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Beyond Beauty, Young Women Should Invest In Nutrition


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Beyond beauty, young women should invest in nutrition
Low Yen Ling


Women in their 20s and 30s can often feel pressured to attain a certain beauty standard, causing them to experiment with different diets and weight loss regimens.
Yet this is the same optimal window for women to build critical reserves of muscle and bone mass to help support them in old age.

But by seeking a slim figure, women may be trading health for beauty. An emerging body of evidence points to the consequences of restricting your diet. Longitudinal research, tracking 6,000 people in Singapore over the age of 55, found poor nutrition contributed to frailty.

Similar conclusions were reached by a study of 500 Singaporeans, which found the odds of sarcopenia - age-related muscle loss and function - tripled in malnourished individuals.

New research released this year by the National University Hospital showed that women aged 45 to 69 with poor muscle strength are doubly at risk of developing diabetes.

Some dietary choices, such as skipping breakfast, may sacrifice health. This can mean a lost opportunity to supply the body with essential nutrients, like protein from milk and eggs at the start of the day.

Eating two meals a day instead of three naturally makes it harder to get adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and iron. A 2016 study of nearly 200 Singaporeans aged 50 and above found the majority of women at high risk of nutrition deficiency consume too few fruits and vegetables, dairy products and dietary protein sources.

Around 30 per cent of women are deficient in at least one important vitamin or mineral, Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, told CNA.

These impacts aren’t felt immediately but make a tremendous difference as women begin to age. Women in their 20s and 30s may be at the peak of health and feel like they can get away with eating anything. But poor nutrition through the years will lead to low bone and muscle banks, causing health problems to emerge much faster than they might otherwise.

I have seen this first-hand. As a child, I watched my grandmother become frailer as she grew older. At the same time, her meals shifted to soup and porridge - foods widely thought of as more compatible with an elderly digestive system.

What we didn't know back then, is that soup and porridge were not meeting her nutritional needs as she aged. When she fell sick, she didn’t have muscle reserves to help her recover. She went to the hospital and never came back.

The key to ageing well is to invest in building up nutrition reserves early. Our muscle and bone banks start building from childhood through to early adulthood. They then start depleting over time as we age. Complete and balanced nutrition including key nutrients such as protein, calcium and vitamin D are critical to build rich reserves to keep us healthy and improve quality of life as we age.

So how can women ensure their health banks are nice and full? The most basic step is to eat a variety of foods, including protein, fruit, vegetables and dairy. The Asian diet tends to be high in carbohydrates, with hawker centre and food court options offering a lot more rice or noodles than meat, seafood or vegetables.

Simple changes like asking for less rice and adding extra portions of vegetables and meat go a long way. So does eating calcium-rich foods like yoghurt and cheese, and high-protein foods like lean meat, eggs and legumes for muscle health.

Eat regularly and don’t skip meals. Also, limit sugary drinks or snacks with minimal nutritional value, and instead opt for higher-protein beverages such as milk or soy milk, or pick options with less or no sugar.

All is not lost for older women who haven’t done well taking care of their health. Apart from shifting to better dietary habits, to make up for lost time, consider nutritional supplements or multivitamins to top up on lacking nutrients.

A recent study by Abbott, Changi General Hospital and SingHealth Polyclinics found that the daily consumption of oral supplements containing HMB (a nutritional ingredient that supports muscle strength) and vitamin D, along with dietary counselling, significantly improved nutritional and functional outcomes for people aged 65 and above.

Good nutrition is the foundation not only of beauty, but also of a longer and higher-quality life.

The trade-offs women make in their youth could have far-reaching implications that may only be obvious once it’s too late. Young women may also unwittingly carry over poor nutritional habits well into old age.

That's why it’s important to get things right from the beginning. Investing in nutrition now will pay dividends for life.

Low Yen Ling is the Senior Director of Global Science Platforms and International Nutrition Science and Innovation at Abbott.

Source : ChannelNews Asia
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