The Most Important Things for a Woman to Have in Her Diet
By Brandi Goodman
In general, every woman should be doing her best to maintain a healthy diet. Simply saying to eat a variety of fruit, vegetables, and protein choices is not enough. Women require certain minerals, vitamins, and other essential nutrients at various stages of life, such as during pregnancy and when she ages. With some tips regarding the most important things to include in the diet, all women can experience improved health and well-being.
The Five Food Groups
The food pyramid is a tool that has long been used by nutritionists to inform people of what they should be eating for a healthy diet. The five food groups definitely apply to women because these contain some of the most beneficial food choices with the vitamins and minerals that women’s bodies require to thrive. They include fruit, vegetables, dairy products, proteins, and whole grains.
Some pyramids list a sixth group, but this is intended for fats, oils, and sweets. These should be consumed in minute amounts, and not daily.
Vitamins and Minerals
A variety of vitamins and minerals should be in every woman’s diet, though there are some particular choices that are more worthwhile than others. For example, Vitamin B12 ensures the cells in both the brain and nervous system can function adequately. It also helps make new red blood cells, making it imperative that everyone -- men and women included -- get enough of it. Certain kinds of fish are solid sources of Vitamin B12, including herring, flounder, and sardines. Eggs are also an ideal source, as are fat-free milk, liver, and nutritional yeast.
Women also require omega-3 fatty acids. These assist with the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure, in the production of hormones, easing inflammation, and enhancing neurological functions. The body does not produce many of the fatty acids it requires on its own. Instead, humans must consume them through food sources.
Before learning the food sources available, it is important to understand that there are three different types of omega-3 fatty acids that the body requires:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
DHA is more commonly found in oily fish, including tuna and salmon, and shellfish. These provide EPA as well. ALA is more commonly found in plant-based sources, such as walnuts and flaxseed. It’s also prevalent in canola oil and olive oil. Women who do not consume enough of these foods on a daily basis can take a fish oil supplement to help.
Protein is fundamental for a woman’s body. It helps build healthy hair, skin, and nails, while also maintaining muscle mass. It boosts bone health, and is also beneficial at helping the body stay full for longer intervals. Many women have turned to gimmick protein shakes and powders, but there are plenty of food choices that provide the protein our bodies need. Enjoy protein sources such as:
- Lean meats
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
Water is also necessary for all women. It is really the only beverage that should be consumed on a daily basis. Though the amount each woman needs depends on several factors, including whether she is trying to lose weight, wants to maintain her current weight, her age, and whether she is pregnant or breastfeeding, the goal should be to drink at least eight cups per day.
When trying to lose weight, it is advised to drink at least half your weight in ounces of water each day. This means a woman weighing 200 pounds should try to take in 100 ounces of water. It will help to flush her system and replace water lost through exercise.
Anyone having trouble getting enough water each day can start with flavored waters from the store. Many are made with sucralose and not regular sugar, and have the added advantage of having between 0 and 10 calories. It is a much better alternative to juice or soda pop. An even better solution is to try infused water at home. Women can add lemons, apples and cinnamon, berries, and other fruit or herbs to a pitcher of water so their flavors infuse into the drink. This boosts the water’s nutritional benefits without adding too many calories to the equation. It’s a tasty and safe alternative to plain water that many simply do not enjoy drinking.
The Essentials During Pregnancy
Pregnancy requires a different set of diet rules than everyday life. An expecting mother requires higher amounts of folic acid, for example, as this B vitamin helps protect a baby’s spine and brain. It is helpful in the prevention of certain birth defects, such as anencephaly and spina bifida.
Good sources of folic acid include:
- Healthy breakfast cereals
- Wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Leafy green vegetables
Women should also be taking a daily prenatal vitamin that includes the nutrients the baby needs to thrive.
Many pregnant mothers also experience iron-deficiency anemia. To support the development of an unborn baby, iron is integral. Foods high in iron include spinach, white beans, beef liver, tofu, kidney beans, lean beef, and baked potatoes. It is also vital to consume fortified foods, such as certain breakfast cereals because they have especially high doses of both iron and folic acid, plus other nutrients that mothers and their growing fetuses require.
The Essentials for Women Over 50
As women age, there is additional concern over the nutrition essentials in her diet. This is because women are especially prone to osteoporosis, which is a weakening of the bones. Calcium and Vitamin D are even more crucial at this stage in life because they boost bone health, keep the teeth strong, and even help improve mood. Although younger women only require approximately 1000 milligrams of calcium per day, those over 50 need closer to 1,200 milligrams.
Some worthwhile sources include:
- Low-fat cheese
- Soy products
- Summer squash
Women over 50 are also experiencing menopause. Some even experience it in their 40s. Menopausal women have a variety of symptoms that can be eased by proper diet. Healthy fats and protein are especially beneficial. The body’s ability to maintain muscle mass weakens as testosterone and estrogen levels drop, making adequate protein intake particularly important. Some recommend the Mediterranean diet because it focuses on plant-based foods, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Food and Drinks All Women Should Avoid
Certain foods should not be included in a woman’s diet if she hopes to maintain good health and an ideal weight. Most processed foods fall into this category because they are loaded with high calories, added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. Women should skip the boxed snacks, cakes, cookies, breaded desserts, lunch meats, and similar offerings. Homemade food is a much better solution given that it becomes easier to monitor the ingredients and amount of sugar and sodium that’s being included.
There are an equal number of beverages that should be kept out of a woman’s diet. Water is the only drink women need to survive. Though a daily coffee in the morning isn’t the worst thing in the world, it isn’t necessary or ideal due to the caffeine. Many do not stick to black coffee, either, meaning they are adding more sugar and calories with sweeteners and creams. Though some tea is fine, this should also be limited. Fruit juices, soda pop or other carbonated beverages, and especially alcohol (more so during pregnancy) should be skipped.
Tips for Making Dietary Changes
It can be difficult to go from eating sweets and sugar daily to never eating it again. That is why experts recommend winding down usage over time, rather than all at once. To ensure success, it’s helpful for women to start by making one small change at a time rather than several at once. Giving up beloved foods and snacks immediately makes it easier to resort to overeating them down the road.
Some small changes may include:
- Creating homemade snacks rather than purchasing them at the store
- Switching out white bread with wheat bread
- Switching out white rice with brown rice
- Drinking infused water instead of juice
- Adding just one serving of veggies to every meal
- Trying veggies and dip rather than chips
There are always things women can try when easing themselves into a new daily routine. Starting out slow and making one change at a time can ensure there are no serious setbacks later.
Healthy Eating for the Win
The foods women eat play a significant role in their overall well-being. Healthy eating can ensure a healthy body and mind, while poor eating habits lead to obesity, illness, and a struggle with mental health. All women should be doing what they can to make necessary diet changes so they can keep themselves feeling fueled and ready to take on each day. Of course, exercise is equally important in maintaining health. Both the right foods and the right workout plan are necessary for every woman to be her best self. But you should understand that diet is the most important part of your health routine; unless you’re an elite athlete or gym rat, you can’t outwork a bad diet.
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