Without the right fuel, your body will not be able to perform up to its potential. Here are nine nutritional tips to help you successfully glide through the different phases of your life.
In today's world, the modern woman has gone beyond the domain of just staying home and being a wife and mother - she has ventured into the working world. And although you may not realise it, diet is one of the keys to help you successfully fulfil and balance these roles to the best of your ability. Why? Because when you eat poorly, your body 'breaks down'. Every part of you, from your brain and heart to your skin and bones, is compromised when it doesn't get the materials it needs to survive and thrive. So, it is crucial that you take charge of your diet today.
1. Fill up on carbohydrates
Carbohydrates include rice, bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits, cereals and other grains. These foods give you energy to keep growing and going, so they are a must throughout life. Pregnant and lactating mums can eat a little more to provide for the growing foetus and milk production.
Essentially, carbohydrates are not fattening, it's the spread on bread and oil added to rice or noodle that is fattening. The best option is to:
- Include carbohydrates at each meal - two slices of bread for breakfast, a bowl of rice for lunch and a bowl of noodles for dinner should be quite substantial.
- Stay away from too much spread or oil in your food, remember each teaspoon of oil or spread approximately provides a whopping 45 calories.
- Read labels with packaged foods like biscuits and cookies to determine the fat and calorie content.
For an added bonus of fibre and many B vitamins, make as many of your choices wholegrain - wholemeal bread, high fibre white bread, oats and other high fibre cereals, brown rice and wholemeal pasta. Fibre not only fills you up so you tend to eat less, but it also helps lower risk of certain types of cancer.
2. The power of proteins
Adequate protein is essential for growth, repair and maintenance of the body as well as sustaining muscle mass. Two lady's palm-sized portions of meat, fish or poultry daily provide the right amount of protein with the rest coming from milk. Remember not to overload on proteins though. Excessive protein intake has been linked to loss of calcium in bones and can lead to weight gain, too.
3. Milk in for bones
Osteoporosis is an incapacitating disease that strikes mainly women, especially those with a small frame. Early menopause or a family history of osteoporosis further increases this risk. Poor calcium intake throughout life, especially during the growing years and during pregnancy and lactation also increases the risk of osteoporosis.
Since milk and milk products are the best source of easily absorbable calcium, it is therefore important to drink enough milk. Three cups (250ml) of regular milk or two cups of high-calcium milk are enough for most women.
During the growth spurt, more calcium is needed to help achieve peak bone mass. Breastfeeding too demands more calcium. During these phases, another cup of milk may be added to the diet if other calcium-rich foods, viz., green leafy vegetables, taukwa or ikan bilis, etc., are not included.
If weight is a concern, stay with low fat or skim milk, it provides the same amount of calcium minus some fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. This option is heart-healthy as well.
4. Pump up on iron
Include lean red meat in your diet four to five times a week as it provides nutrients for production of haemoglobin in blood. Haemoglobin carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Blood loss due to menstruation increases the demand for iron and hence the risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia.
Girls who are not yet menstruating require 12.5mgs of iron daily. After puberty, the requirement increases to 18mgs daily. Poultry, lean meat, legumes, green leafy vegetables and iron-fortified cereals are good sources of iron.
During pregnancy and lactation, iron needs remain at 18mgs to provide for building foetal blood supply. Women who suffer from anaemia should consider taking an iron supplement.
5. Soar on soy
Occasionally, try replacing meat, fish or poultry with soybean or soybean products. Recent studies indicate that soybean and soybean products may help lower cholesterol, protect against certain types of cancer viz., breast cancer and even lower the intensity and occurrence of menopausal symptoms.
6. Include fruits and greens
Eat enough vegetables and fruits daily. Two half bowls of cooked vegetables and two standards servings - a small fruit or a hawker-sized portion of fruit provides enough vitamins, minerals and fibre to keep you growing, glowing and active. Besides, recent research has unveiled many other essential components or "phytochemicals" in vegetables and fruits. Phytochemicals offer many beneficial effects viz., fighting certain types of cancers, lowering risk of heart disease and more. Since research in this area is still new, the best option would be to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits through the week.
7. Go low-fat
A little fat is important. It provides calories and important fat-soluble vitamins. But, too much fat can make you fat and has been linked to certain types of cancer and heart disease. To keep obesity at bay, watch fat intake during puberty - fat cells increase in number at that time. Also, don't treat pregnancy or breastfeeding as a ticket to indulge in a long buffet spread daily, excessive weight gain is difficult to battle.
8. Maintain a healthy weight
Stay on track with a healthy weight throughout life. To do this, avoid overeating. Get weight loss strategies into action when clothes begin to feel tighter and not after you have jumped a few dress sizes. Aim to enter menopause without the bulge as hormonal changes make weight maintenance difficult.
9. Make time for exercise
Diet and exercise go hand in hand to maintain health. Exercise not only helps burn calories and maintain weight, but helps maintain muscle, and build and sustain bone mass as well. It's also a great way to relieve stress and have fun!
Yashna Harjani is a consultant dietician with Food + Nutrition Specialists.
Date reviewed: 17 April 2000