I probably should not be writing about my food habits. For all the workouts I do, and fitness-related articles I write (and read), my eating habits have remained dismal. However, I have realised something over the years. As women, we chase after being thin, or slim. It is probably culturally ingrained into us (to be fair, a majority of men have also been told to look a certain way—big, muscular, or what society calls “manly”). In trying to be thin we often make basic mistakes like eating less, eating not-so-wholesome meals, or even eating things which we “assume” would help us be thin, even if they don’t let us be fit.
Let’s be honest, we have all tried to do some crazy diet at some point. I know I have tried the GM diet, a juice detox and even the keto diet. None of them were helpful. This week (1-7 September) has been marked as National Nutrition Week. It seemed apt then to talk about what women should be eating.
First things first. A change in our nutrition requires a change in our perception of what constitutes ‘fitness’. Our goal should not be to become thin, or bulky, or muscular. It should be to be healthy, to have good immunity (especially important when there’s a global pandemic), and strength to do at least our basic daily chores without trouble. This is not to say that just because your goal isn’t losing weight, you put on extra weight or become super skinny. Target and maintain a healthy weight range, eat food that’s good for you, and eat enough to keep you full.
“Many clients want to follow a particular diet to achieve what they believe is ideal. To lose weight, they sometimes skip meals or eat less. But if your diet does not have enough nutrients, it can have a lot of ill effects. Including hampering the metabolism, sleep cycle, hormones, and bone health,” explains Paraj Primlani, certified nutritionist and founder of ParaFit, a collaborative fitness website.
One must also remember that as women, our nutritional needs are different to that of men because of the hormones we produce. So if the men in your life are eating something that is healthy for them, it won’t necessarily have the same impact on your body. Conversely, just because they don’t need a specific nutrient doesn’t mean that you don’t either.
"Women go through so many hormonal changes in their life span. Food is a very important part of one’s life both in terms of nutrition and taste if eaten right can keep one happy. During adolescence one goes through so many physical changes and you need good nutritious food that supports growth. Puberty is the time when girls need extra iron along with vitamins and mineral to cope up with the menstrual cycle. Pregnancy comes with so many extra needs and mood swings. One has to make sure that food is not only nutritious but also tasty a complete package," says Gunita Singh, director of Dentem and associate consultant at Delhi's Sri Ganga Ram Hospital.
With that in mind, here’s a quick checklist of the nutrients that you should keep in track of.
Iron: The body needs iron to support growth, make certain hormones, and transport oxygen to different tissues. Women often suffer from iron deficiency, which can lead to anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells in the body). This is all the more true for women of child bearing age, since blood loss through menstruation can cause iron deficiency. Some regular, easy sources for iron include fish, nuts, beans, vegetables and meat.
Calcium: Both men and women need calcium. However, women tend to lose bone density from around the age of 35 and are more likely to develop conditions such as osteoporosis. So monitor your calcium levels and fortify it through proper nutrition. Some good sources are fish with bones, leafy greens and soya beans.
Folic Acid: Another nutrient we don’t speak much about is folic acid, or folate in its natural form. This can be found in beans, peas, eggs and spinach. Folate stimulates red blood cell formation and the production of important chemical signals in the nervous system. It is especially vital for pregnant women since it is known to prevent neural tube defects in a newborn.
Vitamin D: This seems almost obvious since most people seem to be suffering from a lack of enough vitamin D. This is useful for cell growth, immunity building and reducing inflammation. According to a 2019 study, about 70-90% adults in India, and about 84% pregnant women are deficient in vitamin D. Good sources of this includes egg yolk, fish like hilsa and tuna, and even mushrooms.
So remember, at the end of the day you need a balanced meal, one that gives you enough nutrition in proper quantities. Just because you had a meal rich in calcium doesn’t mean you can skimp on the others. Once you have made nutritious food your habit, you can easily achieve your other health and fitness goals—be it to lose weight, to build muscles or increase stamina.