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National Nutrition Week 2019: 10 Nutrition And Health Tips For Working Women

By Karthika Thirugnanam

National Nutrition Week focuses on highlighting the issues pertaining to nutrition and health-related behaviour. It is celebrated each year from 1 September to 7 September to spread awareness on the importance of health and well-being. The other major aspect of NNW is to highlight the causes, effects as well as the countermeasures of malnutrition.

In the year 1982, the campaign was initiated by the Central Government in India to understand the importance of nutrition and encourage healthy and sustainable living among citizens. The theme for National Nutrition Week 2019 has not yet been shared by the government. Last year, in 2018, the theme of National Nutrition Week was "Go Further With Food" [1] .

This National Nutrition Week, let's take a look into the nutritional needs of working women. Trying to balance the demands of work, family responsibilities, while coping with the societal pressure to eat a certain way or look perfect no matter what they are going through emotionally or physically, can be a lot to handle at times. All of these factors can make it rather difficult for most women to maintain a healthy relationship with food, weight and their overall health [2] .

So, I have a confession to make. Being the designated 'nutrition expert' in most rooms I am in, can be both empowering and stressful at the same time. But the right choices can support mood, boost energy, help with weight management and help meet our changing nutritional demands. So, this year, I am going to share with a few tips to optimize your daily living as working women-

1. Define your health goals

First, like any other drastic change you make in your life such as choosing a career path, or a life partner or the right school for your child, it is important to do your research and define your goal before making changes to your eating pattern or lifestyle [2] .

It is always good to have clarity about what you are working towards. For example, if you are a breastfeeding mother who needs to optimize nutrition or a menopausal female, who is aiming to fit into your favourite pair of jeans and build bone strength or even if you are trying to resolve chronic fatigue- all of these are perfectly valid goals that can motivate change.

2. Eat right

Nutrient-rich foods provide energy and reduce disease risk. Here is a guide on what to include in a day:

  • At least 4-5 servings of protein through foods such as beans, lentils, pulses, tofu, fish, poultry, meat, nuts and seeds
  • At least 3-4 cups of colourful vegetables - fresh or frozen
  • About 1-2 cups of fruits [3]
  • About 100 grams of whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, oats, brown rice or rye
  • About 3 servings of dairy/plant-based alternatives such as milk, yoghurt, cheese or fortified almond/soy milk
  • Sufficient fluids, mostly unsweetened beverages, replenish based on activities

3. Pay attention to micronutrients

Micronutrients are defined as essential elements required by our bodies in small quantities throughout life. They perform a range of physiological functions to maintain health. When you have a busy schedule, and food takes a back seat priority wise, it is easy to lose sight of micronutrient intake, some of which are essential for women [3] .

Iron: Iron is one of the key nutrients to help maintain energy levels among premenopausal women. Foods such as red meat, chicken, fish, leafy greens, beans, lentils and nuts are good sources of dietary iron. Eating vitamin C-rich foods along with vegetarian sources of iron can improve absorption [4] .

Folate: Women at childbearing age need sufficient folate (folic acid) intake to reduce the risk of birth defects. Adequate folate intake can be attained by including foods such as citrus fruits, leafy greens, beans and peas that naturally contain higher amounts of folate. Folate requirements are especially higher for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Thus, supplementation might be required [5] .

Calcium and Vitamin D: Women need to consume a variety of foods rich in calcium daily to attain and maintain strong bones and teeth. For women who have reached menopause, this is of higher importance to prevent bone thinning and hence the need for both of these nutrients increases[3] .

Some foods that are rich in calcium are milk, yoghurt, cheese, sardine, tofu (made with calcium sulphate), almonds, chia seeds and milk alternatives with fortified calcium. Sufficient amount of vitamin D is also an important part of calcium absorption and bone health. Good sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, eggs, and fortified foods [10] .

4. Avoid processed foods

Regardless of which stage of life you are in, keeping ultra-processed food intake to a minimum is of utmost importance. So, the first step is to clean out your kitchen, office desk, cupboard of packaged foods such as biscuits, cookies, cakes, pastries and sweets and only stock whole or minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, cheese, yogurt, lean animal protein, unsweetened beverages and healthy oils etc. This way, the majority of your meals will be devoid of calorie-dense, addictive, junk food that can be detrimental to your health [3] .

And let's face it! Most of us have plenty of social events such as birthdays, meetings and conferences to satisfy the occasional junk food craving, so they really should have no place in our pantries [6] .

5. Limit caffeine

Offices tend to have pantries or cafeterias with unlimited access to coffee and tea. Easy access to these caffeinated beverages can result in higher consumption. Studies have found that women are more likely to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms than men such as snacking, smoking, or drinking excessive amounts of caffeine, when they work for longer hours. The study found that stress can cause people to opt for unhealthy high-sugar and high-fat snack choices as well.

Although unsweetened coffee and tea do not contain calories, they do have the potential to reduce nutrient absorption of other foods consumed, increase fluid needs, and potentially disrupt sleep depending on the quantity and timing of caffeine intake. So it is a good idea to limit your caffeine intake to 1-2 cups, earlier in the day, timed apart from meals [7] [8] .

6. Bring home-cooked food as much as possible

Although consuming home-made meals also have the potential to be calorie-laden, depending on what you cook, but you have more control over the amount and type of ingredients you add to your meal than the ones you eat at restaurants and other food outlets [3] . Some neuroscientists believe that hyper-palatable foods may partially explain the obesity epidemic that the world is facing.

Hyperpalatable foods are the ones loaded with fat, sugar and salt to be irresistibly appealing and addictive - aka mass-produced foods. So, bringing your home-made meal can reduce your exposure to hyperpalatable foods and potentially reduce your risk of developing food addiction [5] [6] .

7. Learn to differentiate between Emotional Hunger and True Hunger

Most of us get confused between the two and end up eating food that our body does not require [9] .

Emotional Hunger True Hunger
Develops suddenly Develops slowly over time
You crave only certain 'comfort foods' Just desire food in general
You may eat an excessive amount of food without feeling full You use fullness as a sign to stop eating
You feel shame or guilt after eating You do not feel bad or guilty after eating

8. Find healthy coping mechanisms for work-related stress

Meditation: A variety of studies have shown that meditation reduces stress by helping us become more mindful of our food choices. With practice, you may be able to pay better attention and avoid the impulse to grab comfort food. Therefore, spend at least 1-2 minutes of mindful breathing every few hours to help manage stress [10] [11] .

Social support: Friends, co-workers and other sources of social support seem to have a positive effect in mitigating stress. People seem to cope better with stress when they have social support and accountability. So, go grab a beverage or a meal with friends and family to let off some steam!

9. Move your body

We all know that exercise is an important component of overall health, but most of us struggle to dedicate time exclusively for it. Sitting behind a desk all day with little or no activity can be detrimental to both your mental and physical health[12] . In terms of physical health, prolonged sitting can increase your risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

Walking to the furthest bathroom from your desk, or quickly walking over to a co-worker's desk to have a discussion rather than using the internal email/chat function, or even using a sit to stand desk instead of a regular desk are simple and easy ways to include more movement to your workday [13] .

10. Be mindful of calories

Women typically have lower muscle mass and higher fat mass and are smaller than men. As a result, females usually need fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight and activity level. Hence, it is equally important to manage the number of foods consumed as it is to be mindful of the quality [12] [13] .

Karthika Thirugnanam is a Clinical Nutritionist/Dietitian at Tucker Medical, Singapore. As a practising clinical dietitian, Ms Thirugnanam works on various facets of dietetics such as nutrition counselling, education and presentation, recipe development and culturally-appropriate nutrition intervention.

View Article References
  1. [1] India Celebrating. (n.d.). NATIONAL NUTRITION WEEK. Retrieved from https://www.indiacelebrating.com/events/national-nutrition-week/
  2. [2] Gay, J. (2018). The health of women: a global perspective. Routledge.
  3. [3] Willett, W. (2017). Eat, drink, and be healthy: the Harvard Medical School guide to healthy eating. Simon and Schuster.
  4. [4] Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R., & Kelishadi, R. (2014). Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 19(2), 164.
  5. [5] N Gearhardt, A., Davis, C., Kuschner, R., & D Brownell, K. (2011). The addiction potential of hyperpalatable foods. Current drug abuse reviews, 4(3), 140-145.
  6. [6] Doğan, T., Tekin, E. G., & Katrancıoğlu, A. (2011). Feeding your feelings: A self-report measure of emotional eating. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 2074-2077.
  7. [7] Bortolus, R., Blom, F., Filippini, F., van Poppel, M. N., Leoncini, E., de Smit, D. J., ... & Mastroiacovo, P. (2014). Prevention of congenital malformations and other adverse pregnancy outcomes with 4.0 mg of folic acid: community-based randomized clinical trial in Italy and the Netherlands. BMC pregnancy and childbirth, 14(1), 166.
  8. [8] Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R., & Kelishadi, R. (2014). Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 19(2), 164.
  9. [9] O'Connor, D. B., Jones, F., Conner, M., McMillan, B., & Ferguson, E. (2008). Effects of daily hassles and eating style on eating behavior. Health Psychology, 27(1S), S20.
  10. [10] Feskanich, D., Willett, W. C., & Colditz, G. A. (2003). Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 77(2), 504-511.
  11. [11] Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eating behaviors, 15(2), 197-204.
  12. [12] Hallam, J., Boswell, R. G., DeVito, E. E., & Kober, H. (2016). Focus: sex and gender health: gender-related differences in food craving and obesity. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 89(2), 161.
  13. [13] Biswas, A., Oh, P. I., Faulkner, G. E., Bajaj, R. R., Silver, M. A., Mitchell, M. S., & Alter, D. A. (2015). Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of internal medicine, 162(2), 123-132.

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