Eating healthy is important for a woman’s body and mind. But what does eating healthy mean? On the internet, in books and journals, there is a wealth of nutrition information at your fingertips. Important dietary needs include carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Having a balanced diet and physical activity plan can help keep you ready for class demands and activities on campus. To get the basics on nutritional needs, visit the websites listed below. Please note, every body has different nutrient needs. The major nutrients benefiting women’s health are listed on this page.
A potato comes from the ground, an egg from a hen. But where did that Pop-tart come from? "Unprocessed, whole foods will give you the most benefits," Berman says. Processing takes out nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber. What's worse is that a lot of processed foods tend to sneak in things that aren't really necessary like extra sodium and sugar. There's nothing wrong with indulging the occasional processed food craving (sometimes a bag of potato chips is too hard to resist!). But if you're trying to shop healthier altogether, be on the lookout for products that have been minimally processed.
Medicine companies follow FDA regulations. Some makers of dietary supplements follow the U.S. Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention quality standards. This means they volunteer to have their products tested. An outside company will check them for quality and purity before they are sold. These supplements display additional credentials on their labels. Look for them to say “USP Verified” or “ConsumerLab.com Approved Quality.”
Dietary supplements can be manufactured using intact sources or extracts from plants, animals, algae, fungi or lichens, including such examples as ginkgo biloba, curcumin, cranberry, St. John’s wort, ginseng, resveratrol, glucosamine and collagen. Products bearing promotional claims of health benefits are sold without requiring a prescription in pharmacies, supermarkets, specialist shops, military commissaries, buyers clubs, direct selling organizations, and the internet. While most of these products have a long history of use in herbalism and various forms of traditional medicine, concerns exist about their actual efficacy, safety and consistency of quality. Canada has published a manufacturer and consumer guide describing quality, licensing, standards, identities, and common contaminants of natural products. In 2016, sales of herbal supplements just in the United States were $7.5 billion, with the market growing at about 8% per year. Italy, Germany and Eastern European countries were leading consumers of botanical supplements in 2016, with European Union market growth forecast to be $8.7 billion by 2020.
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.
While what works best for one woman may not always be the best choice for another, the important thing is to build your dietary choices around your vital nutritional needs. Whether you’re looking to improve your energy and mood, combat stress or PMS, boost fertility, enjoy a healthy pregnancy, or ease the symptoms of menopause, these nutrition tips can help you to stay healthy and vibrant throughout your ever-changing life.
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.
^ Siscovick DS, Barringer TA, Fretts AM, Wu JH, Lichtenstein AH, Costello RB, Kris-Etherton PM, Jacobson TA, Engler MB, Alger HM, Appel LJ, Mozaffarian D (2017). "Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (Fish Oil) Supplementation and the Prevention of Clinical Cardiovascular Disease: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association". Circulation. 135 (15): e867–e884. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000482. PMID 28289069.
Create an eating style that can improve your health now and in the future by making small changes over time. Consider changes that reflect your personal preferences, culture and traditions. Think of each change as a “win” as you build positive habits and find solutions that reflect your healthy eating style. Each change is a MyWin that can help you build your healthy eating style. Use the tips and links below to find little victories that work for you.
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.
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.
The essential nutrient minerals for humans, listed in order by weight needed to be at the Recommended Dietary Allowance or Adequate Intake are potassium, chlorine, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, chromium, molybdenum, selenium and cobalt (the last as a component of vitamin B12). There are other minerals which are essential for some plants and animals, but may or may not be essential for humans, such as boron and silicon. Essential and purportedly essential minerals are marketed as dietary supplements, individually and in combination with vitamins and other minerals.
2. Eat a variety of foods. As we covered earlier, the brain craves novelty. While you may not be able to replicate the crunchy/creamy contrast of an Oreo, you can vary your diet enough to keep things interesting. For example, you could dip a carrot (crunchy) in some hummus (creamy) and get a novel sensation. Similarly, finding ways to add new spices and flavors to your dishes can make eating healthy foods a more desirable experience.
Manufacturers must follow certain good manufacturing practices to ensure the identity, purity, strength, and composition of their products. If the FDA finds a product to be unsafe or otherwise unfit for human consumption, it may take enforcement action to remove the product from the marketplace or work with the manufacturer to voluntarily recall the product.
Parents are advised to become familiar with the literature on essential nutrients, for instance by consulting the Orthomolecular News Service. Children should be given supplements in appropriate doses and in a suitable form. Pills should not be given before children can control the swallowing reflex. Multivitamin powder can be given dissolved in water or juice. Parents should not dose vitamin C so high that a child comes to school or kindergarten with loose bowels or diarrhea. In high doses, niacin may cause unpleasant side effects such as flushing and itching lasting up to several hours.  Although this is not dangerous, it may cause a child to feel unwell and anxious. Starting niacin supplementation with a low dose and gradually increasing it will allow the body to adapt and avoid the niacin flush. A multivitamin supplement containing moderate amounts of niacin is often adequate until a child is 8-10 years old. For younger children, the dosage should start with only a few tens of milligrams, and not increased to more than 50-100 mg/day. Adults may gradually get used to taking 1,000-1,500 mg/d divided into 3 doses per day.
Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods are critical to healthy bones and can help you avoid osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that consuming calcium-rich foods as part of a healthy diet may aid weight loss in obese women while minimizing bone turnover. The National Institute of Medicine recommends the following calcium intake, for different ages:
Young adults. Teen girls and young women usually need more calories than when they were younger, to support their growing and developing bodies. After about age 25, a woman’s resting metabolism (the number of calories her body needs to sustain itself at rest) goes down. To maintain a healthy weight after age 25, women need to gradually reduce their calories and increase their physical activity.
Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
Once you slice and sauté your way to a fabulous feast, you don't have to finish every bite. "We're conditioned to think that if we don't devour everything on our plate, we are misbehaving," McKenna says. But if you keep munching even after you're full, you are using your body as a storage unit. If there's enough left over for lunch tomorrow, pack it up and put it in the fridge. Otherwise, toss scraps in the trash. We promise we won't tell your mom.
As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
Foods that contain natural folic acid include orange juice, green leafy vegetables, peas, peanuts and beans. (One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 230 mcg of folic acid.) Fortified foods, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, also contain a synthetic form of folic acid, which is more easily absorbed by your body than the natural form. Folic acid is now added to all enriched grain products (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron have been added to enriched grains for many years).
A healthy vegetarian diet falls within the guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) may want to consider vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. You can obtain what you need from non-animal sources. For instance:
In 1994, the United States Congress passed a law defining nutritional supplements, and requiring them to be labeled as dietary supplements and identified as not intended to be a substitute for certain foods. A nutritional supplement can be defined as a product intended for consumption in tablet, capsule, powder, soft gel, gel cap, or liquid form, and containing vitamin(s), mineral(s), herb(s), other botanicals, amino acids, or any combination thereof.
I have identified a number of arguments in favor of supplementing the modern diet with essential nutrients, here summarized with 7 headlines. Most people should consider taking a multivitamin supplement containing vitamins and minerals even if they eat a nutritionally balanced diet. Additional nutrients may contribute to better health and, in some cases, can be of vital importance in our modern world. The arguments are presented in random order, i.e. the order does not reflect priority.
Dosages of nutritional supplements vary widely, depending on the product and individual needs. For vitamins and minerals, U.S. RDA's are essential guidelines. For other products, manufacturers' guidelines, consumer information sources such as nutritional books and magazines, and practitioners including nutritionists and naturopathic physicians may be consulted.
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.
The average woman should get 10 to 35 percent of her daily calories from protein. Protein helps prevent muscle tissue from breaking down and repairs body tissues. Sources of animal proteins include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese. Vegetable proteins include dried beans and peas, peanut butter, nuts, bread and cereal. (A three-ounce serving of cooked chicken contains about 21 grams of protein.)
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.
On a related note, if you’re thinking “I’ll just put less food on my plate” … it’s not that simple. The picture below explains why. When you eat a small portion off of a large plate, your mind feels unsatisfied. Meanwhile, the same portion will feel more filling when eaten off of a small plate. The circles in the image below are the same size, but your brain (and stomach) doesn’t view them that way.
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas, and other vegetables and fruits. At least one study suggests that women who eat high amounts of fiber (especially in cereal) may have a lower risk for heart disease. High-fiber intake is also associated with lower cholesterol, reduced cancer risk and improved bowel function. And one long-term study found that middle-aged women with a high dietary fiber intake gained less weight over time than women who ate more refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta.
FDA regulations for nutritional supplements differ in important ways from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. For one thing, pharmaceutical companies have to gather data showing that a new drug is safe and effective in order to get the FDA's approval to market the drug. Makers of dietary supplements don't have to show that sort of proof. Be sure to let your doctor know about any nutritional supplement you plan on taking so you can discuss whether it's right for you and the appropriate dose.
Overall, one should make sure they are eating well and exercising, and then, speak with a nutritionist or physician trained in nutrition to get advice on which supplements you may need. The best resources are physicians trained in nutrition and are board certified physician nutrition specialists (main.uab.edu/Sites/abpns/) and nutritionists with the credential certified nutrition specialist (CNS) as well as Registered Dietitian (RD).
If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
Loss of taste. Some medicines alter your sense of taste making you lose your appetite. Ask your health care professional if there are alternatives to the medicine you're taking. You might also experiment with spices to make foods tastier. Also, rotating tastes of each food on your plate, rather than eating one food at once, can help you taste various flavors better. Foods with strong scents also taste better, since taste and smell are linked.
Nutritional supplements are items that are usually considered non-food items that are used to enhance your nutritional program. Supplements may include, but are not limited to, vitamins, minerals, bars, and energy drinks or sports nutrition products to enhance performance. Supplements should be used alongside a healthy diet, but not replace it. To find a dietitian in your area that can assist you with supplements, go to www.eatright.org.
Don't take dramatic steps alone. You need to work closely with an experienced health care professional to lose weight, particularly if you have other medical problems, plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds or take medication on a regular basis. An initial checkup can identify conditions that might be affected by dieting and weight loss. Make sure you find out how much experience your health care professional has dealing with nutrition. It's not always well covered in medical schools. You may want to talk to a registered dietitian before embarking on a diet.
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.