Across our life stages, we have different nutritional needs. We all require a base of nutrients from a varied diet every day that keeps us healthy day-to-day. Our basic nutrients come from foods within the five food groups, including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, meat, seafood and eggs, legumes and legumes, nuts and seeds and dairy foods. But at certain stages in our life, our body goes through changes that alter the needs we have for specific nutrients.
When babies start solids at 4-6 months and gradually wean from breast or formula milk, their iron stores may be reduced so it’s important they have foods rich in iron, such as iron-enriched cereals, pureed meats, tofu and pulses.
Young kids should enjoy a wide variety of foods with energy levels appropriate for their activity levels.
Dairy intake for kids and adolescence should be a focus as their skeleton and teeth are developing and require the regular intake of calcium.
The huge growth spurt at adolescence, which means they need PLENTY of extra energy. This is a common time for a lot of low nutrient foods to come in like junk food and sweets, so a focus on providing good quality foods – often just in higher portions and more frequently to meet higher energy needs.
About one third of the world’s population is iron deficient, with menstruating women being at greatest risk. Young women have more than double the iron requirement than males of the same age. The best sources are red meat, salmon, wholegrains, pulses and green leafy vegetables.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have a greater overall requirement for nutrients due to the excess nutrients required for the growing foetus and baby. Certain nutrients of focus include:
Folate: Folate helps to prevent neural tube defects in the baby. It’s recommended for women to take a folate supplement during conception and pregnancy, but we also get it from green leafy veg, fruits and legumes.
Iron: Iron carries oxygen around our blood and requirements increases by 150 percent when a women is pregnant (from 18 – 27mg).
Breastfeeding women also need to focus on foods rich in zinc and calcium.
Women lose two percent of their bone mass every year after menopause so calcium requirements increase from three to four serves per day.
A diet high in fibre from wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and pulses, low in animal fats, low in salt (sodium) and high in phytoestrogens (from soy products like tofu) has been shown to help with the symptoms of menopause.
Food for the elderly
Appetite and desire for food declines as we get older so meeting basic energy and nutritional needs can be an issue. Muscle wasting occurs so eating enough protein is important from meat, seafood, eggs, dairy and pulses.
Bowel health may be impaired too so drinking enough fluids and getting enough fibre is important.
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