Proper Nutrition for Women
There is no doubt most women are juggling numerous responsibilities – most of which are focused on others.
Today’s message to all women is that you deserve and should make your nutrition a priority. Proper nutrition is essential for women to live their best and longest life. Women have unique nutrient needs, which change during each stage of a woman’s life. Understanding and responding to these special needs can positively influence each stage of a woman’s life.
Nutrient-rich foods provide energy for women’s busy lives and help to reduce the risk of disease. Remember that whole food (foods as found in nature, unprocessed or minimally processed) contain perfectly packed nutrition and energy to thrive and perform at our best. Have you heard the phrase “eat the rainbow”? Did you know that the global burden of disease is attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables? A diet rich in colorful food coming from fruits and vegetables in their natural state will give you an adequate number of calories, fiber, polyphenols, unsaturated fats, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Wholefood plantrich diets are associated with healthier gut microbiome and lower levels of inflammation that, in the end, reduces your risk for the most common chronic medical conditions in the western world. This includes obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes type-2, among others.
A healthy eating plan regularly includes high-quality macronutrients and micronutrients.
The macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
• At least three-ounce equivalents of whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, oats or whole-wheat pasta.
• Fruits and vegetables. You can eat them whole or blend them (smoothies), fruit bowls, salads, juices (avoid commercial sweetened fruit juices and prefer freshly squeezed juices). Fruit should be eaten preferably fresh without added sugar.
• There is an abundance of colorful vegetables — preferably fresh; the second-best option is frozen or canned without added salt.
Healthy Clean Proteins:
• Plant-based sources: edamame, beans, quinoa, kale, tofu, hemp seeds, chia seeds, garbanzo beans, sprouts, chickpeas and lentils.
• Animal-based sources: lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs.
• Plant-based sources: avocado, omega-3-rich seeds such as walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, coconut meat, extra-virgin olive oil. Avoid heated oils and trans-fats. Avoid deep-fried food.
• Animal-based sources: better to avoid them or keep them to a minimum.
Important micronutrients and vitamins: calcium, iron, folate, iodine, selenium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A.
For healthy bones and teeth, women need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps reduce the risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily.
Plant-based sources: fruits and vegetables, legumes, low-oxalate greens such as kale and bokchoy, calcium-set tofu (made with calcium sulfate), fortified plant drinks and yogurts, tempeh, soybeans, sesame seeds, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages, such as plant-based milk alternatives, juices and cereals.
Animal-based sources: prefer low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, cheese and sardines.
• Iron is vital to good health, but the amount needed is different depending on a woman’s stage of life.
• Plant-based sources: leafy greens, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Plant-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. To get both these nutrients at the same meal, try fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with mandarin orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.
• Animal-based sources: red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish.
Folate (and Folic Acid) During Reproductive Years
When women reach childbearing age, folate (or folic acid) plays a significant role in decreasing the risk of birth defects. The requirement for women who are not pregnant is 400 micrograms (mcg) per day. Including adequate amounts of foods that naturally contain folates, such as oranges, leafy green vegetables, beans and peas, will help increase your intake of this B-vitamin. There are also foods fortified with folic acids, such as breakfast cereals and select types of rice and breads. Eating a variety of foods is recommended to help meet nutrient needs, but a dietary supplement with folic acid also may be necessary. This is especially true for pregnant or breastfeeding women since their daily need for folate is higher, 600 mcg and 500 mcg per day, respectively. Be sure to check with your physician or a registered dietitian nutritionist before starting any new supplements.
Daily Vitamin D Requirements
Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. Vitamin D is unique because it can be made in the skin from exposure to sunlight. UVB light from the sun strikes the skin, and humans synthesize vitamin D3, so it is the most “natural” form. Human beings do not make vitamin D2 but can obtain it from sun-exposed mushrooms. Oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring contain vitamin D3. Emerging research supports the possible role of vitamin D against cancer, heart disease, fractures and falls, autoimmune diseases, influenza, type-2 diabetes and depression. Many health-care providers have increased their recommendations for vitamin D supplementation to at least 1,000 IU. Daily sun exposure is recommended to obtain the recommended doses of vitamin D. In spring and summer, 10 to 15 minutes are enough. The exposure should be longer than 30 minutes in the winter months to achieve optimal values.
Good dietary sources of vitamin D in
addition to exposure to sunlight include fatty fish, such as salmon,
eggs and fortified foods and beverages, like milk, as well as some
plant-based milk alternatives, yogurts and juices.
Iodine, selenium, zinc, magnesium, vitamins C, E, A and other minerals.
stated above, a diet rich in whole foods will provide you with enough
of these micronutrients. Under different circumstances, supplementation
should be provided, but that will be at the discretion of your doctor.
Avoid iodine self-medication.
popularity of plant-based diets has brought tremendous benefits to the
health of its adepts; however, supplementation with vitamin B12 is an
integral part of the nutritional plans of strict vegetarians (vegans) to
keep your blood, brain and heart healthy. Consult with your doctor
about supplementation if you are thinking about this lifestyle.
Guidelines on Added Sugars, Saturated Fats and Alcohol
Women should be mindful of sources of added sugars, saturated fat and alcohol. • The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories. Limit added sugars, including sugarsweetened beverages, candy, cookies, pastries and other desserts. Of note, when we refer to sugar limitations, we are strictly talking about processed, refined sugars. Remember that the carbohydrates from whole fruit are healthy, and their consumption is encouraged.
• The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans specify that on days when alcohol is consumed, women of legal age who choose to drink (and it is not contraindicated, such as during pregnancy) should limit consumption to one drink or less per day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Women who are pregnant should avoid consuming alcohol altogether.
Balancing Calories with Activity
While nutrition is a cornerstone of good health, so is physical activity. As you are making wise nutrition choices, also make wise choices in the use of your time by scheduling regular physical activity.
Doing so is helpful with muscle strength, balance, flexibility and stress management.
Do not delay; take the needed actions to have your healthiest year ever.
• Lock K, Pomerleau J, Causer L, Altmann DR, McKee M. The global burden of disease attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables: implications for the global strategy on diet. Bull World Health Organ. 2005 Feb;83(2):100-8. Epub 2005 Feb. 24.
• Tomova A, Bukovsky I, Rembert E, Yonas W, Alwarith J, Barnard ND, et al. The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota [Internet]. Vol. 6, Frontiers in Nutrition. 2019. p. 47.
• David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, Gootenberg DB, Button JE, Wolfe BE, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014;505(7484).
• Aleksandrova K, Koelman L, Rodrigues CE. Dietary patterns and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation: A systematic review of observational and intervention studies. Redox Biol. 2021.
• Plant-based professionals UK. https://plantbasedhealthprofessionals.com/micronutrients
• Infographic: The evidence supporting a plant-based diet for optimal health and prevention of chronic disease. Plant-based health professionals, UK (pbhp. uk).
• Nair R, Maseeh A. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012;3(2):118-126.
• Plataforma SINC. “How much sun is good for our health?” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, March 8, 2017.
Areli K. Cuevas-Ocampo, MD, assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology, plant-based doctor, LSU Health Shreveport. Contributing source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.