A balanced diet is a cornerstone of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all of the foods groups, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat or fat-free dairy and lean protein. Women also have special nutrient needs, and, during each stage of a woman’s life, these needs change.
Choose healthy foods
Nutrient-rich foods provide energy for women’s busy lives and help to reduce the risk of disease. A healthy eating plan regularly includes:
- Choose whole grains such as whole-wheat/health bread, bran flakes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, amabele or oat as basis of most meals
- Three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products including milk, yogurt or cheese.
- Choose lean protein such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes (beans, lentils),nuts and seeds.
- Plenty of vegetables & fruits (Aim for at least 5 vegetables & fruits a day)
Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy levels in women prior to menopause. Foods that provide iron include red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals or mealie meal. Plant-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. So eat fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.
Folate (and Folic Acid) During the Reproductive Years
When women reach childbearing age, they need to eat enough folate (or folic acid) to help decrease 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 folate, such as citrus fruits, leafy greens, legumes e.g. beans will help increase your intake of this B vitamin. There also are many foods that are fortified with folic acid, such as breakfast cereals, and mealie meal. 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 women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, 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 before taking any supplements.
Daily Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements
For healthy bones and teeth, women need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps to reduce the risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily. Some calcium-rich foods include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, sardines, tofu (if made with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified foods including juices and cereals. Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods and beverages, such as some yogurts and juices. Another best source of Vitamin D is sun exposure.
Foods and Beverages to Limit
To keep weight in check at any age, women should limit intake of refined foods with added sugars, saturated fat and alcohol.
- Limit sweetened beverages, including regular soft drinks, sweet, cookies, pastries and other desserts.
- Limit alcohol intake to one drink per day, if you choose to drink and are of legal age. One drink is equal to 1beer, 200ml wine.
- Eat fewer foods that are high in saturated fat. Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean proteins instead of their full-fat counterparts. Incorporate more plant-base protein foods, such as beans, lentils and tofu, into your diet.
Since women typically have less muscle, more body fat and are smaller than men, they need fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight and activity level. Women who are more physically active may require more calories.
Physical activity is an important part of a woman’s health. Regular activity helps with weight control, muscle strength and stress management.
Yours in health