This is a guest post by the amazing Charlotte Stirling-Reed (RNutr), of SR Nutrition.
Dietary surveys in the UK tell us that the diet and nutrition of young women in the UK is not nearly as good as it should be. This matters. It matters for several reasons. Many women will go on to have families, and nutrient stores are often built up over time, even BEFORE pregnancy begins. These stores may be incredibly important for the growth, development and the long-term health of a baby. Ultimately, for many young females today, the state of their diet now may be the initial foundations for our future generations’ health.
In fact, around 50% of young females and women in the UK have iron and magnesium intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (the amount that is enough for only a very small proportion of the population). This means that many females aren’t getting enough of these important minerals day to day. Young women in particular also fall fairly short when it comes to a lot of other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, calcium and zinc. When we combine this with the fact that most of the adult population isn’t meeting recommendations for saturated fats, free sugars, fibre, fruit and vegetables or oily fish either, you can see how female dietary intakes become somewhat of a concern.
Helping young females to be healthy and to eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet should therefore be a top priority but often very little support is actually given for this age group.
There are however certain groups within the community such as young babies, the older population and pregnant women which are recommended to take supplements daily. However, although pregnancy guidelines recommend taking folic acid when you’re trying to conceive, there is no advice to supplement the diet before this time, even if nutrient intakes are very low. Most young females will probably be unaware that their intakes for certain nutrients are low and the consequences may themselves also go unnoticed. On top of this, 50% of pregnancies are actually unplanned, meaning that many women are at risk of going into their pregnancies malnourished.
So what should the female population be doing to ‘get healthy’?
Eat a balanced diet
First and foremost it’s always going to be about getting a balanced diet. It may sound dull and it may be less intriguing than the latest quick fix fad, but it’s real and it also doesn’t have to be that hard.
Healthy eating is all about variety, balance and moderation, so don’t worry too much about the ins and outs, just try to eat more fruits and vegetables, more wholegrains, plenty of plant-based proteins and get a few portions of dairy or alternatives in there too. Don’t worry about ‘avoiding’ specific foods or food groups entirely, but try to think about eating more of the above and a few less of the choccies, biscuits, cakes and sweets et al., on a day to day basis!
Try and maintain a healthy weight
Of course maintaining a healthy weight is important to long term health, as well as to a person’s chances of conceiving, and the health of their future children. What counts as a ‘healthy weight’ is likely to vary from person to person, but BMI can be a useful guide. Possibly more important than the numbers on the scale, is how a person may feel about their own weight – feeling confident in your own body is key. Improving diet and lifestyle can help women feel better mentally, as well as be healthier physically and as an additional bonus this should also help in maintain a healthy weight too.
It’s true that many people spend far too much time sitting and being sedentary and not enough time on the go. Making simple changes such as walking to work, taking the stairs instead of the escalators, jumping off the bus a stop or two earlier and getting off the sofa at weekends can help to boost fitness levels and get people active. It’s important to try and tap into whatever works for you as an individual and simply try to build more activity into every day routines.
Think about taking a multivitamin
With the best will in the world, sometimes it can be a challenge to get everything your body needs every day. As a Registered Nutritionist I do often recommend a multivitamin for people who wish to have a safeguard against those ‘less good’ days. It’s important to remember that this won’t replace a balanced diet. Ever. However supplements can be useful as a ‘just in case’, and to complement a healthy diet. On top of this, the Government now recommends taking vitamin D throughout the winter months and most multivitamins will include the recommended 10mcg of vitamin D we should be taking during this time. Checking the amount of nutrients included in these multivitamins is a good idea and it’s also important to choose supplements without multiple, unnecessary herbal ingredients too. The basic vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, D, C, B vitamins and minerals such as zinc, iodine, magnesium and calcium should be all a young female should need.
For someone who is trying for a baby, switching to a pregnancy multivitamin is a good idea, as pregnancy vitamins don’t contain vitamin A and should also contain the right level of folic acid (400mcg), which is recommended for anyone trying to conceive or throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Lastly, get your oily fish
So often this point gets ignored. The Government recommends including 2 portions of fish a week in the diet, one of which should be oily. Oily fish are source of healthy fats which are essential in our diets. These fats are also vitally important if and when you decide to become pregnant and begin growing a whole new brain inside you! However, if you’re someone who doesn’t eat oily fish or follows a vegan diet, there are still ways to get the essential Omega-3 that your body needs – walnuts, flaxseeds and other seed oils are a useful source, or you could opt for a quality omega-3 algae supplement for ease and to make sure you’re getting a dose of omega-3 every day.
Ultimately, there is no magic bullet to ‘health’ for our female population but to a large extent, the responsibility of the next generations’ health lies a lot with the present generation of young females! Therefore thinking about your health NOW, and not later, could be important. Forget the fads, forget the quick fixes. Hopefully by now we know that the root to health and wellbeing is getting active, eating well and taking care of ourselves. It all matters.