Some fat is an important part of your diet; fat is part of every cell. It maintains skin and hair; stores and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; keeps you warm; and protects your internal organs. It even helps your mental processes—not surprising given that fat comprises about 60 percent of your brain. But many women consume too much fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories.
First off, if you suspect you have a vitamin deficiency or you fall into one of those groups, you should definitely chat with your doctor or dietitian to determine which are lacking in your diet. And like I stated earlier, if you want to be sure you getting the recommended levels of vitamins and nutrients, I recommend a multivitamin like New Chapter’s Every Woman’s One Daily Multivitamin. It’s expertly formulated for active women with nutrients for energy, stress, immune, heart and bone support*. My favorite thing about them is that they’re made with superfood herbal blends that include ginger, organic turmeric, chamomile and European elderberry. The cool thing about New Chapter’s supplements is that they’re fermented with probiotics and whole foods, so they’re gentle enough to take on an empty stomach.** They’re also Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, and vegetarian, which is great for so many lifestyles.
Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
Health care experts haven't reached a consensus on the issue of vitamin and mineral supplements. Many say that if you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, you don't need any. But not all of us eat a well-balanced diet. And sometimes, you may follow a nutritious diet and still be deficient. Many women fail to get the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Stress increases your need for vitamins and minerals, especially C, B-complex and zinc.
Having a treat now and then is a great way to make sure your healthy eating plan stays on track. Now, you might be thinking, how can eating a piece of cake or a donut help my eating habits? By not making anything completely off limits, registered dietitians explain that you're less likely to wind up feeling deprived—which means you're also less likely to find yourself in a binge-eating episode.
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat.
Sure, you don't know what you'll be in the mood for later, and will you even be hungry? Yes, probably. After all, increased snacking is one reason behind the rise in calorie intake over the past few decades, according to a 2011 study in PLOS ONE. "When you leave your office to go find something, that's when bad choices are made," says Schapiro. "That's when a hot pretzel, bag of candy, or donut can look very appealing." Make sure your desk (or fridge) is stocked with an emergency stash of snacks, like Greek yogurt, individual packs of nuts, dried fruit, and nitrate-free jerky.
"Creatine is one of the most popular supplements, with over 100 studies consistently showing it can work in muscle cell recovery in athletes who engage in high-intensity, short-burst activity such as sprinting or weight lifting," notes Clark. "But it does not work for endurance or recreational athletics." (She cautions anyone taking creatine to be sure they stay well hydrated to avoid cramping.)
It's trendy to think "food should be fuel" or that food is something that helps you lose (or, ahem, gain) weight. But thinking only in terms of number on the scale takes away a huge part of what eating is about: pleasure. "If you think of eating as something enjoyable and something you do without guilt or without judging yourself, and you stay active, you're less likely to overeat, have a better diet, and maintain any weight loss for the long haul," says Zied. It's true: feeling guilty about your food choices can undermine weight loss—and even pack on the pounds—while a celebratory mindset gives you more control over your diet and can thwart weight gain, found a 2014 study in the journal Appetite.
Scientists still have much to learn even about common vitamins. One recent study found unexpected evidence about vitamin E. Earlier research suggested that men who took vitamin E supplements might have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. “But much to our surprise, a large NIH-funded clinical trial of more than 29,000 men found that taking supplements of vitamin E actually raised—not reduced—their risk of this disease,” says Dr. Paul M. Coates, director of NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. That’s why it’s important to conduct clinical studies of supplements to confirm their effects.
Fiber is an important part of an overall healthy eating plan. Good sources of fiber include fortified cereal, many whole-grain breads, beans, fruits (especially berries), dark green leafy vegetables, all types of squash, and nuts. Look on the Nutrition Facts label for fiber content in processed foods like cereals and breads. Use the search tool on this USDA page to find the amount of fiber in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
To assure supplements have sufficient quality, standardization, and safety for public consumption, research efforts have focused on development of reference materials for supplement manufacturing and monitoring. High-dose products have received research attention, especially for emergency situations such as vitamin A deficiency in malnutrition of children, and for women taking folate supplements to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by your body. It also is found in foods made from animals, like meat and dairy. Fruits and vegetables do not contain cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. Higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease. Almost half of American women have high or borderline high cholesterol.
Minerals are the exogenous chemical elements indispensable for life. Four minerals: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, are essential for life but are so ubiquitous in food and drink that these are not considered nutrients and there are no recommended intakes for these as minerals. The need for nitrogen is addressed by requirements set for protein, which is composed of nitrogen-containing amino acids. Sulfur is essential, but for humans, not identified as having a recommended intake per se. Instead, recommended intakes are identified for the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. There are dietary supplements which provide sulfur, such as taurine and methylsulfonylmethane.
Calcium: For adult women aged 19-50, the USDA recommended daily allowance is 1,000 mg/day. For women over 50, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 mg/day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, certain fish, grains, tofu, cabbage, and summer squash. Your body cannot take in more than 500 mg at any one time and there’s no benefit to exceeding the recommended daily amount.
Purchasing organic local produce is better for both the environment and your health, but when the nearest farm is hours away, don't default to a package of Oreos. "Frozen, canned and fresh fruit all have comparable amounts of nutrients," says Christine M. Bruhm, Ph.D., director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California at Davis.
Much of the sugar we eat is added to other foods, such as regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, puddings, ice cream and baked goods, to name just a few. Soft drinks and other sugary beverages are the No. 1 offenders in American diets. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 8 teaspoons of sugar, exceeding the daily maximum amount recommended for women.
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.