In the Indian context, women of the childbearing age – 15 to 48 years – are prone to a variety of ailments. As a woman ages, and crosses 30 years of age, these conditions are only likely to worsen.
One of the commonest debilitating conditions of this age group is anemia. Iron deficiency is rampant among young girls and women of childbearing age. This has a knock-on effect on not just the woman’s health, but also the developing fetus. Besides iron deficiency, lack of vitamin B12 and folic acid can also cause anemia.
The usual metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol levels afflict both sexes, but heart diseases as a whole are less common during this period in women due to the cardio-protective effect of the female hormones.
However, hormonal changes occur during this period, and are known to worsen just prior to menopause. Hot flushes occur commonly during menopause. These can be transient, but other longer lasting changes such as low mood and anxiety can set in during this period.
Menstrual irregularities, polycystic ovarian syndrome which can cause weight gain, excess hair growth and infertility, and cancer of the breast and cervix could occur during the childbearing period.
During the reproductive ages, bone mineral deposition keeps worsening, leading to osteoporosis after menopause. With this, joint problems such as arthritis can set in or worsen. Weight gain is common during the age period of 30 to 40 years, leading to an exacerbation of all the problems mentioned above. In the older age groups, women are more prone to developing dementia than men.
While these problems are to be expected during the natural process of ageing, a healthy diet and lifestyle can be incorporated early in life to prevent some of them from occurring, or worsening as a woman ages.
So what are these health foods that can help achieve this goal?
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These provide protection against heart diseases and cancers, apart from improving brain function. They can be obtained from oily fishes, especially salmon. If you are looking for vegetarian sources, nuts such as walnuts, almonds, flaxseed and olives provide a good alternative.
- Vitamins and minerals: To reduce the effects of anemia, iron rich diet such as meat, spinach, tofu, nuts and dark chocolate can be consumed. All types of fruits, vegetables and berries are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and fibers, and at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables should be included in the daily diet.
- Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates which slowly release the energy over a long period of time are better, instead of the sugary substances such as colas and sweets. Oats, whole grains, potatoes, tapioca and corn are good sources of complex carbohydrates and can help keep the weight in check.
- Proteins: These are the building blocks of the body, and are also said to aid weight loss. Milk, eggs, meat, soya and pulses are good sources of proteins.
- Calcium: Even though this is a mineral, it merits a separate mention because of its importance in maintaining bone health in women. Milk is an excellent source of calcium and can be consumed daily. Eggs and dairy products are also good sources. If calcium is to get into the bones to prevent osteoporosis, it has to be aided by vitamin D. Therefore both calcium and vitamin D should be consumed together. Cheese, fatty fish and egg yolks are good sources of vitamin D.
- Flavonoids: These are anti-inflammatory in nature and can help reduce symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes. They are present in bright coloured fruits and berries, and soy milk. For pre-menstrual syndrome, complex carbohydrates and calcium rich can be tried, apart from restricting caffeine intake.
These dietary inclusions can go a long way in preventing or alleviating some of the conditions that affect women. However, they have to be combined with a healthy overall lifestyle that also includes exercise and relaxation for these foods to be truly effective.