5 nutrients women need most as they age

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5 nutrients women need most as they age

Aging brings about changes and that is certainly true for women.  Changes of going through perimenopause and menopause can lead to potentially serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. When the hormone estrogen takes a nose dive after a menopause, this estrogen-deficiency state increases a woman’s risk for developing these diseases.

A smart way for women to avoid this chronic disease scenario is to make every bite of food count.  In other words, choose foods brimming with essential nutrients supporting good health.  There are 5 nutrients women should include rich food sources of every day. Here’s a look at each one:

·      Vitamin D

To prevent brittle bones, wise women will make sure they are obtaining adequate vitamin D.  Vitamin D is actually a hormone and is necessary in order for the bone-building mineral calcium to be absorb (without vitamin D, calcium will not be absorbed). 

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found women who took 800 IU of vitamin D daily reduced their risk of hip fractures by 30 percent. 

The three best ways to get vitamin D is from the sun, food sources of vitamin D, and vitamin D supplements. As we age, our skin does not absorb vitamin D as well as it did when we are younger.  But if a woman can drink 2 cups of milk daily, or have 8 ounces of yogurt, cottage cheese, or about one ounce of hard cheese like cheddar, these are good sources of both vitamin D and calcium.  Women can also consider using vitamin-D fortified orange juice and almond milk, eggs, salmon, and adding legumes to their diet. 

·      Calcium

In order to make new bone cells, calcium is absolutely required.  But as a woman approaches and goes through menopause, her ability to make new bone cells decrease.  Women (and men) past the age of 50, require 1200 mg of calcium a day.  Many women may not be consuming enough calcium each day, which will compromise her bone health. One cup (8 ounces) of milk contains approximately 300 mg of calcium.  In addition to eating calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese, older woman may need to take a calcium supplement if they are not consuming dairy foods. 

Besides dairy products, calcium can be found in tofu, cereals, soy and rice beverages, vegetables such as kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage, and fish with soft edible bones such as sardines and salmon.

·      Omege-3 fatty acids

Once a woman has gone through menopause and her estrogen levels have dropped, she is at the same risk as a man for developing heart disease.  To help lower her risk, it is important for her to be eating more fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fat that may help slow down the growth of plaque buildup in the arteries and may lower blood pressure.  Research has shown they can also increase good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) and decrease bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice a week such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, codfish, and tuna.  Using olive oil for cooking or eating a handful of walnuts daily is another way to get in omega-3 fatty acids.  Women should consult with their doctor whether they also need a fish oil supplement or not.

·      Vitamin B 12

The water-soluble vitamin of vitamin B12 is a powerhouse nutrient.  It helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells and is crucial for brain health and a strong immune system.  A woman’s health will suffer if vitamin B 12 is lacking.  Pernicious anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss are all signs of a vitamin B 12 deficiency.  The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg. 

Aging can lead to a development of a B 12 deficiency due to a reduction in a glycoprotein called intrinsic factor produced by the parietal cells of the stomach.  In order for vitamin B 12 to be absorbed by the body, it must bind with intrinsic factor when it reaches the stomach but a lack of intrinsic factor will prevent this from happening.  Alcoholism, ulcerative gastritis, H. pylori infection and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can do damage to the parietal cells that make intrinsic factor which can also reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B 12.

The human body does not make vitamin B 12 so it must be obtained from food.  Vitamin B 12 is only found in foods of animal origin so the best sources include beef, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs, milk, and yogurt. 

·      Folic acid

Usually thought of as a vital nutrient women need for a healthy pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects, folic acid is also necessary for older women past their childbearing years.

Folic acid is a B-complex vitamin the body needs to create red blood cells.  Signs of a deficiency of folic acid might include anemia, weight loss, weakness, headaches, and high levels of homocysteine in the blood, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

A 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found women who consumed more folic acid have a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure.  The researchers compared women who consumed at least 1,000 micrograms of folic acid daily with those who consumed less than 200 micrograms daily.  The women who consumed the higher amount of folic acid were 18 percent less likely to have high blood pressure. 

The recommended daily allowance for folic acid is 400 micrograms.  The food sources of folic acid women should include each day are found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, orange juice, beans, edamame, turnip greens, broccoli, avocado, pasta, lentils, squash, berries, nuts and olive oil