March is National Nutrition Month and National Women’s Month. In light of this awareness month, I interviewed Sandra Stuart to discuss women’s health and how nutrition plays a role in health. Stuart is a registered sports dietician who currently works with Moody Air Force Base and teaches nutrition classes at Valdosta State University.
Nutrition can seem daunting, but the whole goal of nutrition is to have an overall improvement of health with a balanced diet. This includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and good low fat/non fat dairy products. Having a balanced overall diet reduces risk of disease specifically osteoporosis and heart disease.
“Women do have a higher risk of osteoporosis and heart disease,” said Stuart.
When discussing diets, it’s almost impossible to ignore calorie intake. The amount of calories a woman should consume really depends on that woman’s lifestyle; however, a woman should never go below 1,200 calories.
Stuart has noticed with the women she has counseled who have consumed below 1,200 calories that they hurt themselves by consuming that few calories rather than helping. Consuming less than 1,200 calories reduces your metabolism, causes a higher risk of nutrient deficiency, and impairs your immunity.
If you have questions about your diet, it is always best to consult a licensed dietician, but downloading a calorie counting app is an easy way to see exactly what you are putting in your body.
While consuming fewer calories can help to eliminate fat, but there are some foods that can help. For example, having a wide variety of fruits and vegetables provides more food with fewer calories. This provides your body with more fiber which ultimately keeps you fuller longer. Making sure to include lean protein, which can increase metabolism a little bit, a variety of whole grains, and nonfat dairy can provide a boost to your metabolism.
Processed foods, fast food, and sugar sweetened beverages also add up to a lot of calories, so reducing your total consumption of those items can significantly lower caloric intake. Activity also boosts metabolism.
When it comes to iron or vitamins, a balanced diet should provide the correct amount of nutrients your body needs; however, consuming iron supplements can help women who have a history of low iron or anemia. The decision to consume iron supplements should be done under the direction of a doctor or dietician. If you are looking to intake more iron, especially if you are on your cycle, foods, such as lean beef, leafy greens and beans, can provide more iron. The amount of iron that needs to be consumed depends on a woman’s cycle. For example, a woman on birth control may have a lighter cycle than a woman who does not take birth control.
Iron intake should be individualized.
“Trying to consume enough nutrients through our food is the most important,” said Stuart.
Unless you have a nutrient deficiency, Stuart doesn’t recommend that you load your body with a ton of supplements. If you wanted to take something, a multivitamin from a reputable source won’t hurt you, and a fish oil pill can be beneficial to provide nutrients like Omega-3 especially if you don’t consume fish. If you have specific questions, you should reach out to a registered dietician or doctor.
When it comes to thyroid function, making sure that your body has enough iodine is important, which can be found in iodized salt, dairy and fish.
Your consumption of caffeine is another thing to consider. There are mixed opinions over whether caffeine affects breast cysts; however, one thing is for certain.
“Four hundred mg of caffeine is considered safe,” said Stuart. “Any amount from 600 mg-800 mg can have harmful side effects such as restlessness, shakiness, insomnia, gastrointestinal distress and headaches.”
Building a higher tolerance can exacerbate these symptoms. You should lower your dependence as much as possible. This 400 mg standard is universal for both men and women. The symptoms of high caffeine intake are the same; they just manifest in different ways.
The overall goal is to have a well-balanced lifestyle, which includes consideration of both your diet and your physical activity.
Written by Carissa Zaun
Registered Sports Dietician