Women’s Nutrition Q & A

Thought I’d share a Q & A I recently put together for the upcoming issue of OASIS magazine about some common nutrition questions for women.  Enjoy!

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nutrition-for-womenIn honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I thought I’d use this month’s column to address some female-centric nutrition questions.

Does Soy Cause Breast Cancer?

The link between soy and breast cancer stems from the fact that some breast cancers are estrogen-sensitive.  Soy is rich in isoflavones, a class of compounds which are chemically similar to estrogen and actually have the ability to mimic estrogen’s action within the body.

The good news for soy lovers is that it doesn’t appear that a diet high in soy products increases the risk for developing breast cancer.  In fact, a recent study out of China showed that women with high soy intakes actually had lower rates of breast cancer.

That said, a potential area of concern may be soy protein supplements.  It was recently shown that a protein in soy called genistein may accelerate the growth of human breast cancer cells in vitro.   However it’s important to note that this has yet to be demonstrated at the population level.

Bottom line: If you enjoy soy as a regular part of your diet you can continue to do so, but speak with your doctor before you begin taking soy protein supplements to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

How Important Is Dietary Calcium After Menopause?

Fairly important.  After menopause women produce significantly less estrogen than they used to.  One of estrogen’s many functions is to help to maintain bone density (men actually have the same issue too with testosterone, but the decline in testosterone production occurs more gradually and at a later age).  Making sure you get enough calcium in your diet helps to minimize the amount of bone that you lose, decreasing your risk of developing osteoporosis.

The daily recommended amounts of calcium for women (>51 years) is 1200mg/day.  Some common calcium-rich foods include cow’s milk (1cup – 300mg), yogurt (3/4cup – 300mg), cooked spinach (½cup – 140mg), canned salmon with bones (2.5oz – 200mg), tahini (2 tbsp – 130mg) and semi-hard cheeses including cheddar and gouda (1.5oz – 300mg).  If you’re not eating many of these foods, a supplement may be warranted, however you should not exceed 2000mg/day from all sources.  Supplements should also contain vitamin D, which enhances calcium absorption.

Bottom line: After menopause it is especially important to consume adequate amounts of calcium in your diet to prevent bone loss.

 When You’re Pregnant Are You Really “Eating for Two”?

It’s actually more like eating for one plus a little bit extra.  During the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy women should only be consuming an additional 300 calories/day.  The appropriate amount of weight gain during pregnancy is something to be discussed with your doctor, but generally speaking women who start their pregnancy at a healthy weight should gain on average 11-16kg over the course of their pregnancy.  Women who are underweight should aim for the high end of this range, whereas women who are overweight should aim for the low end.  Gaining much more than the recommended amount could put you at risk for certain pregnancy problems including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, pre-term birth and caesarian sections.  Also, babies born to overweight mothers are also at higher risk of childhood obesity.

Bottom Line: Yes, calorie requirements during the 2nd & 3rd trimesters are a little higher than normal, but it’s important not to go overboard by gaining an unhealthy amount of weight during pregnancy.

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