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.
No matter how busy you are, eat lunch before 3 p.m., a Spanish study suggests. Researchers placed a group of women on a diet for 20 weeks; half ate lunch before 3 and half consumed their midday meal after 3. Although both groups’ daily caloric intake, time spent exercising and sleeping, and appetite hormone levels were the same, those who lunched late lost about 25 percent less weight than earlier eaters. Being European, lunch was the biggest meal of the day for these women, constituting 40 percent of their calories for the day, so consider slimming down dinner in addition to watching the clock.
The ’90s turned toward a lot more talk about “fat-blasting” in the Snackwell’s/heroin chic era. But as the new millennium dawned, front cover messages started to sway from scolding to encouraging. Which makes sense: Why would someone want a magazine to yell at them? That’s why the current crop of women’s health magazine headlines stress taking time for yourself over how flat your abs might get. As Elizabeth Goodman, editor-in-chief of Shape magazine, explained via email: “As a women’s magazine, it’s our job to help women be their best selves—both inside and out. However, we don’t want to set the standard for normal or tell women what normal is; we want to encourage women to find and be proud of their normal… Our approach with our readers is not to judge or demand, just to inspire and support.”
Nutrition education interventions were often implemented in conjunction with other programs, and it was difficult to identify the effects of nutrition education alone. In addition, many studies reported on one-on-one counseling and group education, and it was not possible to differentiate the impact. The effects of nutrition education were often greater when combined with other resource-based interventions, such as micronutrient supplementation (31, 32), home gardening (28), food supplementation (33), and water provision (22). For nutrition education programs targeting mothers, those who were more educated or of higher socioeconomic status more often translated the intervention to nutritional outcomes (33). This suggests that the effectiveness of nutrition education might relate to individuals’ ability to access resources and implement information received.
The impact of income-generation interventions on women's nutrition has not been sufficiently evaluated. Income-generating interventions were associated with increases in women's income, empowerment, and household decision-making (161, 164–166). However, these gains were often at the expense of more work for women (5). Income-generation interventions have been associated with increased food-related expenditures, improved household food security, and greater household dietary diversity (160, 161, 165–168). Income-generating interventions targeting adolescents improved their social status; however, these showed no impact on their access to food, nor on individual and household food security (169). There was also limited evidence of impacts of income-generating interventions on women's anthropometric and biochemical nutrition outcomes (5, 169, 170). Increased income was associated with reductions in maternal underweight and anemia, but the reductions were modest (171). Studies suggested that the limited impact was related to continued poor access to health services (167), poor measurement, and the need for longer evaluation periods (164, 165, 167, 169).
While what works best for one woman may not always be the best choice for another, the important thing is to build your dietary choices 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 and vibrant throughout your ever-changing life.

Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.
It sounds counterintuitive, but fatty fish are actually good for you because they deliver omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fats with cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. While fish oil capsules will help you meet your PUFA needs, studies have found that fish itself offers even more nutritional benefits, including vitamin D, selenium, and antioxidants. Among the best choices are salmon, albacore tuna, herring, and trout. Recommendations are for 1 gram of PUFAs daily for people with coronary heart disease and at least 250 to 500 mg daily for those who want to prevent it.

As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.

The best evidence that ALA can protect the heart comes from the Lyon Diet Heart Study, a randomized clinical trial in Europe. It tested the effects of an ALA-enriched Mediterranean diet in 605 patients with coronary artery disease. Over a four-year period, the high-ALA diet produced a 72% reduction in heart attacks and cardiac deaths and a 56% lower risk of dying from any cause (including cancer). The Mediterranean diet differed from the standard Western diet in many respects, but because it contained a special canola oil margarine, the greatest difference was in its ALA content, which was nearly eight times higher in the protective diet.
Oils. When cooking try to use oils from plants instead of solid fats like butter, margarine, or coconut oil. See this list of oils and fats to see how healthy each type of cooking oil and solid fat is. Most women eat too much solid fat through packaged foods like chips or salad dressing, and not enough healthy fats like olive oil or the type of fat in seafood.

If you count calories, count fat calories, too. Food labels indicate how many calories come from fat, both in actual grams and in percentages. This helps you assess the percentage of fat in your diet. If the total number of fat calories is 30 percent or more of the total calories you consume in a day, you probably need to cut back. But don't be misled by terms like "lower fat." Ask yourself "lower than what?" and look at the overall percentage of fat calories in the food.
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It's still an open question, but there is no question that ALA represents a dietary difference between the sexes. For women, it's a healthful fat. For men with heart disease or major cardiac risk factors, it may also be a good choice — but men with more reason to worry about prostate cancer should probably get their omega-3s from fish and their vegetable fats largely from olive oil.

Some fat is an important part of your diet; fat is part of every cell. It maintains skin and hair; stores and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; keeps you warm; and protects your internal organs. It even helps your mental processes—not surprising given that fat comprises about 60 percent of your brain. But many women consume too much fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories.
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