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Eat Right, Eat Healthy

Nutritional deficiencies can lead to a plethora of health problems. Women are more nutrient deficient due to various reasons which need to be overcome with diet and other means

Eat Right, Eat Healthy

Sentinel Digital Desk

The deficiency mainly stems from dietary factors. The nutrient intake of a woman, on the other hand, depends on a host of other factors like economic status, social and cultural background, individual habits, age, level of activity, and genetics. Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies that women suffer from include those of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, folate, potassium, iodine, magnesium, and omega fatty acids.


Nutrient deficiency is a health condition that a person develops when she does not eat, or her body does not absorb, enough of a certain nutrient which includes a vitamin, mineral, or fatty acid. The problem of nutritional disorder among women is more acute in India as it is directly linked to poor diets.

As stated above, by nutrients we mean vitamins and minerals which are essential for healthy functioning of the human body. The deficiency mainly stems from dietary factors. The nutrient intake of a woman, on the other hand, depends on a host of other factors like economic status, social and cultural background, individual habits, age, level of activity, and genetics. Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies that women suffer from include those of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, folate, potassium, iodine, magnesium, and omega fatty acids.

Iron

Iron deficiency and anaemia among women are endemic in most parts of the world, especially in the developing countries. However, the World Health Organization states that this nutrient deficiency is also widely prevalent in the industrialized nations. Anaemia is caused by low iron levels, which affects almost 30 per cent of the entire population of the world. This is a condition which triggers fatigue, hair loss, muscle weakness, headache, dizziness and a myriad of other health issues.

Older women, adolescent girls, anaemic patients, vegans and vegetarians are at a greater risk of developing iron deficiency. There is a high chance of developing anaemia during the monthly cycle of menstruation if the loss of nutrients is not made up.

Vitamin B12

Lack of vitamin B12 causes constipation, weakness, dry skin, and cognitive issues. This water-soluble vitamin plays a vital role in production of haemoglobin that helps the cells receive oxygen. It also helps develop brain and nerve cells, and facilitates the production of DNA.

Vitamin D

Both adults and children suffer from the common vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) deficiency problem across the globe. Exposure to adequate sunlight helps produce vitamin D in the body. This vitamin regulates calcium absorption and its deficiency may lead to weakening of bones. Vitamin D also supports cardiovascular health, testosterone and immune functions.

Calcium

Low calcium levels often afflict young and teenage girls as well as women aged 50 years and above. Apart from issues like dietary deficiency, some people are just unable to absorb calcium. Strenuous physical activities can also lead to calcium loss. Women with lactose intolerance run out of calcium reserves as they avoid taking dairy products. Old age and low vitamin D levels are also responsible for poor calcium absorption in the body. Low calcium levels cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, dental issues and weak bones.

Folate

Folate or folic acid is a micronutrient that a woman particularly requires during pregnancy. It is extremely essential for proper foetal development. The risk of birth defects increases if folate is low in expecting women. Folate deficiency may lead to tiredness, breathlessness, dizziness, pale skin and heart palpitations.

Potassium

Inadequate potassium intake can lead to blood pressure and kidney stone issues. Apart from deficiency in dietary intake, low potassium levels may also be attributed to medication, diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel syndrome and excessive sweating.

Iodine

Like folate, iodine is also important for brain development of the growing foetus. It also plays a crucial role in production of requisite thyroid hormones in the body. The thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, regulate metabolism. Iodine deficiency leads to hypothyroidism, goitre, lethargy, hormonal imbalance and problematic pregnancy.

Magnesium

As an electrolyte, magnesium helps in the regulation of calcium, potassium and sodium levels. It is also essential for carrying out over 300 different biochemical functions in the body. The signs of magnesium shortage include leg cramps, insomnia, anxiety and constipation. In older women, the risks get bigger.

Omega fatty acids

A balanced diet of omega fatty acids, including omega-6 and omega-3, is essential to keep conditions like arthritis, heart disease. Alzheimer's, and depression at bay.

When to get alarmed

The alarm bells ring when a woman gets the following symptoms of vitamin or mineral deficiency:

Hair loss; memory problems; weakness; diminished sexual urge; pale and dry skin; red and swollen gums; irregular heartbeats; mood changes; joint pains; eye problems; scurvy, rickets, beriberi

The high-risk groups

Nutrient deficiency is mainly caused by eating a poor diet. But some women are at a greater risk of developing adverse symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiency even if they consume a diet rich in nutrients. They include vegetarians or vegans, pregnant women, and elders above the age of 55 years.

Pregnancy triggers the need for more nutrients for the well-being of both mother and unborn baby. Micronutrients like folate, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iodine are needed the most when a woman in expecting. It is essential to maintain a proper nutritional status before, during and after pregnancy.

Elderly women need adequate doses of B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and iron. Nutrient-dense diets and supplements can help prevent complications arising out of bone loss, fractures, heart problems, diabetes and cognitive disorders.

The solution

The remedy for nutrient deficiency is consumption of a variety of both plant and animal foods. Sometimes dietary supplements can also do the trick. Exposure to sunlight, getting enough calories in food, limiting alcohol intake and certain medications, and avoiding excessive training and dieting are some of the other ways to minimise the risks associated with nutrient deficiency. Wisdom lies in saying 'no' to refined grain and added sugar products, packaged snacks and refined vegetable oils. On the other hand, go for plenty of fresh plant foods, clean protein foods and healthy fats.

Also Read: Anuradha Sharma Pujari: From the Land of Nahor to the City of Joy

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