Give your body a little more credit: It tells you when you’re hungry—you may not be listening, though. Before chowing down because there’s only one slice of pie left or because the last guest arrived at the brunch, stop and check in with your stomach. “If you’re not hungry, make yourself a small plate and sip on some tea or coffee while everyone else digs in,” recommends Elle Penner, M.P.H., R.D., a MyFitnessPal expert. When your belly starts to finally grumble, food will be there.
Trying to balance the demands of family and work or school—and coping with media pressure to look and eat a certain way—can make it difficult for any woman to maintain a healthy diet. But the right food can not only support your mood, boost your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also be a huge support through the different stages in a woman’s life. Healthy food can help reduce PMS, boost fertility, make pregnancy and nursing easier, ease symptoms of menopause, and keep your bones strong. Whatever your age or situation, committing to a healthy, nutritious diet will help you look and feel your best and get the most out of life.
What you eat and drink is influenced by where you live, the types of foods available in your community and in your budget, your culture and background, and your personal preferences. Often, healthy eating is affected by things that are not directly under your control, like how close the grocery store is to your house or job. Focusing on the choices you can control will help you make small changes in your daily life to eat healthier.
Fluids: Fluid needs increase as women age. The reason: Kidneys become less efficient at removing toxins. “Drinking more fluids helps kidneys do their job,” Schwartz says. “Unfortunately, thirst signals often become impaired with age, so people are less likely to drink enough water and other fluids.” Rather than fret about how many glasses to drink, Frechman says, check the color of your urine. "It should be clear or very pale colored. If it becomes darker, you need more fluid.”
Also limit the amount of cholesterol you consume. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in every cell of the body. It helps digest some fats, strengthen cell membranes and make hormones. But too much cholesterol can be dangerous: When blood cholesterol reaches high levels, it can build up on artery walls, increasing the risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Although dietary cholesterol can contribute to heart disease, the greater risk comes from a diet high in saturated and trans fats.
Sweet chili peppers may not be a winter food, but continue eating them in your burritos, stir-fries, and soups, and you may burn more fat during your outdoor cold-weather runs. These not-hot veggies contain chemicals called capsinoids, which are similar to the capsaicin found in hot peppers. Combine capsinoids with 63-degree or cooler temps, and you increase the amount and activity of brown fat cells—those that burn energy—and give your metabolism an extra boost, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
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.
A 55-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity should eat five ounces of grains; two cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and beans; five teaspoons of oils, and no more than 130 calories of additional fat and sugar. If she got 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise, she could increase her intake to six ounces of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; and up to 265 additional calories of fat and sugar.
Folic acid: This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. However, some doctors recommend that women take a pregnancy supplement that includes folic acid, just to make sure they are getting the recommended 400 to 800 micrograms.
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.