I trust that all the mothers out there had a happy and healthy Mother’s Day! Mother’s Day is not only a time for moms to be honored, but it’s also great time for moms (and other women) to think about what you can do to stay healthy so you can enjoy life to its fullest. A balanced diet is the cornerstone for good health for both men and women. In fact according to Dariush Mozaffarian M.D., D.Ph. Harvard School of Public Health,
“Poor nutrition is now the # 1 cause of death and disability in the United States exceeding smoking by quite a considerable margin. Poor diet is now the single leading cause of poor health in the U.S.”
We all benefit from a balanced diet of plant based / non-starchy vegetables and fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, low fat dairy products and healthy protein sources. But women do have some unique nutritional needs. Here are some guidelines from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help women meet them:
1. Because of the risk of osteoporosis, all woman need to be concerned about consuming adequate calcium. If you are still in your 20's, you’re still building bone density; you still have an opportunity to build a strong skeletal foundation that will lower your risk for osteoporosis in the future. Getting enough calcium in your diet will not only help build strong bones but it is important for your muscles, nerves and your heart. Most women need about 1000 milligrams a day. The best sources include:
- non and low fat dairy products,
- leafy green vegetables,
- beans with almonds
- and canned salmon with almonds.
2. Keep in mind that in order to absorb calcium you must also have enough Vitamin D available. The RDA for Vitamin D is 600 international units (IU) for most women. For those in warmer climates, 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure 3 times a week may provide enough vitamin D. But if you live north of the Mason Dixon line, there may be several months out of the year that you may not be getting enough.
Unfortunately, Vitamin D is not very available in food so for some a supplement might be required. Many physicians recommend a supplement in the range of 1000 to 2000 IU. For specific recommendations, talk to your doctor or a registered dietician (RD).
3. Iron is another nutrient that women, especially those who are pre-menopausal, need to be aware of.
Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy in women.
Healthy sources of iron include:
- lean red meat, pork and fish
- kale, spinach, lentils
- and fortified breads and cereals.
The plant based sources mentioned are better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C rich foods.
4. Folic acid is another vital nutrient, especially for women of child bearing age. Deficiency during pregnancy can contribute to serious birth defects. To prevent these birth defects, adequate levels of folic acid must be present at conception. Since many pregnancies are unplanned and many women don’t know they are pregnant for several weeks, the March of Dimes suggests that all sexually active women of childbearing age (not only those trying to get pregnant) should be getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day.
Folate (food form of folic acid) can be found in:
- citrus fruits,
- leafy vegetables,
- and peas.
Plus, folic acid is added to all grain products sold in the US. Yet, many health care providers still recommend supplementation to ensure adequate levels.
As women move into their 50's things begin to change due to menopause. Registered dietician, Jeannie Moloo, comments that, “Hormone fluctuations can be very dramatic, and with hormone fluctuations can come changes in metabolism.” As a consequence weight tends to creep on, especially in the belly. That risky belly fat is known to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is a time when portion control and maintaining a moderate exercise program is especially important.
5. As you hit 60 and beyond, protein and vitamin B12 require more attention. Adequate protein, about 6 ounces a day of a healthy protein from sources such as:
- poultry and lean red meat
- eggs, beans, nuts
- and low fat dairy foods.
Those sources along with resistance exercise help to preserve the muscle that many tend to lose with age.
Vitamin B12, is important for cell health and nervous system functioning. It is available in animal products such as:
- dairy products
- and eggs.
But as we get older, our ability to absorb B12 is diminished. Ask your doctor or RD if you should consider supplementing with B12.