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.
When trying to adopt new healthy habits, it's important to work around other long-standing practices that could sabotage your efforts if overlooked. For example, if you are a morning person, working out in the a.m. is likely best, but if you’re a night person, exercise after work, says Tara Stiles, owner of Strala Yoga in New York City. [Tweet at Tara!]“Don't try to become one or the other if it's not natural to you. You're more likely to stick to it if you like the time of day and the whole experience.”
Schools (and universities) ↓/NC anemia, ↓ Fe-deficiency anemia, ↑/NC MN status [Hgb (↑ if anemic), ferritin, zinc, retinol], ↑ MN status [folate, riboflavin, 25(OH)D, iodine], ↓ PTH, ↓ goiter prevalence, ↓ MN deficiency (vitamin A, B-12, C), ↑ bone mineral accretion, ↑/NC weight gain/BMI, ↑ MUAC, ↑ gut inflammation, ↓/NC respiratory symptoms and diarrheal morbidity, ↑ fitness (for Fe-deficient subjects), ↑/NC short-term cognitive function ↑ Hgb (↑ if anemic), ↑ serum ferritin, ↑ total body Fe, ↑ urinary iodine concentration, ↑ serum zinc, ↑ aerobic power, NC net energetic efficiency
Folic acid: This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. However, some doctors recommend that women take a pregnancy supplement that includes folic acid, just to make sure they are getting the recommended 400 to 800 micrograms.
Calories. Most times, women need fewer calories. That’s because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. Find out how many calories you need each day, based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
The guidelines also establish ranges (called acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges or AMDR) for fat, carbohydrates and protein, instead of exact percentages of calories or numbers of grams. The report maintains that since all three categories serve as sources of energy, they can, to some extent, substitute for one another in providing calories.
Weighing yourself too often can cause you to obsess over every pound. Penner recommends stepping on the scale or putting on a pair of well-fitting (i.e. not a size too small) pants once a week. “Both can be used as an early warning system for preventing weight gain, and the pants may be a better way to gauge if those workouts are helping you tone up and slim down.” [Tweet this tip!]
Fourth and finally, there was a general lack of focus on the relevant delivery platforms for nutrition interventions. Many studies were not explicit about how and where interventions were delivered, and we had to cross-reference multiple sources to identify the delivery platform for many interventions. Delivery platforms are important and relevant information in terms of replicability, but also for identifying who is effectively reached and missed. Information about delivery platforms is also instrumental in understanding gaps in implementation. A greater emphasis on delivery platforms could enhance the reach of nutrition interventions and could also strengthen the capacity to mobilize resources more effectively. For instance, organizing and grouping interventions by delivery platform (e.g., antenatal care, community centers, schools, clinics) or by the relevant stakeholders required for delivery (e.g., ministries, health care providers, teachers, administrators, transporters, etc.) could have the potential to more efficiently deliver nutrition interventions.
It's easy to get lost in a killer playlist or Friends rerun on the TV attached to the elliptical, but mindless exercise makes all your hard work forgettable—and you can forget about seeing results too. “There is a huge difference between going through the motions of an exercise and truly thinking, feeling, and engaging the key muscles,” says Kira Stokes, master instructor at the New York City location of indoor cycling studio Revolve. “Be conscious of and enjoy the sensation of your muscles contracting and the feelings of growing stronger and more powerful with each rep.”
Vinyasa and power may not be the only forms of yoga that will get you closer to that long, lean, limber look. Research presented at the 73rd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association found that restorative yoga—which focuses more on relaxing and stress-reducing movements rather than a challenging flow or balancing poses—burns more subcutaneous fat (the kind directly under your skin) than stretching does. By the end of the yearlong study, yogis who practiced at least once a month lost an average of about three pounds, nearly double the amount lost by those who only stretched. So if you don’t feel up for a more athletic yoga class, ease your way into a practice with a gentle one.
“Whole grains help with digestion and are excellent for your heart, regularity [because of the fiber content], and maintaining a steady level of blood sugar,” says Hincman. “They are also a great source of energy to power you throughout the day.” Whole grains, such as oats, also help improve cholesterol levels. While food manufacturers are adding fiber to all sorts of products, whole grains, like whole wheat, rye, and bran, need to be the first ingredient on the food label of packaged foods, she stresses. Watch your serving sizes, however. Current guidelines are for six one-ounce equivalent servings per day (five if you’re over 50). One ounce of whole-wheat pasta (weighed before cooking) is only one-half cup cooked.
If motivation is your hang-up, change your exercise routine every 14 days. A University of Florida study discovered that people who modified their workouts twice a month were more likely than to stick to their plans compared to those who changed their regimens whenever they wanted to. Boredom didn’t appear to be a factor; it seems people simply enjoyed the variety more.
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.
A workout partner not only keeps you accountable, she also may help you clock more time at the gym and torch more fat. A British survey of 1,000 women found that those who exercise with others tend to train six minutes longer and burn an extra 41 calories per session compared to solo fitness fanatics. [Tweet this fact!] Women with Bikram buddies and CrossFit comrades said they push themselves harder and are more motivated than when they hit the gym alone.
After 40, your hormone levels (estrogen) drop. This causes your insulin (hormone that helps your body use sugar) rise. Your thyroid levels go down. This combination makes you hungrier. You end up eating more and burning fewer calories. Much of the weight gain occurs around your belly. Eat more foods with fiber (berries, whole grains, nuts) to fill you up and help you eat less. Aim for 25 grams of fiber each day after the age of 40. Other ways to increase your metabolism include:
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. 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, to support your bone health.
Although canola oil appears to be good for the cardiovascular system, two Harvard studies have raised concerns that ALA might be bad for the prostate. In 1993, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study of 47,781 men published a major evaluation of dietary fat and prostate cancer. It found that saturated fat from animal sources such as red meat and whole-fat dairy products was linked to a 2.6-fold increase in prostate cancer. But the study also provided some disquieting news about ALA: Men who consumed the most ALA were 3.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who had the lowest dietary intake.
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.
Having the proper footwear is essential for any workout, and for winter runs, that means sneaks with EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), says Polly de Mille, an exercise physiologist who oversees New York Road Runner's Learning Series for first-time New York City Marathon runners. “Polyurethane tends to get really stiff and cold in the winter, which could increase your risk of injury.” Another important feature is a waterproof and windproof upper: Look for shoes made with Gortex, or wrap your mesh uppers in duct tape to keep feet dry and warm.
Both your nutritional needs (the food and water) and your metabolism (how fast your body converts food to energy) change at this age. Your metabolism gets slower. Women lose about half a pound of muscle per year starting around the age of 40. That makes losing weight even more difficult. Some of the changes women experience are due to decreased hormones, reduced activity level, and medical conditions.
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.
Here, too, body size is the main difference between the needs of males and females. Despite all the hype about high-protein diets, our protein requirements are really quite modest — only about a third of a gram per pound of body weight. For a 125-pound woman, that amounts to about 42 grams, for a 175-pound man, 58 grams. That's a tiny difference, just about half an ounce a day.
Omega-3 fatty acids — essential to health and happiness, reviewed by Dr. Mary James, MD. From conception to old age, every cell in our bodies needs omega-3’s. Learn how omega-3 fatty acids benefit every body system — from the brain to the heart, breast, bones, colon, skin and more, this is one nutrient that can make all the difference to our health, our happiness, and — perhaps best of all — our longevity.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the neurological and early visual development of your baby and for making breast milk after birth. Aim for two weekly servings of cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, or anchovies. Sardines are widely considered the safest and most sustainable fish to eat, while seaweed is a rich vegetarian source of Omega-3s.
It's even more important for older people to stay hydrated. Age can bring a decreased sensitivity to thirst. Moreover, it's sometime harder for those who are feeble to get up and get something to drink. Or sometimes a problem with incontinence creates a hesitancy to drink enough. Those who are aging should make drinking water throughout the day a priority.
Women's nutrition is often eclipsed by maternal nutrition. There are important linkages between maternal nutrition and the health, cognitive development, and earning potential of future generations (1). However, with reduced childbearing and longer life spans, women's experiences extend beyond motherhood (2). Interventions and policies that target women solely as mothers fail to account for women before they conceive, after they no longer engage with programs targeting maternal–child health, as well as those who never have children (3, 4). A woman's nutrition should matter not (only) because of her reproductive potential, but because it is fundamental to her rights as a person and to her well-being and ability to thrive (5–7). With increasing attention to the nutritional needs of adolescent girls (8, 9), in addition to the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease affecting women later in life (10), it is becoming more imperative that interventions reach women at all life stages.
Loss of taste. Some medicines alter your sense of taste making you lose your appetite. Ask your health care professional if there are alternatives to the medicine you're taking. You might also experiment with spices to make foods tastier. Also, rotating tastes of each food on your plate, rather than eating one food at once, can help you taste various flavors better. Foods with strong scents also taste better, since taste and smell are linked.
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Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
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Although creating financial incentives to lose weight isn't a new idea, now we know cashing in to stay motivated works long-term. In the longest study yet on this topic, Mayo Clinic researchers weighed 100 people monthly for one year, offering half the group $20 per pound lost plus a $20 penalty for every pound gained. Those in the monetary group dropped an average of nine pounds by the end of the year, while non-paid participants shed about two pounds. If you’re ready to gamble away weight, consider sites such as Healthywage, FatBet, or stickK.
Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation and can raise your risk for other health problems. Part of healthy eating is choosing fiber-rich foods, including beans, berries, and dark green leafy vegetables, every day. Fiber helps lower your risk for diseases that affect many women, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer. Fiber also helps you feel full, so it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Iron: Iron, too, remains a critical nutrient. Adult women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 mg a day. Pregnant women should shoot for 27 mg a day. “The volume of blood almost doubles when women are pregnant, which dramatically increases the demand for iron,” Schwartz tells WebMD. After delivery, lactating women need far less iron, only about 9 mg, because they are no longer menstruating. But as soon as women stop breast-feeding, they should return to 18 mg a day.
Oaks BM, Young RR, Adu-Afarwuah S, Ashorn U, Jackson KH, Lartey A, Maleta K, Okronipa H, Sadalaki J, Baldiviez LM et al. Effects of a lipid-based nutrient supplement during pregnancy and lactation on maternal plasma fatty acid status and lipid profile: results of two randomized controlled trials. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2017;117:28–35.