Saturday, July 24, 2010

Common Nutrition Pitfalls for Women

In general, there are some patterns I frequently seen in the dietary choices made by men and women. Men typically opt for more meat and starchy carbohydrates (as well as beer) while women tend to have more fruits, vegetables and sweets in their diet. Athlete or not athlete, I help each person balance out their dietary choices while figuring out how to get what they need given their current lifestyle (fast food only, they cook, can’t boil water, tight food budget etc.). With pre-menopausal women, I can scan their diets in just a few minutes and find out that >90% are missing one or more of the following categories: dairy, red meat, fruits or vegetables or fatty fish. Some supplement while the others have no idea just what they are missing out on. So, we do a little dietary juggling to find out if they will or will not eat those foods (those who will just add food make my job easier!). But for women (or men) who avoid any of these categories, we have to find a way to get calcium, vitamin D, magnesium (all from dairy), iron and zinc (red meat) and omega 3 fatty acids (fatty fish).

Got Milk?
The next best thing to dairy is calcium and vitamin D fortified soy milk (yes I know greens contain calcium but you’d have to eat more greens to meet your calcium needs than I have ever seen in the thousands of diet records I’ve looked at). Otherwise, it is important to supplement (it is especially important to supplement with vitamin D in the winter time if you live north of Atlanta, GA).

Where's the Beef?
Red Meat is the absolute best source of dietary iron. If you hate it or watch your food budget, opt for the runner's up: dark turkey and chicken. Plant based sources aren’t absorbed as well but you can maximize your absorption of vegetarian sources of iron if you eat them with vitamin C rich foods and without foods rich in compounds that bind iron. Zinc – oysters, beef and crab are your best bet. If you shun any of these foods, choose a cereal fortified with zinc (it should contain at least 25% of the DV).

Stock the Pond with Fatty Fish
If you avoid fatty fish, opt for walnuts, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and omega 3 rich soy oil. All of these contain ALA, not EPA and DHA (the two fatty acids with the most research behind them for preventing cardiovascular disease, decreasing depression in some populations and fighting inflammation – and possibly helping athletes return to competition sooner after concusions). But, consuming foods rich in ALA is better than consuming little to no omega 3s at all!

Whatever you do, look for the missing gaps in your diet and fill those with the right foods, the next best choices or, dietary supplements.

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