Folate or vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid when used in fortified foods or taken as a supplement) is another nutrient that many women don’t get enough of in their diets. Folate can greatly reduce the chance of neurological birth defects when taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folate can also lower a woman’s risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer, so even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant (and many pregnancies are unplanned), it’s an essential nutrient for every woman of childbearing age. In later life, folate can help your body manufacture estrogen during menopause.
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.
It's still an open question, but there is no question that ALA represents a dietary difference between the sexes. For women, it's a healthful fat. For men with heart disease or major cardiac risk factors, it may also be a good choice — but men with more reason to worry about prostate cancer should probably get their omega-3s from fish and their vegetable fats largely from olive oil.
Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
Nutrition is particularly important when you are pregnant. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal—and it's not just because of the growing fetus; your body is storing fat for lactation. The National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine (NAS/IOM) has determined that a gain of 25 to 35 pounds is desirable. However, underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain at least 15 pounds. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional. Remember that pregnancy isn't the time to diet. Caloric restriction during pregnancy has been associated with reduced birth weight, which can be dangerous to the baby.
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli, along with other vegetables for your meals. Add fruit to meals as part of main or side dishes or as dessert. The more colorful you make your plate, the more likely you are to get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to be healthy.
"The front is all advertising," says Michelle K. Berman, R.D., of Fairfax, Virginia. Flip it around for the real story. The more ingredients, the more likely it has visited a few processing plants where something artificial was mixed in, says Lydia Zepeda, Ph.D., professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Plus, checking the label is a great way to find out if there are unnecessary ingredients in something seemingly healthy. Because, no, bread does not need added sugar.
Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., founder of the New York-based BZ Nutrition, tells SELF, "Eating regularly throughout the day keeps your metabolism running at full speed, prevents dips in your energy, keeps you alert and focused, and [can help keep] your weight steady by preventing overeating at later meals." She and other experts recommend eating every three to four hours. If you don't, there are a number of unpleasant symptoms you may encounter.
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.
In addition to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors can also play an important role in bone health. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, while weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, dancing, yoga, or lifting weights) can lower your risk. Strength or resistance training—using machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight—can be especially effective in helping to prevent loss of bone mass as you age.