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Condition - Female health through the ages

By Debbie Paddington Dip ION

Eating healthily is essential at every stage of life, but some nutrients are even more important at certain times. Your food choices may help reduce PMS, boost fertility, combat stress, make pregnancy easier, and ease the symptoms of the menopause. Whatever your age, committing to a healthy diet and supplement programme will help you look and feel your best so that you stay on top of your commitments and enjoy life.

Nutrition in your 20s

Women in their 20s are more likely to eat fast food than at any other age.  Add to that skipping meals, dieting, excess caffeine and alcohol, and women in their 20s are very likely to be missing out on many essential nutrients. Omega 3 essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and oily fish are important at any stage of life, but particularly for women in their 20s. Essential fatty acids are important for skin health and hormonal balance, so may help with conditions such as PMS and acne. They also help mood, an important fact considering that women in their 20s are particularly susceptible to depression. Your 20s are also an important time to build up bone, so eating green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, live yoghurt, cottage cheese and dried fruit is important as they are rich sources of the bone-building nutrients, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K. Excess coffee, tea and alcohol can deplete B vitamins, particularly B6, which is important for hormonal health and energy. So try alternatives to coffee and tea, such as green tea, cat’s claw tea and peppermint tea, and make sure you include plenty of B-vitamin-rich foods such as wholegrains, poultry, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, potatoes, dates and figs in your diet. You may also find taking a B complex supplement helpful, together with a good general multivitamin and mineral.

Nutrition in your 30s

Your 30s can be a hectic, stressful decade juggling your job, family and health. Balancing blood sugar is essential for optimum energy levels. To help manage blood sugar levels, avoid sugar and sugary foods, including refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta and white rice. Instead, eat the wholegrain alternatives, such as oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread/pasta. Try to eat good-quality protein with every meal, e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables. Eating little and often is better for balancing blood sugar levels than three large meals. Nutrients such as chromium, B vitamins, zinc and magnesium are also helpful. The herb rhodiola may also be beneficial as it can help with the symptoms of stress such as anxiety, fatigue and exhaustion. More women these days are starting a family in their 30s rather than in their 20s, so eating to maximise your fertility and having a healthy pregnancy is key. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and selenium help to protect the body from free radical damage and so may support fertility and pregnancy. Selenium levels are often very low in our soil, which, consequently, means that foods grown in these soils contains very little. An antioxidant supplement that contains selenium is, therefore, advised.

The department of health recommends 400mcg of folic acid a day, when trying to conceive, which is ideally taken as part of a multivitamin and mineral designed for pregnancy. Omega 3 oils could also be beneficial as they may help the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system.

Nutrition in your 40s

This is the decade that weight may begin to creep on, thanks to our decreasing metabolism and changing hormone levels. Fighting this slow but consistent creep can be accomplished through exercise and following a blood-sugar-balancing diet. Nutrients such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may also be useful to help lower body fat and increase lean body mass. As you approach the menopause, bone-building nutrients become very important. Most of us are aware that calcium is important for bones, but other nutrients, such as vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K, are also essential for bone health. Including phytoestrogenic foods, such as soya, flax seeds, sesame seeds, lentils, chickpeas, broccoli, kale, cabbage and celery, may help to support healthy hormone balance in the body and assist with menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats. Supplements that may have a phytoestrogenic effect, such as black cohosh, Mexican wild yam and soya, may also be useful. Collagen and hyaluronic acid are two substances that are found naturally in the skin and help to keep it firm and plump. Depressingly, once we reach around 35 years of age, our collagen levels start to diminish, so skin becomes less firm and fine lines may appear. Eating good-quality protein and foods rich in vitamin C, and supplementing with a complex containing collagen and hyaluronic acid is important for the skin as we age. In our 40s is also the time when some of us start to notice stiffness and pain in the joints and muscles. Collagen, as well as being important for the skin, helps to support joint health. The nutrient glucosamine may also be beneficial to help maintain healthy, flexible, mobile joints.

After the menopause

Many body processes, as well as environmental factors, such as smoke and pollution, produce free radicals. Free radical damage to cells has been associated with numerous health conditions, including heart disease and cancer, and they also play a role in aging. Antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables help to protect the body from free radical damage, so ensure you get at least five portions a day. To make this easier, you could use a powder made from whole apples, blueberries, tomatoes and broccoli sprouts. The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin are particularly important for protecting the eyes from free radical damage, which may lead to impaired eyesight. Natural sources of these antioxidants include kale, eggs, spinach and broccoli. A supplement containing these antioxidants may also be beneficial.

Memory may also start to become an issue after the menopause. If you find yourself going into the kitchen and then not remembering what you wanted, you might find choline, phosphatidyl serine and acetyl-l-carnitine useful for finding what you lost!

So, it’s never too late to take action! 

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