The diets of Canadian women and girls are as diverse as the cultures, traditions and environments that influence food consumption. Despite their diversity, there are some nutritional deficiencies that many Canadian women have in common. In a recent study on female nutrition across the life cycle that is used to set standards in Canadian healthcare practice, experts focused on five key nutrients that many women don’t get enough of through diet alone.
When it’s snowy or cold outside, which it is for so much of the year in Canada, people bundle up and spend more time indoors. Since the skin synthesizes sunlight into vitamin D, it’s no wonder many Canadian women are falling short of this nutrient that’s required in the growth and maintenance of healthy bones and skeletal structure. Only a few foods contain vitamin D, including egg yolk and some fish oils, which are consumed as part of many traditional diets. The vitamin is essential to help the body absorb calcium. There is such thing as too much vitamin D. So, while 400 IU is a recommended daily minimum for many women, exceeding 4000 IU can be harmful.
Calcium is the mineral that makes strong bones and is especially important in adolescence, a time when the majority of Canadian girls aren’t meeting their needs for optimal bone development. While the majority of bone formation happens in teenagers, women build their skeletal structure until about age 30 and afterwards bone breaks down faster than it is formed and calcium becomes particularly important for bone maintenance.
Ten percent of Canadian women who haven’t reached menopause have depleted iron stores. Pregnant women have the highest nutritional need for iron, a mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body. In foods, iron comes from both animal and plant sources, although animal sources are more easily absorbed than plant sources. Iron should be consumed with vitamin C to help the body absorb the mineral but not with calcium, which makes it more difficult to absorb.
An estimated five percent of Canadians are deficient in vitamin B12 and these numbers are more concentrated among vegans and vegetarians. Deficiency can cause anemia, which is when red blood cell count is lower than what is considered healthy, and can cause problems with the nervous system. The vitamin is found in animal foods and some fortified foods.
Folate has long been dubbed the pregnancy vitamin for its ability to protect a fetus from neural tube defects, which are birth defects that affect the spinal cord and brain. However, the latest medical research shows that folate, called folic acid in supplement form, should be consumed in greater amounts at least two to three months prior to conception to maximize its protective effects. Since more than fifty per cent of pregnancies are unplanned, health experts recommend all women of childbearing age consume a folate-rich diet and supplement with up to 1 mg of folic acid daily even if becoming pregnant isn’t part of future plans. Women with risk factors for certain birth defects are advised to consume more.
RECIPE: General Health
Gluten-Free Family Meatloaf
Almost half the carbohydrates in chia seeds are fibre so adding just a little chia can help increase your family’s fibre intake. In this meatloaf, chia seeds replace the egg and breadcrumbs typically used as binders in most meatloaves so this recipe is gluten free.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Chill time: 25 minutes
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (125 mL) PC Blue Menu Chicken Broth
1/4 cup (50 mL) black chia seeds
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh thyme
1 lb (450 g) lean ground beef
1 lb (450 g) lean ground pork
- Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook onions and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, or until softened and golden. Stir in garlic; cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until fragrant. Transfer to large mixing bowl; let cool 5 minutes.
- Add broth, chia seeds, rosemary, thyme and remaining 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper; stir until well mixed. Add beef and pork. Using clean hands or large spoon, gently mix meat together with onion mixture until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Spray 13 x 9-inch (3 L) baking dish with cooking spray.
- Place meat mixture in centre of prepared baking dish. Shape into a 10 x 5-inch (25 x 13-cm) loaf; spray top of loaf lightly with cooking spray. Bake in centre of oven for 55 to 60 minutes or until browned and instant read thermometer reads 165°F (74°C). Remove from oven; let rest 5 minutes. Transfer to cutting board; slice and serve immediately with your favourite tomato sauce, if desired.
Makes 8 servings
Per serving: 310 calories, fat 21 g, omega 3 polyunsaturated fat 0.8 g, sodium 230 mg, carbohydrate 5 g, fibre 2 g, protein 25 g
Good source of iron
Good source of potassium
Source of omega