Nutrition needs for women are different than for men. Women need fewer calories, yet require more of several nutrients. Hormonal changes throughout a woman’s life places her at increased risk of anemia and weakened bones. Many women fall short of their daily nutritional requirements and rely on supplements. But supplements really can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet.
Here are some foods that will help every woman meet her unique needs at various stages in her life.
Pump up your iron: One of the main reasons for fatigue in women is anemia. Blood loss through monthly menstruation can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Women aged 19-50 should get 18 mg of iron daily in their diet. Lentils are an excellent source, providing 30% of that in just 1 cup. One ounce of pumpkin seeds will contribute 23%. Lean beef is another good source for iron, with 3 ounces providing 18%. Adequate vitamin C in the diet is essential to help the body absorb iron.
Bone builders: Women continue to build bone into their mid-twenties. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for promoting bone density. Women under 50 years old need 1000 mg calcium daily. Dairy is the first choice when it comes to calcium, with 1 cup milk or yogurt providing about 300 mg. Parmesan cheese is a good option with 340 mg calcium in just 1 ounce. Nondairy sources of calcium include: sardines, with 2 oz providing 217 mg or kale, with 1 cup providing 245 mg.
Food for fertility: Adequate folic acid in a woman’s diet, before and during pregnancy, decreases the chances of neurological birth defects in babies. Many cereals are fortified with folic acid and can provide 100% of what you need in one serving. The minimum recommendation is 400 mcg folic acid per day. Dark leafy greens are a good source, with 1 cup of spinach providing 263 mcg. Beans are another good source with 1 cup black beans contributing 256 mcg. In addition to folic acid, eating yogurt promotes good urinary and vaginal health by supplying an abundance of good bacteria.
Cancer protection: Cancer is the 2nd leading killer of women; breast cancer holds the number one spot with lung cancer second. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, have properties that help slow cancer growth. Mushrooms can help decrease the effect of aromatase-a protein that helps produce estrogen, a major factor in some breast cancers. The lycopene in tomatoes helps protect DNA from damage that can lead to cancer.
Guard your heart: Heart disease is the #1 killer of women. In addition to a basic heart healthy diet including lean meats, low fat dairy, less sodium, whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables, these foods are good for heart health: beets to help lower blood pressure, nuts to raise HDL levels, salmon for omega 3 fats, oatmeal for soluble fiber and apples for pectin to lower cholesterol, and berries for powerful antioxidants.
Mood Boosters: Women are more prone to depression and anxiety, plus the stress women are often under puts the immune system at risk for several diseases. Dark chocolate can help lower cortisol, the stress hormone. Whole grains are rich in B vitamins which are needed to convert foods to energy and help regulate mood swings. Beans can help diminish PMS symptoms due to their abundance of magnesium which boosts serotonin levels.
Look better: It’s no question that women are under more pressure than men to look good. Vitamin C is needed for the production of collagen, which gives skin its elasticity. Citrus fruits and bell peppers are excellent sources. Mushrooms are high in copper, which can help prevent premature graying. Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can help with weight loss. Tart cherries have anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce redness. Resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine, may help slow aging by quenching harmful free radicals that damage your skin. Drinking green tea can help protect your skin from sun damage. Fresh herbs, like cilantro, help reduce toxins in your body which can lessen the appearance of cellulite.
Managing menopause: Still more calcium and vitamin D is needed as women approach menopause, as calcium is leaked from the bones when estrogen levels decline. Women over 51 need 1500 mg calcium daily. Egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D. High fiber foods, like whole grains and vegetables, can help stabilize estrogen levels, regulate blood sugars and help with weight loss. Foods that may help with hot flashes include: soy, flaxseed, almonds, and beans.
Since women typically have less muscle, more fat and are smaller than men, they need fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise helps with weight control, muscle strength and stress management and is an important part of women’s health.