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 (folate).
What you eat and drink is influenced by where you live, the types of foods available in your community and in your budget, your culture and background, and your personal preferences. Often, healthy eating is affected by things that are not directly under your control, like how close the grocery store is to your house or job. Focusing on the choices you can control will help you make small changes in your daily life to eat healthier.
Women who have very low levels of sunlight exposure or have naturally very dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Those affected may include women who cover most of their body when outdoors, shift workers, those who are unable to regularly get out of their house or women in residential care. Women who have certain medical conditions or are on some medications may also be affected.
A well-balanced diet, comprised of a variety of foods, adequately meets women’s needs for vitamins, minerals and energy. For good health, women need to pay special attention to calcium, iron and folate (folic acid) intake. A healthy diet also should minimize the intake of fat and sugar. Diets high in saturated or trans fat can promote high levels of blood cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. A diet that includes high sugar provides empty calories, or calories that do not provide any nutritional value and often times replace more nutritious food selections.
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.
After menopause. Lower levels of estrogen after menopause raise your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects these chronic diseases. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating plans and whether you need more calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones. Read more about how very low estrogen levels affect your health in our Menopause section. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. Find out how many calories you need based on your level of activity.
Poor nutrition may be one of the easiest conditions to self-diagnose. Look at the food pyramid and the suggested servings. Look at your diet. Are you getting the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables? Enough calcium? Read the labels and compare what you eat to what you need. You may discover that even if your weight is ideal, you are not getting enough nutrition.
There's not much doubt about this one: Women need more iron than men, because they lose iron with each menstrual period. After menopause, of course, the gap closes. The RDA of iron for premenopausal women is 18 mg a day, for men 8 mg. Men should avoid excess iron. In the presence of an abnormal gene, it can lead to harmful deposits in various organs (hemochromatosis). Since red meat is the richest dietary source of iron, it's just as well that men don't need to wolf down lots of saturated fat to get a lot of iron.
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.
Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium a day for girls aged 9 through 19. Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice, because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption. Milk, yogurt, and cheese contribute most of the calcium in our diets. Some vegetables are also good sources, including broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu. The daily intake for Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for most children and healthy adults.
The Center for Young Women’s Health (CYWH) is a collaboration between the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and the Division of Gynecology at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Center is an educational entity that exists to provide teen girls and young women with carefully researched health information, health education programs, and conferences.
You should consume only 25 percent to 35 percent of your total calories per day from fat, with a significant portion from good fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. According to the American Heart Association, women should get at least five to 10 percent of their total daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids (equal to 12 to 20 grams), and anywhere from 0.5 to 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, depending on individual risk for heart disease.
Dairy. Women should get 3 cups of dairy each day, but most women get only half that amount.6 If you can’t drink milk, try to eat low-fat plain yogurt or low-fat cheese. Dairy products are among the best food sources of the mineral calcium, but some vegetables such as kale and broccoli also have calcium, as do some fortified foods such as fortified soymilk, fortified cereals, and many fruit juices. Most girls ages 9 to 18 and women older than 50 need more calcium for good bone health.
The daily calcium recommendations are 1,000 milligrams a day for women under 50, and 1,500 milligrams a day for women 51 and older. Oddly enough, these are the same requirements for men, who are much less prone to osteoporosis than women. But the recommendation takes into account the fact that women are smaller than men. Thus the amount of daily calcium is greater for women on a proportional basis.
For some simple suggestions about eating a healthy, balanced diet, check out the "New American Plate Concept" from the American Institute for Cancer Research. This concept suggests you fill your plate with two-thirds or more of vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and only one-third or less of animal protein. This simple principle can guide you toward healthier eating. For more details, visit http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reduce_diet_new_american_plate.
Published ten times per year, Women's Health magazine is a premier publication focused on the health, fitness, nutrition, and lifestyles of women. With a circulation of 1.5 million readers, you'll be in good company with a subscription to this successful magazine published by Rodale. From cover to cover, each issue will provide you with tips on improving every aspect of your life.
Young adults. Teen girls and young women usually need more calories than when they were younger, to support their growing and developing bodies. After about age 25, a woman’s resting metabolism (the number of calories her body needs to sustain itself at rest) goes down. To maintain a healthy weight after age 25, women need to gradually reduce their calories and increase their physical activity.
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Iodine is needed for normal mental development of the baby, but it can be difficult to get enough from food. Ways of increasing iodine intake include using iodised salt, eating fish and seafood weekly (see your health professional for advice about safe types and amounts of fish), or using a multivitamin supplement that contains iodine and is safe for pregnancy.
What's a man to do? Fortunately, he does not have to choose between his bones and his prostate. The solution is moderation. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, for example, found no link between a moderate consumption of calcium (about 800 mg a day, two-thirds of the RDA) and prostate cancer. In addition, a randomized clinical trial of calcium supplements of 1,200 mg a day found no effect on the prostate, but only 327 men were in the calcium group, and the supplementation lasted just four years. Finally, the Harvard scientists speculate that a high consumption of vitamin D may offset the possible risks of calcium, so a daily multivitamin may also help.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin E is 15 mg. Don't take more than 1,000 mg of alpha-tocopherol per day. This amount is equivalent to approximately 1,500 IU of "d-alpha-tocopherol," sometimes labeled as "natural source" vitamin E, or 1,100 IU of "dl-alpha-tocopherol," a synthetic form of vitamin E. Consuming more than this could increase your risk of bleeding because vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant (blood thinner).