With a large number of women now going out to work to contribute to the financial stability of the family; long hours at office, taking care of the family, skipping meals, eating inadequate in quantity and nutrition and neglecting their own health are finally taking a toll. Food habits are highly influenced by culture, ethnicity and geographic location while further economic status also influences the accessibility of different foods but the health of a woman is not just defined by the number on the weighing scale but also the absence of nutritional deficiencies and disease.
It is no secret that nutrition plays a crucial role in women’s overall well-being, providing them with the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life so, to ensure adequate nutrition, women should adopt an informative and holistic approach that encompasses various aspects of their physical, mental and social well-being. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Meghana Pasi, Nutrition Consultant of MyThali Program at ArogyaWorld, asserted that in order to meet her nutrient requirements to stay fit and healthy, a woman needs to know what to eat (poshan) and how much to eat (portion). She recommended these healthy eating habits –
• Balance your Meals with a diverse diet: Include foods from these food groups – cereals/grains/millets, pulses/dals/legumes, egg/meat/fish, milk /milk products, fruits-vegetables and healthy fats/oils. This will ensure that your body gets all the essential nutrients like proteins, carbs, vitamins, minerals and fiber in the required amounts.
• Do not skip breakfast: Eggs, milk and oats, idli/dosa, veg sandwich, dal/veg paratha, veg poha/upma provide a combination of proteins, complex carbs, fibre and vitamins.
• Grab a handful of nuts when hungry at mid-morning or during snack time. Nuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, flavonoids, antioxidants and minerals.
• Hydrate by having nimbu pani, coconut water, buttermilk or green tea in place of tea, coffee or aerated drinks.
• Avoid red meat, refined processed and packed foods, fried and sweet foods and alcohol to keep away from chronic diseases.
• Include iron rich foods like green leafy veggies, dates, black sesame, apricots, black currants, quinoa, legumes, amaranth, whole grains and dark chocolate to improve our iron stores and Hemoglobin levels.
• Eat atleast two fruits and 3-4 servings of vegetables everyday.
• Include foods rich in calcium and Vit D like almonds, milk and milk products, green veggies, legumes, fish, oil seeds, eggs and supplements (if required). Calcium and Vit D help in improving bone health, muscle recovery and increase immunity.
Bringing her expertise to the same, Sweedal Trinidade, HOD Dietary Services at PD Hinduja Hospital and MRC in Mahim, said, “A healthy tree bears health fruits so does a healthy woman, not just productivity in terms of progeny but also work performance and service to community at large by being in perfect harmony with well-nourished, mind, body, soul. NFHS 4 2015-16 Statistics have shown that 25% of women in reproductive age in India are undernourished; having BMI less than 18.5kg/m2. Undernourished mothers not only give rise to undernourished infants but also pose increased health risk to mother and child, lowering survival rates.”
Talking about adequate nutrition and whether healthy eating is only in terms of adequate calories, she revealed that healthy eating implies including all food groups, cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fats and oils in right portions with conscious elimination of processed foods, empty calories. She suggested –
• Cereals and pulses: Include whole grains, such as brown rice, whole-wheat, jowar, bajra, nachni, oats lentils and pulses upto 55-60% of your daily intake as they are major sources of energy for daily activities.
• Fruits and vegetables: Include 2 servings of fruits and at least 4 servings of vegetables to meet daily requirement of micronutrients and fibre thus preventing inflammation but boosting energy levels.
• Protein: Legumes, pulses, soya, soya products, dairy in case of vegetarian diet, and egg, meat, fish, poultry in case of non-vegetarian diet to make up for the daily requirements as well as for wear and tear of the body.
• Dairy: Milk and milk products are rich sources of calcium, vitamin D3, thus helping to maintain strong teeth and bones preventing osteoporosis in the long run. Choose low- fat dairy foods in place of regular whole fat dairy foods.
• Fats: Not all fats are bad. Omega 3 and MUFA should be consumed; natural sources for these are canola oil, groundnut, sunflower oil, flax seed oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts as prescribed). Eat foods rich in alpha-linolenic (ALA) acid such as legumes. Minimise consumption of ready- to- eat fast foods, bakery foods and processed foods prepared in hydrogenated fat. Use of re-heated fats and oils should be avoided. Use fats and oils in moderation and consume varieties of foods to get good proportion of all fatty acids for optimal health benefits.
• Salt: Develop a taste for foods/diets that are low in salt. Restrict intake of preserved and processed foods such as papad, pickles, sauces, ketch up, salted biscuits, chips, cheese and salted fish.
Shikha Agarwal, Founder, Nutritionist and Health and Wellness Consultant at Nurture, shared, “First and foremost, Vetiver root is renowned for its remarkable benefits in promoting overall health, including supporting gut health. Its natural properties can aid in maintaining a healthy digestive system and improving overall well-being. Strength training is particularly beneficial for women, as it not only helps build muscle strength but also plays a crucial role in maintaining bone density. Engaging in regular strength training exercises can contribute to stronger bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Hormonal imbalances are also one factor that can influence the use of plastics, emphasizing the importance of reducing plastic usage. Plastic products often contain chemicals that can disrupt hormone function. By minimizing exposure to plastics, women can help maintain a healthier hormonal balance.”
Highlighting that anemia is a common concern among women and garden cress seeds present a potential remedy due to their rich iron content, she advised, “Including garden cress seeds in the diet can help combat iron deficiency and promote healthy blood production. Vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiencies are also prevalent among women. To address these deficiencies, it is important to ensure adequate intake of foods rich in these vitamins or consider supplementation. Additionally, incorporating probiotics into the diet can aid in B12 absorption, as they support a healthy gut environment. Furthermore, proper stress management is vital for optimal vitamin D absorption. Chronic stress can negatively impact vitamin D levels in the body. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature can help support healthy vitamin D levels.”
The health expert concluded, “Women can enhance their overall health by incorporating specific practices into their lifestyles. Emphasising the use of vetiver root for gut health, embracing strength training for muscle and bone health, reducing plastic usage to maintain hormonal balance, incorporating iron-rich garden cress seeds, addressing vitamin deficiencies through diet or supplementation, considering probiotics for B12 absorption, and practising stress management for proper vitamin D absorption are all valuable steps in promoting a healthier and more vibrant life for women.”