Women's Nutrition

Guide for women to healthy nutrition and nutritious eating.

Women's bodies are different. Because of this, a woman's nutritional needs may be different than that of the rest of the family. To achieve optimum health you should:

· eat a variety of foods

· maintain healthy weight

· choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol

· choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grain products

· use sugar and salt/sodium only in moderation

· drink alcoholic beverages in moderation.

There are several vitamins and minerals essential to a healthy diet. A well-balanced diet will usually meet women's allowances for them. However, for good health, women need to pay special attention to two minerals, calcium and iron.

Both women and men need enough calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass during their early years of life. Low calcium intake appears to be one important factor in the development of osteoporosis. Women have a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis.

A condition in which progressive loss of bone mass occurs with aging, osteoporosis causes the bones to be more susceptible to fracture. If a woman has a high level of bone mass when her skeleton matures, this may modify her risk of developing osteoporosis.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium for woman 19 to 24 is 1,200 milligrams per day. For women 25 and older, the allowance drops to 800 milligrams, but that is still a significant amount, says Stephenson. "The need for good dietary sources of calcium continues throughout life," she says.

In addition to dairy foods, other good sources of calcium include salmon, tofu (soybean curd), certain vegetables (for example, broccoli), legumes (peas and beans), calcium-enriched grain products, lime-processed tortillas, seeds, and nuts.

For women, the RDA for iron is 15 milligrams per day, 5 milligrams more than the RDA for men. Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include pallor, fatigue and headaches.

After menopause, body iron stores generally begin to increase. Therefore, iron deficiency in women over 50 may indicate blood loss from another source, and should be checked by a physician.

Animal products--meat, fish and poultry--are good and important sources of iron. In addition, the type of iron, known as heme iron, in these foods is well absorbed in the human intestine.

Dietary iron from plant sources, called non-heme, are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. Although non-heme iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron, the amount of non-heme iron absorbed from a meal is influenced by other constituents in the diet. 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.

Women tend to have higher levels than men of a desirable type of cholesterol called HDLs (high-density lipoproteins) until menopause, leading some researchers to believe there is a link between HDLs and estrogen levels. But this doesn't let women off the hook--a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can still mean trouble.

For both women and men, blood cholesterol levels of below 200 milligrams are desirable. Levels between 200 and 239 milligrams are considered borderline, and anything over 240 milligrams is high. High levels of blood cholesterol increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

To keep levels in the good range, the National Cholesterol Education Program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends eating no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day. Cholesterol is found only in food from animal sources, such as egg yolks, dairy products, meat, poultry, shellfish, and--in smaller amounts--fish and some processed products containing animal foods.

Eating foods with plenty of complex carbohydrates and fiber (vegetables, fruits, and grain products) is part of a healthy diet for several reasons. A fiber-rich diet is helpful in the management of constipation and may be related to lower rates of colon cancer. These types of foods are generally low in fat and can be substitutes for fatty foods.

Fiber comes in two forms--insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber, mostly found in whole-grain products, vegetables and fruit, provides bulk for stool formation and helps move wastes more quickly through the colon. Another benefit is the full feeling fiber may create in the stomach, a possible deterrent to overeating.

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