Part of the reason why so many women fail to get the amount of iron they need is because one of the best sources of iron is red meat (especially liver) which also contains high levels of saturated fat. While leafy green vegetables and beans are also good sources of iron—and don’t contain high levels saturated fat—the iron from plant foods is different to the iron from animal sources, and not absorbed as well by the body. Other foods rich in iron include poultry, seafood, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, and iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pastas.
Do you wonder if you need a dietary supplement? Maybe you do, but usually not. Ask yourself why you think you might want to take a dietary supplement. Are you concerned about getting enough nutrients? Is a friend, a neighbor, or someone on a commercial suggesting you take one? Some ads for dietary supplements in magazines, online, or on TV seem to promise that these supplements will make you feel better, keep you from getting sick, or even help you live longer. Often, there is little, if any, good scientific research supporting these claims. Supplements may cost a lot, could be harmful, or simply might not be helpful. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian for advice.
Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation and can raise your risk for other health problems. Part of healthy eating is choosing fiber-rich foods, including beans, berries, and dark green leafy vegetables, every day. Fiber helps lower your risk for diseases that affect many women, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer. Fiber also helps you feel full, so it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.
Plant oils, particularly seed and nut oils, contain ALA. Food sources of EPA and DHA are oceanic fish, whereas dietary supplement sources include fish oil, krill oil and marine algae extracts. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) identifies 250 mg/day for a combined total of EPA and DHA as Adequate Intake, with a recommendation that women pregnant or lactating consume an additional 100 to 200 mg/day of DHA. In the United States and Canada are Adequate Intakes for ALA and LA over various stages of life, but there are no intake levels specified for EPA and/or DHA.
Dairy. Women should get 3 cups of dairy each day, but most women get only half that amount.6 If you can’t drink milk, try to eat low-fat plain yogurt or low-fat cheese. Dairy products are among the best food sources of the mineral calcium, but some vegetables such as kale and broccoli also have calcium, as do some fortified foods such as fortified soymilk, fortified cereals, and many fruit juices. Most girls ages 9 to 18 and women older than 50 need more calcium for good bone health.
Salivary response. Salivation is part of the experience of eating food, and the more a food causes you to salivate, the more it will swim throughout your mouth and cover your taste buds. For example, emulsified foods like butter, chocolate, salad dressing, ice cream, and mayonnaise promote a salivary response that helps to lather your taste buds with goodness. This is one reason why many people enjoy foods that have sauces or glazes on them. The result is that foods that promote salivation do a happy little tap dance on your brain and taste better than ones that don’t.
A 2013 study on herbal supplements found that many products were of low quality, one third did not contain the active ingredient(s) claimed, and one third contained unlisted substances. In a genetic analysis of herbal supplements, 78% of samples contained animal DNA that was not identified as an ingredient on the product labels. In some botanical products, undeclared ingredients were used to increase the bulk of the product and reduce its cost of manufacturing, while potentially violating certain religious and/or cultural limitations on consuming animal ingredients, such as cow, buffalo or deer. In 2015, the New York Attorney General identified four major retailers with dietary supplement products that contained fraudulent and potentially dangerous ingredients, requiring the companies to remove the products from retail stores.
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.
The guidelines also establish ranges (called acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges or AMDR) for fat, carbohydrates and protein, instead of exact percentages of calories or numbers of grams. The report maintains that since all three categories serve as sources of energy, they can, to some extent, substitute for one another in providing calories.
^ MacLean CH, Newberry SJ, Mojica WA, Khanna P, Issa AM, Suttorp MJ, Lim YW, Traina SB, Hilton L, Garland R, Morton SC (2006-01-25). "Effects of omega−3 fatty acids on cancer risk: a systematic review". JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 295 (4): 403–415. doi:10.1001/jama.295.4.403. hdl:10919/79706. PMID 16434631. Retrieved 2006-07-07.
Trans fat: Some trans fat is naturally in fatty meat and dairy products. Artificial trans fats have been widely used in packaged baked goods and microwave popcorn. They're bad for heart health, so avoid them as much as possible. Look on the nutrition facts label to see how much trans fat is in an item. Know that something that says "0 g trans fat" may actually have up to half a gram of trans fat in it. So also check the ingredients list: If it mentions "partially hydrogenated" oils, those are trans fats.
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).
A 45-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity in addition to her normal routine should consume six ounce of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and/or beans; five teaspoons of oil; and just 195 calories of additional fat and sugar. With a higher level of daily activity (30 to 60 minutes), this woman would be able to consume a little more in certain food groups: her fruit intake could rise to two cups; meat and beans to five and a half ounces; oils to six teaspoons; and extra fat and sugar to 265 calories.
"Staying well-hydrated helps your body function properly, and it also helps make sure you don’t overeat," Pam Bede, M.S., R.D. with Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition, tells SELF. But it's not just that staying hydrated keeps you from overeating. According to Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., owner of The Wellness Whisk, sometimes you may feel hungry when, in fact, you're actually thirsty. Basically, no harm can come from drinking a glass of water.
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.