8 Nutritional Considerations for Women by Jess Sherman


I met Jess this past summer during the Ladies Paddling Retreat at MKC up in Ontario. She is a nutritionist and a whitewater canoe and kayak instructor. This is information that she presented during the paddling retreat on healthy nutrition for women. Enjoy! — Anna

1. Consider that changing bodies have changing needs
As we move through life, our bodies change and so do our lives and our needs. In order to make sure to give our bodies the nutrients they need to thrive under all conditions we need to know how to listen to our bodies. Chronic diseases such as arthritis is not an inevitability, neither are menstrual cramps, fatigue or hot flashes; these are sometimes indicators that we’re not feeding and cleaning our bodies as we should.

Take action: Ask yourself some simple questions: Has you blood pressure increased? Do you have new bone pain? Do you have hot feet, especially at bedtime? Do you have heart palpitations? Do you have joint and muscle aches in new places? Is your memory failing? Do you have “brain fog”? Are you gaining weight, especially around the abdomen? Are you experiencing a change in energy or sleep patterns? Are you having mood swings or panic attacks? Are you having new digestive problems or new food sensitivities?

Though these are symptoms often linked to perimenopause or menopause, they could indicate system imbalance; taking a look at your nutrient intake is warranted.

2. Consider the level of processing in the foods you choose
When pulled apart through processing foods lose much of their health benefits. Food, when in its natural form, is packaged to perfection; eating the whole food helps ensure that all the nutrients available are absorbed and that glucose levels are maintained. Also, when foods are processed additives need to be added to help preserve them; eating whole foods helps us avoid chemicals and additives.

Take action: Comprise the majority of your diet of WHOLE, NATURAL, LIVE foods. That is, make sure the foods you prepare are as close as possible to their original form (eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice, eat whole grains instead of germs or bran, eat whole milk yogurt instead of fat free, etc). Make sure your food has its VITALITY intact; fresh, crisp, raw foods have their enzymes and phytonutrients still active and available. The best way to do this is to find as much local and organic food as possible.

Investing in good quality food is investing in your health.

3. Consider the following supplements:
¸ Multi pack for Women or for Active Women
¸ Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids in the form or fish oil
¸ Bone building formula

I’d like to say that we can get all our nutrients from food but, unfortunately, I no longer think this is possible 100% of the time, even with a wholesome diet. Consider again the quality of the food we have available to us along with our typical lifestyle: food is harvested before it is ripe; it is grown in nutrient depleted soil and a polluted environment; it is stripped of nutrients during processing; our diet is less varied than it was traditionally; we eat parts of plants, not the whole; we take medications and birth control pills, are exposed to chemicals and toxins, and experience a high degree of stress – these factors all deplete nutrients. This is why you might consider a multivitamin. But they aren’t all created equal. One size does not fit all and everything you need should not be in one capsule.

Omega 3 fatty acids are very hard to get through diet alone. Most dietary sources are in the form of ALA (the most popular being flax oil). ALA is used by the body as is, but is also converted into the essential fatty acids, DHA and EPA – also essential. As we age we are less able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. Consider: over 60% of ingested ALA is not useable; of the remaining 40%, most is used to create cholesterol and other fatty acids in the body and is used up in various processes and reactions; 3% of the amount eaten is available for conversion to EPA and DHA. The enzymes responsible for the actual conversion become less active as we age and are further impeded by medical conditions such as underactive thyroid gland, hypertension and diabetes. The best direct source of EPA and DHA is fatty fish. But we need to consider the quality of the fish and are advised against eating too much of it. Look for a quality fish oil that has a higher ratio of EPA to DHA (unless you’re pregnant, in which case you want more DHA and EPA) and has been filtered for toxins.

Calcium in calcium rich foods is hard to absorb due to oxcalic acid and phosphorus that also tends to be in these foods. Our bones are at risk due to lifestyle, excess hormone disruption, medications, and diet. See below for more info.

4. Consider your bones:
Hormones, good nutrition, healthy liver and kidney function and immune system all work together to maintain bone health. Take an especially close look at your bones if you have taken regular corticosteroid meds, thyroid hormones, antidepressants, diuretics, antacids – these all can deplete bone density. A calcium supplement alone will not prevent bone deterioration and, research is showing, a calcium supplement alone might, in fact, actually decrease bone density! Pay attention to quality!
Take action: Maintaining bone density involves two components: ensuring bones can properly regenerate; and preventing mineral depletion. Remember that load bearing exercise is essential to prevent bone loss and to improve bone regeneration; it’s even more important than calcium! To properly metabolize calcium, consider the following: sugar and caffeine lower calcium absorption; low stomach acid, which tends to happen over time, leads to poor calcium absorption; an acidic system (characterized by inflammation, and typically a high animal foods diet) will pull calcium from the bones; calcium should be taken at night when blood levels are low; poor quality calcium supplements are often full of calcium carbonate which, while cheap, is poorly absorbed and adversely effect digestion; vitamin K, found in green leafy veggies, is essential for calcium absorption; alfalfa is a good source of ipriflavone needed for healthy thyroid gland and to stimulate bone formation as well as inhibit inflammation that pulls calcium from bones; load bearing exercise is essential to get calcium into bones as is vitamin D and boron.

5. Consider a Detoxification program

Over time, toxins and hormones build up in our bodies; this is more true now than ever! They need to be cleaned out periodically to prevent chronic diseases, ensure a smooth menopause and avoid hormone related cancers.

Take action: Detoxification programs should ONLY be done when the bowels are clean and the body is vital. NEVER do a cleanse if you are constipated. Avoid cleanse formulas that have laxatives in them such as Senna and Cascara Sagrada.

6. Consider your digestion
We are not really what we eat, we are what we absorb. We can be eating the most nutrient dense and healthful foods but, if we can’t properly break down these foods and absorb the nutrients, we leave ourselves malnourished. Most of us suffer from incomplete digestion and might not even know it. Some early signs are: bloating or gas after meals, acid reflux or heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, trouble digesting fats, fatigue after meals. Some late signs are colitis, colon cancer, candidiasis, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. If you have a food allergy, you have poor digestion. Proper digestion involves a combination of factors including proper mechanical action (chewing, peristalsis and stomach churning), proper stomach acid levels, a healthy liver, a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria, clean colon walls, adequate enzymes and fiber.

Take action: Though every case is different, some general tips to improve your digestion are: ensure you have lots of fiber in your diet, eat fermented foods, eat some raw food every day, eat sprouts, drink lots of water, ensure you have essential fatty acids in your diet, relax when you eat, pay attention to foods that cause discomfort. Ensure you have at least one good quality bowel movement a day. It should float, be well formed and not to smelly.

7. Consider your level of Stress
Stress is a state of mind, but it causes some very real chemical reactions to occur in our bodies. Not only does stress cause blood pressure to rise and digestion to slow, but it also causes the release of hormones that pull calcium from bones and leads to adrenal exhaustion, which lowers estrogen levels that are needed for proper bone maintenance.

Take action: pay attention to stressors in your life, learn to communicate, learn deep breathing exercises, take time out of each day to “decompress”, exercise, re-evaluate.

8. The soya debate
Many women are advised to increase their soy intake as they get older. Soya has been touted as a source of minerals and complete protein for vegetarians and a great source of phytoestrogenic isoflavones. It is a “health” food that is said to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower total cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high levels, prevent cancer (especially colon and hormone related cancers) and decrease the symptoms of menopause.
However, consider the following: soy is one of the “big three” genetically modified foods, the effects of which we do not know; it is one of the most common allergens; tofu, while traditionally a fermented food, is no longer fermented; soy protein powders, isolates, textured vegetable proteins and milk are processed under high heat which alters the protein structures and experts disagree about whether this is positive or not; soy beans contain a particularly high level of phytic acid which is very hard to digest if not fermented and seems to block the absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc; soy contains protease inhibitors which interfere with protein digestion so tofu might not be the great source of protein is was once thought to be; the phytoestrogens in soy seem to have a negative effect on thyroid function in people with already poorly functioning thyroids.
All this to say, the jury’s still out about soy. It seems to have some proven benefits but there’s also cause for some real concern. If you are going to add soy into your diet, don’t go overboard. Remember that you are likely eating more soy than you think in the form of soy lecithin, soy oil and soy protein isolate. Eat soy in its fermented form such as miso and tempeh. Also try to find non-GMO soy. Some protein powders are made from fermented soy. Avoid raw or roasted soy beans as they have the highest level of protease inhibitors and phytic acid. I would avoid extracts from soy such as soy protein powder, Genistein, or soy isoflavone since we really don’t know if the benefits of soy are still available when components are isolated like that. Do not give soy based formula to infants.

For more information on Jessica and her suggestions for healthy nutrition visit www.jesssherman.com