A well-balanced diet, comprised of a variety of foods, adequately meets women’s needs for vitamins, minerals and energy. For good health, women need to pay special attention to calcium, iron and folate (folic acid) intake. A healthy diet also should minimize the intake of fat and sugar. Diets high in saturated or trans fat can promote high levels of blood cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. A diet that includes high sugar provides empty calories, or calories that do not provide any nutritional value and often times replace more nutritious food selections.
It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.
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.
Anemia can deplete your energy, leaving you feeling weak, exhausted, and out of breath after even minimal physical activity. Iron deficiency can also impact your mood, causing depression-like symptoms such as irritability and difficulty concentrating. While a simple blood test can tell your doctor if you have an iron deficiency, if you’re feeling tired and cranky all the time, it’s a good idea to examine the amount of iron in your diet.
If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.
Good sources of iron include liver, kidneys, red meat, poultry, eggs, peas, legumes, dried fruits and dark, green leafy vegetables. Three ounces of cooked chicken liver contains 7.2 mg of iron; a cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg. Your health care professional will probably recommend iron supplements during pregnancy (probably starting at 30 mg per day).
Protein should provide about 15% of a healthy person's daily calories. As a rule of thumb, people of both sexes and any size will do fine with about 60 grams of protein a day. Athletes who have large muscles and work out hard may need 20% more. But even that's not very much; 8 ounces of chicken or 6 ounces of canned tuna, for example, will fit the bill.
Studies link high sodium intake to higher blood pressure, and evidence suggests that many people at risk for high blood pressure can reduce their risk by consuming less salt or sodium, as well as following a healthy diet. Most Americans consume more sodium than they need. The recommended amount is less than 2,300 mg per day for children and adults to age 50. The limit drops to 1,500 mg per day for those 51 and older or those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. You get 2,300 mg in just one teaspoon of salt. One good way to reduce your sodium intake is to eat fewer prepared and packaged foods.
Also known as “myofascial release,” foam rolling is an easy way to benefit your entire body. “While stretching addresses the length of muscle fiber, rolling improves the quality of the tissue,” says Rob Sulaver, CEO and founder of Bandana Training. This leads to tension- and pain-free muscles, which function better so you perform better. Be sure to roll for five minutes before your workout. Not sure what to do? Try these 10 ways to use a foam roller.
Part of the reason why so many women fail to get the amount of iron they need is because one of the best sources of iron is red meat (especially liver) which also contains high levels of saturated fat. While leafy green vegetables and beans are also good sources of iron—and don’t contain high levels saturated fat—the iron from plant foods is different to the iron from animal sources, and not absorbed as well by the body. Other foods rich in iron include poultry, seafood, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, and iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pastas.
Low-fat diets also can help you lose weight.16 But the amount of weight lost is usually small. You can lose weight and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke if you follow an overall healthy pattern of eating that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans that are high in fiber, nuts, low-fat dairy and fish, in addition to staying away from trans fat and saturated fat.
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.”