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.
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.
Nutritionists are always saying to eat more vegetables, so cook them in a way that takes them from ho-hum to yum. "I even think that steamed veggies can be very boring!" says Ilyse Schapiro, a greater New York City-area registered dietitian. Always incorporate high-flavor add-ons to jazz up veggies, like sautéing with olive oil and garlic, or spraying them with olive oil before throwing them in an oven with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That way, you don't equate "healthy" with "tasteless," a mindset that will knock you off the veggie bandwagon fast. Another tip: buy a spiralizer and make zucchini noodles. Topped off with a rich tomato sauce, you'll feel like you're eating pasta.
Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
One exception, he says, is seniors, who may need additional B-12 because as we get older, we absorb less of it. Most of us should skip the supplements and get our Bs from grains, dark green vegetables, orange juice, and enriched foods. People with certain medical conditions or who take drugs that interfere with vitamin absorption may also require supplementation.
There’s a reason why many people eat as a way to cope with stress. Stress causes certain regions of the brain to release chemicals (specifically, opiates and neuropeptide Y). These chemicals can trigger mechanisms that are similar to the cravings you get from fat and sugar. In other words, when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you’re pulled back to junk food.
Make half the grains you eat whole grains: An easy way to eat more whole grains is to switch from a refined-grain food to a whole-grain food. For example, eat whole-wheat bread instead of white bread. Read the ingredients list and choose products that list a whole-grain ingredients first. Look for things like: "whole wheat," "brown rice," "bulgur," "buckwheat," "oatmeal," "rolled oats," quinoa," or "wild rice."
It’s perfectly OK to indulge in breakfast sausage and cheeseburgers on occasion. But on an everyday basis, there are plenty of great lean proteins to choose from. Some good meat-free options include beans, peas, quinoa, lentils, tofu, low-fat yogurt and 1% milk. Fish is another great source of protein that can also be rich in healthy omega-3’s. As far as meat goes, cuts that have round, chuck or loin in the name are usually leanest, along with chicken and turkey breast. Learn more with our Essential Guide to Protein.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a supplement as “a product taken by mouth that contains a 'dietary ingredient' intended to supplement the diet. The 'dietary ingredients' in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites.” Supplements are intended to supplement nutrients missing in your diet, not replace them.
Women, as we age, are also more susceptible to the breakdown of our bones, which may result in osteoporosis over time. Genetically, women have a particularly high risk of osteoporosis compared to men, so it’s recommended that women monitor their calcium intake to be sure they’re getting enough. Weight training is another great way (and my favorite!) to build bone density, which is another great reason you should hit the weights!
Count nutrients, not calories. If you want to improve the quality of your diet, focus on the nutrients in your food instead of calories. “Our energy intake can only depend on our ability to extract that energy from food,” writes blogger and nutritionist Rhiannon Mack. “All calories are not created equal – it is the quality of the calorie that has the most impact on health, not necessarily the quantity,” she explains in a post that appeared in Move Nourish Believe.
Retinol (Vitamin A) B vitamins: Thiamine (B1) Riboflavin (B2) Niacin (B3) Pantothenic acid (B5) Pyridoxine (B6) Biotin (B7) Folic acid (B9) Cyanocobalamin (B12) Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) Ergocalciferol and Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D) Tocopherol (Vitamin E) Naphthoquinone (Vitamin K) Calcium Choline Chromium Cobalt Copper Fluorine Iodine Iron Magnesium Manganese Molybdenum Phosphorus Potassium Selenium Sodium Sulfur Zinc
Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.
SOURCES: Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board, Dietary Reference Intakes: "Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride." National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1999. Journal of Nutrition, October 2005. Position paper of the American Dietetic Association on Food Fortification and Supplementation, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2005. Michael Holick, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics, Boston University Medical Center. Andrew Shoa, PhD, vice president for regulatory affairs, Council for Responsible Nutrition. Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University. Dave Grotto, RD, spokesman, American Dietetic Association; author, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Eduardo Baetti, MD, rheumatologist; Kaiser Permanente. Patrick Rea, editorial director, Nutrition Business Journal. Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition, Penn State University. Vasilios Frankos, PhD, Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, FDA. Sarubin, A. The Health Professionals Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements, American Dietetic Association, Chicago, IL, 2000. FDA. WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Feature: "Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?" National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Questions and Answers About Homeopathy."
Sure, you could inhale supper straight out of a bucket, but for a healthy meal, you need to invest at least a few minutes in chopping, rinsing or grilling. The result is worth the effort, Mitchell says. "When you prepare dishes yourself, you can see exactly which ingredients are going into it and make conscious choices about what you truly want to eat," she says.
In the United States, it is against federal regulations for supplement manufacturers to claim that these products prevent or treat any disease. Companies are allowed to use what is referred to as "Structure/Function" wording if there is substantiation of scientific evidence for a supplement providing a potential health effect. An example would be "_____ helps maintain healthy joints", but the label must bear a disclaimer that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "has not evaluated the claim and that the dietary supplement product is not intended to "diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease," because only a drug can legally make such a claim. The FDA enforces these regulations, and also prohibits the sale of supplements and supplement ingredients that are dangerous, or supplements not made according to standardized good manufacturing practices (GMPs).
There's not much doubt about this one: Women need more iron than men, because they lose iron with each menstrual period. After menopause, of course, the gap closes. The RDA of iron for premenopausal women is 18 mg a day, for men 8 mg. Men should avoid excess iron. In the presence of an abnormal gene, it can lead to harmful deposits in various organs (hemochromatosis). Since red meat is the richest dietary source of iron, it's just as well that men don't need to wolf down lots of saturated fat to get a lot of iron.