IT may not have been something you thought much about, but women's nutritional needs change at different stages of life due to various physiological, hormonal, and lifestyle factors. That would explain why we need certain supplements like calcium as we age, and why we need to quit other habits, like high sugar intake, the older we get.
Nutritionist Keisha Black gives a general overview below of how nutrition needs evolve across different life stages for women.
"It's important for women to adapt their diets to meet changing nutritional needs as they progress through different life stages. A balanced and varied diet, along with regular physical activity, can help support overall health and well-being," Black said.
Adolescence (Ages 9-18)
During childhood and adolescence, nutrient needs are higher to support growth, development, and the building of bone density.
Nutrient needs: Calcium, iron, vitamin D, and zinc are essential for bone growth, development, and overall health.
Energy intake: Increased energy requirements due to growth spurts and physical activity.
Young adulthood (Ages 19-30)
Hormonal fluctuations can affect nutrient requirements. For example, the need for iron increases during menstruation to prevent anaemia, and calcium and vitamin D become important for bone health.
Nutrient needs: Focus on iron, folate, calcium, and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of anaemia. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart and brain health.
Energy intake: Energy needs remain relatively stable, but dietary choices can impact long-term health.
Childbearing years (Ages 31-50)
Nutrient needs change during the childbearing years to support pregnancy, lactation, and menstrual health. Adequate intake of nutrients, like iron, folate, calcium, and vitamin D, is essential during these stages.
Nutrient needs: Folate (during pregnancy), iron, calcium, and vitamin D are crucial. Adequate protein and iron are important during menstruation.
Energy intake: Pregnancy and breastfeeding increase energy needs. Proper weight management is important for overall health.
Perimenopause (Late 40s to early 50s)
As women age, the risk of certain chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers increases. Nutrient-rich foods that support heart health (for example, omega-3 fatty acids) and reduce inflammation (eg, antioxidants) become even more important.
Nutrient needs: Calcium and vitamin D remain important for bone health. Focus on maintaining a balanced diet to support metabolism and hormonal changes.
Energy intake: Metabolism may start to slow down, so managing portion sizes and staying active are key.
Menopause and postmenopause (Late 40s to 60s and beyond)
Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants play a role in maintaining cognitive function and brain health as women age.
Nutrient needs: Calcium and vitamin D continue to be important for bone health. Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants support heart health and reduce inflammation.
Energy intake: Metabolism may further slow down, and maintaining muscle mass through protein intake and strength training becomes important.
Elderly years (65+)
Bone density tends to decrease as women age, increasing the need for nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium to maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Nutrient needs: Calcium and vitamin D remain essential for bone health. Focus on nutrients that support cognitive function, such as omega-3s and antioxidants.
Energy intake: Energy needs decrease with age, so it's important to choose nutrient-dense foods and stay physically active.
"Throughout all stages of life, maintaining a balanced and varied diet is key. Prioritising nutrient-dense foods, like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats support overall health," Black said. "Additionally, staying hydrated, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing stress are important components of a healthy lifestyle at every age."