A woman’s body faces several hormonal changes in its lifetime. Every hormonal cycle lasts for up to seven years and each phase is fraught with physical changes in the body. The hormone plays on her body are no less than a turmoil as each phase demands special and varied nutritional care to ensure her optimal health and well-being.
As women advance in age their metabolic rate as also their energy levels start slowing. Mid-life turns, for example, menopause alone, can further lead to hormonal imbalances and weight gain among other issues.
“Balancing the energy intake to meet the energy requirements becomes crucial for maintaining the body mass index and avoiding unnecessary weight gain,” says Dr Esther Sathiaraj, Head – of Clinical Nutrition, HealthCare Global, Bengaluru.
A woman’s health can deteriorate if the body is not given adequate care, and this can bring up other age-related health issues. Women face the common risks of osteoporosis – which makes the bones brittle and vulnerable to fracture; sarcopenia or loss of skeletal muscle; insomnia, hypertension, and degenerative disorders.
Dr Sathiaraj explains how nutrient deficiency can lead to the early onset of degenerative diseases. “Many degenerative diseases are due to oxidative stress and therefore a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and antioxidants like Vitamins D, C, E, and selenium can delay and prevent the onset of degenerative diseases,” she says.
Specific nutrients that ageing women must consume, according to her, are “sufficient proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, Vitamin D, certain micronutrients, and antioxidants.” A combination of these nutrients can help vulnerable people to deal with age-related conditions of hormonal imbalance, sarcopenia, and inflammation.
Making the right food choices
A few years back, Jasbir Dosanjh, who was then a college professor in Amritsar, experienced extreme hot flashes, and weight gain during her menopause. Then aged 50, she also felt numbness in her hands, besides sleeplessness, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and osteoarthritis until her doctor recommended multivitamins, calcium, and Vitamin D, besides muscle relaxants.
Her doctor advised her to get a regular check-up every six months based on which the dosage of medicines is changed. Dosanjh, now 67, follows good eating habits, does yoga, and goes to the gym five days a week. This has led to no medication for BP.
For the main meal, she consumes chapati, or Indian flat wheat bread, with one or two cooked vegetables and a bowl of dal (cooked lentil.) Her daily diet includes an egg, a cup of milk, and a bowl of curd apart from two fruits, nuts, and seeds. She takes paneer (Indian cottage cheese) twice or thrice a week and chicken twice a week.
These lifestyle modifications are credited to have helped Dosanjh to regain energy. She has strength in her bones now and has improved her overall quality of life.
Dr Sathiaraj advises eating food made with grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice, all of which offer anti-inflammatory benefits. She also emphasises that one should eat 5-7 fruits and vegetables and follow a predominantly plant-based diet to avoid the risk of lifestyle diseases.
However, a diet that consists of oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel can be eaten thrice a week to fight pain and stiffness of joints.
Protein is of priority
Mahnoor Wani, a clinical dietician from Srinagar, offers a similar dietary recommendation. She advises women in their middle age or beyond “to consume a balanced diet which is high in protein and antioxidants.”
A 2016 study suggests that 41 percent of women consume less protein than the recommended dietary allowance (source). Animal protein is neither superior nor inferior to plant protein, and it is all about getting essential amino acids that cannot be synthesised by the body, but must be replenished from food.
Ask the experts
The study says the amount of energy in plant protein is higher than in animal protein, making it a popular choice. But “The intervention of the physician is important here because the basal metabolic rate declines with age; and ageing adults need less energy to balance the parameters of ageing, weight gain or loss, and BMR,” says Wani. And so, one cannot simply decide on a protein type and start consuming it.
Dark chocolate with more than 70 per cent cocoa, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, and other berries are packed with antioxidants. Yet, expert advice is needed here as the high acid content of berries may be harmful to some. Adding garlic and cloves to food offers multiple benefits in addition to curbing the harmful oxidation.
Keeping it simple
Suman Arora, a homemaker from Ludhiana, suffered from back pain and lost her handgrip strength after menopause. In her 50s, she had a heart attack and had a stent placed in a blood vessel.
Arora, 69 years now, has benefitted from the small lifestyle changes she made after those health downturns. She prefers vegetarian food and eats small portions of simple, homemade food. Her food absorption has slowed hence she chooses plant-based foods, which are giving her the required protein from plant-based sources. Along with simple food habits, her daily routine of meditation and a 30-minute walk has kept her weight in check and sustained her overall well-being. She continues to take the prescribed calcium and omega-3 tablets.
No fit-all diet
Today, one can find numerous diet plans in the lifestyle market. However, not all of them are healthy nor suited for different age groups. There also cannot be a single diet for all because each person is different, with different metabolisms and health conditions.
It is always advised to consult a doctor and get the relevant lab tests done before embarking on any diet plan.