Good nutrition means eating a wide variety of foods every day. A healthy diet gives you energy, supports your mood, maintains your weight, and keeps you looking your best. It can also be a huge support through the different stages in life. Healthy food can help reduce PMS, boost fertility, combat stress, make pregnancy and nursing easier, and ease symptoms of menopause.
Good nutrition starts with the basics: a well- rounded diet consisting of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean sources of protein. These kinds of foods provide women with plenty of energy, the means for lifelong weight control, and the key ingredients for looking and feeling great at any age.
A balanced diet is a cornerstone of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat dairy and lean protein. But women also have special nutrient needs, and, during each stage of a woman’s life, these needs change.
Healthy Eating for Women
Nutrient-rich foods provide energy for women’s busy lives and help to prevent disease.
- Focus on whole, plant-based foods. Fill most of your plate with fruits and leafy green vegetables. Also include a variety of whole grains, beans, and legumes to give you filling fiber and keep you going throughout the day. Try to find minimally processed or locally grown foods whenever possible, and make these foods the mainstay of your diet.
- Bone up on calcium. Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium to support your bone health. While dairy products are high in calcium, their animal fat and protein can accelerate bone loss. So also consider plant-based sources of calcium like beans, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens.
- Don’t eat too much protein. Protein is an essential part of any healthy diet, but eating too much animal-based protein—such as the levels recommended in many low-carb, high- protein diets—is particularly dangerous for women. Eating lots of protein causes calcium loss. Over time, this could lead to a decrease in bone density and osteoporosis.
- Make sure you get enough iron. Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy levels in women. Many women don’t get enough iron in their diet. On top of that, women lose a lot of this important mineral during menstruation. Boost your intake by eating iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, dark poultry, lentils, spinach, almonds, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, spinach, beans, lentils and iron-fortified breads and cereals. Plant based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods.
- Vitamins, minerals and women.
Eating healthily during pregnancy is important to meet the nutritional needs of the developing baby and for the mother’s own wellbeing. However, this doesn’t mean ‘eating for two’ – it is the quality of the diet that is important, not the quantity of food eaten. Eating a variety of foods from each of the key food groups is generally enough to meet both mother and baby’s requirements. Special attention should be given to calcium, folic acid (folate), iron, zinc. Iodine and vitamin C.
Folic acid during the reproductive years are important. When women reach childbearing age, they need to eat enough folic acid to decrease risk of birth defects. The requirement is at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Be sure to consume adequate amounts of folic acid daily from fortified foods or supplements, in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet. Citrus fruits, leafy greens, beans and peas naturally contain folate. There are many folic acid fortified foods such as cereals, rice and breads.
Vitamin D increases calcium absorption and is required for normal bone metabolism. The main source of vitamin
D for most people is sunshine. Women who have very low levels of sunlight exposure or have naturally very dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Those affected may include women who cover most of their body when outdoors, shift workers, those who cover most of their body when outdoors, shift workers, those who are unable to regularly get out of their house or women in residential care. Women who have certain medical conditions or are on some medications may also be affected. It is important to balance the need to maintain adequate vitamin D levels with the risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure. A sensible balance of sun protection and exposure can ensure that women are not at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Good dietary sources of vitamin D are margarine, eggs and oily fish (such as mackerel and sardines).
Vitamin C is important for normal gum, tooth, bone and body tissue formation. One of the best sources of Vitamin C is oranges, but it is also found in other fruits, particularly papaya, strawberry and other citrus fruits, and a variety of vegetables. Iodine is needed for normal mental development of the baby when pregnant, but it can be difficult to get enough from food. Ways of increasing iodine intake include using iodised salt, eating fish and seafood weekly (see your health professional for advice about safe types and amounts of fish), or using a multivitamin supplement that contains iodine and is safe for pregnancy.
Zinc is needed to maintain the health of cells. Taking iron supplements may interfere with the absorption of zinc, so women taking iron supplements should continue to eat iron rich foods, which are also a good source of zinc.
Foods to Limit
-To keep weight in check at any age, women should avoid a lot of excess calories from added sugars, fat and alcohol.
-Limit regular soft drinks, sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, baked goods and fried foods.
-Opt for low-fat dairy and meat products instead of their full-fat counterparts. Eat fewer foods that are high in saturated fat — the kind found in fatty meats, sausages, cheese and full-fat dairy products, baked goods and pizza.
-Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine consumption interferes with hormone levels and also increases the loss of calcium. Try to reduce caffeine consumption to one cup a day.