Healthy Eating for Women

By eating well at every stage of life, you can control cravings, manage your weight, boost your energy, and look and feel your best.

Women and Healthy Eating

As women, many of us are frequently prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel that you’re too busy to eat well or used to putting the needs of your family before your own. Or perhaps you’re trying to stick to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Trying to balance the demands of family and work or school—and also cope 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 improve your mood, boost your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight; it can also support you through the different stages in a woman’s life.

While what works best for one woman may not always be the best choice for another, the important thing is to build your diet around your vital nutritional needs. Whether you’re looking to improve your energy and mood, combat stress or PMS, boost fertility, enjoy a healthy pregnancy, or ease the symptoms of menopause, these nutrition tips can help you to stay healthy, active, and vibrant throughout your ever-changing life.

Women’s Nutrition Needs Different from Men’s

While women tend to need fewer calories than men, our requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are much higher. Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, child-bearing, and menopause mean that women have a higher risk of anemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis, requiring a higher intake of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B9. 

As children, boys’ and girls’ dietary needs are largely similar. But when puberty begins, women start to develop unique nutritional requirements. And as we age and our bodies go through more physical and hormonal changes, so our nutritional needs continue to evolve, making it important that our diets evolve to meet these changing needs.

Calcium for Strong Bones throughout Life

 Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis. Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium, in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, tosupport you bone health.Among other things, you need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly.

How Much Magnesium, Calcium and Vitamin Women’s Need?

Magnesium: Magnesium increases calcium absorption form the blood into the bone. In fact, your body can’t utilize calcium without it. The USDA recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 320 to 400 mg/day. Good sources include leafy green vegetables, summer squash, broccoli, halibut, cucumber, green beans, celery, and a variety of seeds. 

Calcium: For adult women aged 19-50, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended daily allowance is 1,000 mg/day. For women over 50, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 mg/day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, certain fish, grains, tofu, cabbage, and summer squash. Your body cannot take in more than 500 mg at any one time and there’s no benefit to exceeding the recommended daily amount.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is also crucial to the proper metabolism of calcium. Aim for 600 IU daily. You can get Vitamin D from about half an hour of direct sunlight, and from foods such as salmon, shrimp, vitamin-D fortified milk, cod, and eggs.

Iron: Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.

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.

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.

How Much Iron do you need?

For adolescent women aged 14-18, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) recommended daily amount is 15 mg (27 mg if pregnant, 10 mg if lactating). For adult women aged 19-50, the FNB recommends 18 mg/day (27 mg if pregnant, 9 mg if lactating). For women 51+ years old, the recommended daily amount is 8 mg.

Should Avoid Dairy Because of its Saturated Fat Content

Some of the best sources of calcium are dairy products. However, dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, and yogurt also tend to contain high levels of saturated fat. The USDA recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of your daily calories, meaning you can enjoy whole milk dairy in moderation and opt for no- or low-fat dairy products when possible. Just be aware that reduced fat dairy products often contain lots of added sugar, which can have negative effects on both your health and waistline.

The Importance of (vitamin B9) for Women of Child-Bearing Age

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.Not getting enough folate in your diet can also impact your mood, leaving you feeling irritable and fatigued, affecting your concentration, and making you more susceptible to depression and headaches.

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