Omega-3s: These essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, play many roles in the body, including building healthy brain and nerve cells. Some studies show that omega-3s, especially DHA, can help prevent preterm births. Even women who don't plan to have children should be sure to get plenty of omega-3s. These healthy oils have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, the number one killer of women.
Sugar is a source of calories, not nutrients. Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and tooth decay. Contrary to what many people think, there is no evidence linking high-sugar diets to hyperactivity or diabetes. However, high-fructose corn syrup, found in most processed foods, is linked with obesity, and obesity increases your risk for developing diabetes and other conditions.
Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation and can raise your risk for other health problems. Part of healthy eating is choosing fiber-rich foods, including beans, berries, and dark green leafy vegetables, every day. Fiber helps lower your risk for diseases that affect many women, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer. Fiber also helps you feel full, so it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet though the use of vitamins and supplements. However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.
Native to East Asia, soybeans have been a major source of protein for people in Asia for more than 5,000 years. Soybeans are high in protein (more than any other legume) and fiber, low in carbohydrates and are nutrient-dense. Soybeans contain substances called phytoestrogens, which can significantly lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise your "good" HDL cholesterol.
It's easy to get lost in a killer playlist or Friends rerun on the TV attached to the elliptical, but mindless exercise makes all your hard work forgettable—and you can forget about seeing results too. “There is a huge difference between going through the motions of an exercise and truly thinking, feeling, and engaging the key muscles,” says Kira Stokes, master instructor at the New York City location of indoor cycling studio Revolve. “Be conscious of and enjoy the sensation of your muscles contracting and the feelings of growing stronger and more powerful with each rep.”
Notice that alcohol isn't included in a food group. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Alcohol offers little nutritional value, and when used in excess, can cause short-term health damage, such as distorted vision, judgment, hearing and coordination; emotional changes; bad breath; and hangovers. Long-term effects may include liver and stomach damage, vitamin deficiencies, impotence, heart and central nervous system damage and memory loss. Abuse can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma and death. Pregnant women should not drink at all because alcohol can harm the developing fetus and infant. According to the March of Dimes, more than 40,000 babies are born each year with alcohol-related damage. Even light and moderate drinking during pregnancy can hurt your baby. If you are breastfeeding, discuss drinking alcohol with your health care professional. After clearing it with your doctor, you may be able to have an occasional celebratory single, small alcoholic drink, but you should abstain from breastfeeding for two hours after that drink.
Adopting a plant-based diet could help tip the scales in your favor. A five-year study of 71,751 adults published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters even though both groups eat about the same number of calories daily. Researchers say it may be because carnivores consume more fatty acids and fewer weight-loss promoting nutrients, like fiber, than herbivores do. Go green to find out if it works for you.
Folate is most important for women of childbearing age. If you plan to have children some day, think of folate now. Folate is a B vitamin needed both before and during pregnancy and can help reduce risk of certain serious common neural tube birth defects (which affect the brain and spinal chord). Women ages 15-45 should include folate in their diet to reduce the risk for birth defects if one becomes pregnant, even if one is not planning a pregnancy.
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
Folate or vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid when used in fortified foods or taken as a supplement) is another nutrient that many women don’t get enough of in their diets. Folate can greatly reduce the chance of neurological birth defects when taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folate can also lower a woman’s risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer, so even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant (and many pregnancies are unplanned), it’s an essential nutrient for every woman of childbearing age. In later life, folate can help your body manufacture estrogen during menopause.
The best training tool you're not using: a jump rope. “It may seem a little juvenile until you think of all the hot-bodied boxing pros who jump rope every single day,” says Landon LaRue, a CrossFit level-one trainer at Reebok CrossFit LAB in L.A. Not only is it inexpensive, portable, and easy to use almost anywhere, you’ll burn about 200 calories in 20 minutes and boost your cardiovascular health while toning, he adds.
Oils. When cooking try to use oils from plants instead of solid fats like butter, margarine, or coconut oil. See this list of oils and fats to see how healthy each type of cooking oil and solid fat is. Most women eat too much solid fat through packaged foods like chips or salad dressing, and not enough healthy fats like olive oil or the type of fat in seafood.
A year later, a second Harvard study added to the concern. The Physicians' Health Study of 20,885 men did not evaluate diet per se, but it did measure the blood levels of ALA in 120 men who developed prostate cancer and compared them with the levels in 120 men who remained free of the disease. Men with moderately high ALA blood levels were 3.4 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels; curiously, though, men with the very highest levels were only 2 times more likely to get the disease.