You’ve heard correctly! Women go through life stages and hormonal changes resulting in the need for more nutrients, namely iron and calcium. All the while, women need anywhere from 200-300 fewer calories per day than men of the same body weight, height and age. This means that women have the added task of eating more nutritionally dense food than their male counterparts eat.
After puberty hits, women lose a considerable amount of blood each month through menstruation. A major component of blood is iron, found within hemoglobin. When blood is lost, so is iron. Women need to replenish this nutrient, or they risk developing iron deficiency anemia.
Additionally, there are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron, found only in animal products, is more absorbable and usable by the body than non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is naturally prevalent in beans, tofu and spinach. Hot and cold cereals are fortified with non-heme iron and can provide a full day’s worth of iron.
After menopause, the concern shifts from iron intake to calcium stores. Women are prone to the loss of bone tissue, called osteoporosis, typically due to hormonal changes. Consuming plenty of calcium early on in life and performing regular weight-bearing exercise can help build bone mass before the onset of calcium depletion, thus preventing osteoporosis.
Foods rich in calcium include most dairy products, canned fish with bones, soybeans, dark leafy greens and fortified juices and cereals.
For many women, these two minerals are only pieces of the puzzle. Calcium inhibits iron absorption, which is truly unfortunate considering they should be consumed during the same life stage.
One strategy to overcome this is to focus certain meals on iron intake and others on calcium intake. For example, eat some yogurt and a small bowl of cereal with milk for breakfast, then snack on dark leafy greens in mid-morning. Focus on iron intake for lunch and midday snacks, like a tuna salad sandwich with spinach on top, chased down with a glass of lemonade (vitamin C increases iron absorption).
While women have the added task of ensuring they consume enough iron and calcium to keep up with their bodies’ hectic happenings, they also reap the sweet benefits. Use it as an excuse to eat that cup of frozen yogurt for calcium or grilled lean steak for iron. It’s for your health!