The Unique Nutritional Needs Of Woman

By Samantha Ashe and Peta Hood (APDs)

Dietitians. Lifestar Nutrition and Exercise Physiology

Women have different nutritional needs than men, mainly because of differences in physiology, sex hormones, and body composition. Nutrition is an important part of health and well being, and supplying your body with the correct nutrients, will help ensure that you feel wonderful, and function at your best. Here are some tips to help you optimise your nutritional intake:

Energy Needs

The amount of energy (calories) your body requires is dependant on your individual metabolic rate. One of the factors influencing metabolic rate is muscle mass. Typically, women have less muscle mass and a higher percentage body fat than men, meaning women usually require fewer calories each day to maintain their weight. Whilst there are exceptions, and daily caloric requirements are influenced by activity, to maintain a healthy weight, be mindful of the calorie density of your foods, as well as the portions you consume. It is best to fuel your body with foods of high nutritional value first (rather than high calorie density), such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats and legumes, dairy products, and wholegrain foods.

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome

The chemistry of hormones during women’s cycles affects both body and mind, and often we find ourselves craving snacks, or feeling hungrier than usual at that time of the month. Your metabolic rate does increase mid-cycle, so you may need more energy to stay well fuelled around this time. There is, however, little justification for eating more just before your period and this increased hunger is usually the result of hormonal changes. Have nourishing snacks on hand to help ease mood-swings and cravings. Research also shows that moderate exercise, and Vitamin B6 can help to reduce the symptoms of PMS. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include: meat, fish, soy products, potatoes, lentils, sunflower seeds, and bananas.


This mineral is essential for transporting oxygen in the blood, through binding with haemoglobin. Women’s requirements for iron are much higher than men’s because of the amount of iron lost during menstruation. Iron requirements increase even more during pregnancy. Insufficient iron levels can lead to iron deficiency anaemia. Iron-rich foods include: red meat, eggs, legumes, nuts, green leafy vegetables and iron-fortified cereals. A Dietitian can help determine your individual requirements.


Calcium is the primary mineral important for bone health. Other important bone minerals include phosphorous and magnesium. A decline in bone mineral density (which can lead to osteoporosis) is more common in post-menopausal women due to a reduction in the bone-protective hormone oestrogen. Therefore it is important to consume adequate calcium-rich foods during the growing years to reach peak bone mass by the time of menses, and to increase your calcium intake (and weight-bearing exercise) after menopause. Additionally, having a BMI less than 18kg/m2 (i.e. being classified as underweight) has been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Maintaining a healthy weight and nutrient intake is therefore important for bone health. Rich food sources of calcium include: dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt), calcium-enriched soy/almond milk and fish with edible bones (e.g. tinned salmon and sardines).

Folate or Folic Acid

Folate is a B vitamin associated with improved heart health and protection from bowel cancer. It is also particularly important for women during their childbearing years. Adequate amounts are required for the proper development of the baby’s neural tube and red blood cells. A 400mcg folic acid supplement is recommended pre-conception, and during the first trimester of pregnancy. Foods rich in folate include: broccoli, spinach, bok choy, citrus fruits, and folate-fortified bread.


Phytoestrogens are oestrogen-like compounds found in food. They can help protect against heart disease, and hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast and ovarian. These natural oestrogen-like substances are commonly found in whole grains (linseed), nuts, legumes, alfalfa sprouts, extra virgin olive oil and sesame seeds.

Urinary Incontinence

Whilst urinary incontinence can be markedly improved through physical strengthening exercises, some dietary factors do play a role. Alcohol directly affects the bladder; it can lower the control over the signalling between the brain and bladder, as well as increase the frequency of urination. Most women who experience incontinence will benefit from reducing their alcohol intake. Caffeine stimulates your body to excrete fluids so can also put extra pressure on your bladder. It is not solely found in coffee, teas, soft drinks and chocolate also contain small amounts. Spicy foods have a similar effect on the bladder to caffeine. Avoid consuming spicy foods such as Indian, Mexican, Chinese, chilli and chilli peppers, which can cause bladder lining irritation. Fluid intake is also important. Take care not to restrict it unnecessarily, as this may lead to dehydration. Discuss your individual situation with your Doctor.

Woman are capable of wonderful things, and optimising your nutritional intake can have a significant impact on overall health and well being. For individualised nutrition advice, make an appointment with the friendly team at Lifestar Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. Now consulting weekly at Revive.


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