Regardless of the age of becoming a mother, nutrition plays an important role in the health of a woman. Women from puberty to menopause and beyond have different nutritional needs than men. Becoming a mother during the adolescent stage can be challenging because adolescent girls have increased nutrient needs for growth and development. If these needs are not met, it may result in anaemia, compromised growth and development and negative body image (too fat or too slim).
Protein in the form of low-fat foods from animals (milk, cheese, chicken, beef etc), peas, beans and nuts are needed for growth and development. Calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables and the bones in small fish such as mackerel and sardines are needed for the strengthening of bones and teeth.
Bones are at the maximum strength (peak) by age 25, hence the need for calcium. Iron is needed to replace blood that is lost during the menstrual cycle and prevent iron deficiency anaemia. Iron-rich foods include dried peas and beans, dark green leafy vegetables, beef and liver. Zinc, which is found in chicken, fish, egg and milk is needed for growth and sexual maturation. Energy is needed to maintain a positive body image by not consuming too much fat, especially the saturated type and cholesterol.
Lowering the amount of sugary foods, such as sodas and fruit drinks, including bag juice and sweet biscuits and pastries, is recommended. Vitamin-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, peas, beans and whole grains are needed for the skin and to get energy from the carbohydrates and fat-rich foods and for using the protein for growth and development.
Folate which is found in dark green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits is for women in the childbearing age because it assists with the formation of the unborn child's spinal cord in the first six weeks of pregnancy (before most of us know that we are pregnant).
The adult and ageing mother has similar nutritional needs to the adolescent. A reduction of total fat intake, especially the saturated type (butter, lard and animal fat), cholesterol (found only in animal products) and trans-fat (pastries and baked products) is recommended to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and breast cancer.
Calcium should be increased to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Dietary fibre (roughage) and vitamins should be increased by eating more whole fruits, vegetables, peas, beans and wholegrain products to prevent or treat constipation, lower cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
The mother who is having difficulty chewing or swallowing should eat foods that are mashed, blended and adjust flavour as changes in the taste buds occur with age.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University.
Dear Ms Woolery,
Is it possible to reach a peak whereby you are no longer able to lose weight?
The response is yes. When losing weight it has a lot to do with the amount of body fat compared to muscle, meaning the body composition. Therefore, it is important to measure the body-fat percentage. From the information provided, you want to make sure you are doing physical activity for five days per week for at least 30 minutes each day. The duration of activities should be increased and also the intensity to ensure the burning of energy and the building of muscles. Please note that when one exercises, the body is building muscle and muscle weighs more than fat hence the weight may appear stable or even more in some instances.
This may be discouraging and hence the importance of measuring body composition and not only body weight.
As it relates to nutrition, ensure you have reduced your food intake by approximately 500 kilocalories (kcal) per day. This will result in 3,500kcal per week, which is equal to a pound. The recommendation for healthy weight loss is one to two pounds per week, which will decrease if exercise is not a consistent part of the weight- loss programme. Make sure you are not eating less than three hours before going to bed.