Even though a healthy diet is important for both genders, women have some specific needs when it comes to their health. There are certain foods that all women should eat more of, and some food types to limit or avoid all-together.
All women of childbearing age (whether planning a pregnancy or not) should get at least 400 mcg or folate every day. The proper amount of folate can help prevent neural tube birth defects, which is essential at conception of a baby. Folate also helps lower risk of heart disease. Foods high in folate include:
- fortified grains (breads, cereals)
Fiber helps prevent constipation and other digestive disorders. It also helps regulate blood sugar and control weight. High fiber foods include:
- whole grains
- high fiber cereals
- fruits and vegetables
Iron helps prevent anemia during menstruating years. Get your iron from foods like:
- leafy greens
Calcium is key to maintaining strong bones and teeth. Calcium-rich foods include:
- fortified foods
Vitamin D helps absorption of calcium. Deficiency in this vitamin has been linked to a variety of conditions and diseases. Vitamin D-rich foods include:
- fortified foods
- egg yolks
Since it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, you may want to consider a supplement of 1000 IU per day. Get blood levels tested and consult with your doctor to determine the proper level.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and protect the brain and heart against disease. The best way to get omega-3’s is to eat lots of fatty fish like:
- albacore tuna
Consider a supplement of 1000 mg daily of EPA + DHA if you do not eat fish several times per week. If you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish, you can also find EPA/DHA fatty acids in algae supplements.
Saturated Fat and Trans Fat
These two types of fat can increase inflammation and LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels in your body. To limit intake of saturated and trans fats, avoid foods like:
- high-fat meats
- high-fat cheese
- whole milk
- fried foods
- hydrogenated oils
Simple Sugar and Refined Grains
These two types of carbohydrates can cause spikes and drops in blood sugar leading to feelings of fatigue. They can also increase inflammation. Avoid foods with simple sugars and refined grains like:
- white varieties of flour
- foods with added sugars, including: corn syrup, rice syrup, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, honey, and molasses.
Even a few drinks per week have been linked to increased risk of certain cancers (including breast cancer). Limit all alcohol to the most one drink per day. Alcohol includes beer, wine, and distilled spirits (hard liquor), and ‘one drink’ is considered to be:
- five ounce wine
- 12 ounce beer
- 1.5 ounce (shot) liquor
If you are already at high-risk for cancer, you should limit even further, or avoid alcohol completely.
If your daily caloric intake is too high based on caloric expenditure, you will gain weight. Carrying excess weight increases risk of numerous chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and arthritis. Limit large portions; instead of having big meals, eat light and eat often to spread calories out throughout the day.