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At the Dinner Table With Women

Women are at the foundation of their entire family’s nutrition, another reason why they need to be aware of the effects that food has on one’s health, effects which vary depending on one’s stage in life. A subtle yet long and sturdy thread unites women and food. In fact, even within the most advanced societies it is primarily the woman who takes care of preparing food for everyone, thus acting as the family nutritionist.

Nutritional Requirements Change With Age
In general, nutritional guidelines refer to “adults” without any major distinction made between men and women. And indeed, at least generally speaking, the nutritional needs of the two sexes are very similar, with the exception of two very specific times in a woman’s life: pregnancy and nursing. Without getting into too much detail however, it is important to know that every age is characterized by different needs and that for women these frequently depend on their hormones. The first step to maintaining optimum health through eating is to be careful about calorie intake, consuming enough to allow the body to perform all of its functions, but not so much that it gets stored as extra weight, with subsequent negative effects on the heart, blood vessels, brain, metabolism, and bones and with an increased risk of certain kinds of tumours. When they are growing, girls require proportionately more calories as compared to grown women, while women of a more advanced age should reduce their calorie intake in order to compensate for the reduction in physical activity associated with aging and to avoid the accumulation of abdominal fat typical of women in menopause.

Women’s Nutritional Friends
One must also be careful about the quality of the calories consumed, and the Mediterranean diet is, once again, the recommended diet, with several additional precautions for women. Iron, calcium, and Vitamin D are three nutrients that should never be lacking from a woman’s diet.
Women of child-bearing age have a greater need for iron due to the loss of blood associated with their menstrual cycle. While pregnant, this need increases further (in order to guarantee the growth and oxygenation of the foetus’s new tissues) and then decreases with menopause. During pregnancy the body’s need for calcium also increases as it is required to help build strong bones for the baby, as does the need for Vitamin D which is fundamental in “binding” the calcium. If a mother is unable to guarantee the proper intake of Vitamin D and calcium, her baby faces risks as serious as rickets. But calcium is also important at a young age because it is at this time (up to about 25 years old) that bone mass is being built, and also during menopause, when bones begin to grow brittle more rapidly due to hormonal changes.


Nutrition for Mothers
“When you’re pregnant you need to eat for two”. There is nothing more incorrect than this statement, which has been disproved by numerous studies over the years. It’s true that expectant mothers must be sure to follow a diet that is healthy and balanced for their growing baby as well, but in order to do so it is sufficient to increase daily calorie intake by only a small margin: 70 kCal more in the first trimester, 260 in the second, and up to 500 in the third and during lactation, typical of the first 6 months of the baby’s life. Obviously gaining weight during pregnancy is normal, but beyond certain limits (approximately 12 kg for woman of average weight at conception) extra weight can have serious consequences on the health of both mother and child. “The balance between a person’s sense of hunger and sense of satiety is established in utero,” explained Claudio Maffeis, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Verona, during the 2011 BCFN Forum. “A nutritional imbalance in the mother increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases for the rest of a child’s life.”
If a future mother is obese, the risk of complications during delivery increase, as well as the risk that the baby will be overweight and develop type 2 diabetes once grown. And even though there is still more research to be done, it seems that a mother’s excess weight can have permanent negative effects on her child’s metabolism and even modify his or her DNA in terms of the regulation of the expression of genes.

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