key to healthy eating.