Foods to curb nutrient deficiencies in women

A woman washes vegetables. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • While you should be getting the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need through your diet, it is possible to miss out on getting enough of what your body needs.

While food insecurity is a significant problem locally and globally, if you are eating several meals a day and a variety of foods, it is unlikely that you are deficient in calories or nutrients.

According to Amanda Twebaze, a nutritionist, because of hormonal changes, age, pregnancy and other factors, women may be prone to some deficiencies. 

Red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body rely on adequate iron stores. However, heavy menstruation periods and pregnancy can deplete these iron stores in the body, causing an iron deficiency. 

“A plant-based diets to easily increase your iron levels can include dried beans, grains, lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals. Animal based sources such as beef and sea foods are said to provide higher amounts of iron, and our bodies absorb iron more easily than from animal sources,” Twebaze says.

An iron deficiency can be manifested by frequent headaches, fatigue, feeling cold and shortness of breath.

In many aging women, as estrogen drops, the ability to absorb calcium also diminishes. Women on vegan diets usually have a worse condition since they avoid dairy products.

Calcium mineral is best known for keeping bones and teeth strong. It also helps control muscle and nerve function and regulates the heartbeat. 

Cow's milk, fortified soy or almond milks, yoghurt, cheese, fortified cereals and dark green vegetables such as kale and broccoli are common sources of calcium.

Vitamin D
Twebaze says vitamin D deficiency is usually common as we get older. Since few foods are naturally rich in it, getting enough sunlight for our skin to convert to vitamin D is the way to go. Signs of deficiency include fatigue, bone pain, mood changes, muscle aches, and weakness.

Foods high in vitamin D include fortified cow's milk and cereals, soy milk, mushrooms, canned tuna, shrimp and salmon. 

Vitamin B12
The vitamin B12 is crucial to healthy nerve signaling and red blood cell production. However, with age, the body gets progressively less efficient at absorbing it. 

Vegans and vegetarians are also at higher risk of deficiency, since plants do not contain the vitamin.

Once you have a shortfall of this vitamin, you will face symptoms such as fatigue from anaemia, hands, legs, and feet; or trouble with balance as well as memory loss. Vitamin B12 can readily be found in fish, chicken, milk, and yoghurt. 

When can a deficiency occur? 
Generally, very few people usually face nutrient deficiencies unless they intentionally and completely avoid food groups that would drastically affect their general diet.

When one has a nutrient deficiency they may tend to ask about different supplements that are said to be quick fixes yet one needs an overall balanced diet for sustainable changes.

“Multi vitamins and all those other food supplements do not contain all the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in food. They are not shortcuts,” Twebaze warns. 

Vulnerable groups
Advanced age usually makes chewing and swallowing difficult. Also, people in advanced age may get a drop in their desire to eat adequate meals.

People with digestive challenges such as celiac disease, cystic fibrosis and ulcerative colitis may get nutrient deficiencies because these challenges usually interfere with normal digestion. Also, a weight loss surgery (gastric bypass) that removes parts of the digestive tract can have a similar impact in the body. 

Some medications, especially those that are meant to treat Parkinson's disease inhibit B vitamin absorption. 

“Medicines that treat acid reflux and prevent heartburn can prevent one from properly absorbing vitamin B12. Diuretics taken to lower blood pressure can deplete your stores of magnesium, potassium and calcium. You, therefore, may need to take vitamin supplements,” she warns.