Do women really need to eat any differently than men? After all, we’re all human. While this is certainly true, a woman’s nutritional needs are more specific than a man’s. Pam Peeke, M.D., M.Ph., author of Fight Fat After 40 (Viking 2000) and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine explains why:
“Women are special. They have unique nutritional requirements to keep them energized and focused, especially as they age. And that means over the age of 30! Here’s a great list of foods that every woman needs to incorporate into her weekly diet to guarantee that as each year goes by, she stays as healthy and fit as she can.”
So, just because you work like a man and play even harder, your diet should be a bit more ladylike. We’ve paired some of our most nutrient- and flavor-packed recipes with each food to help you get everything you need to fuel that beautiful, wonderful, womanly body.
Head on over to the next page as we begin our list of foods that every women should include in her diet.
1. Soy protein
Soy protein is found in products like tofu and soymilk to soy nut butter and cereal. Soy protein is heart healthy (helps lower “bad” cholesterol levels) and is rich in phytonutrients. Aim for up to 25 grams of soy protein per day.
2. Whole grains
Whole grains are high in fiber and therefore help stave off digestive problems that are so common in women. Try to incorporate more whole grains like brown rice, bran flakes, whole-grain breads, barley and quinoa into your diet.
3. Foods rich in folate
Foods rich in folate like asparagus, oranges, fortified cereals and beans. Folate is important during pregnancy for ensuring proper neural tube development of the fetus and has been shown to be important for heart health. Make sure to get the RDA of 400 micrograms (mcg) per day.
4. Cranberries and cranberry juice
The proanthocyanidins found in cranberries help prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder, thus warding off urinary tract infections (UTIs). New research also suggests that cranberries may promote cardiovascular health.
Nuts are full of monounsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels, and polyunsaturated fats, which can help prevent heart disease. Plus, nuts are a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, selenium, folate, vitamin E and vitamin A. Nuts pack a lot of calories into their tiny packages, so try to limit your serving to an ounce a day. That’s 28 peanuts, 14 walnut halves and only 7 Brazil nuts.
Though it’s not a food, water is important for all metabolic processes in the body. It also helps with digestion, weight loss and improves the appearance of the skin. Drinking eight to 10, eight-ounce glasses of water each day is key, but eating foods with a high water content (like fruits and certain vegetables) will also contribute to your water intake.
7. Green leafy vegetables
This category of vegetable includes everything from kale to bok choy to darker lettuces. These vegetables provide important nutrients as well as fiber (aim for 20 to 35 grams each day) to the diet. Try to get at least three servings of vegetables each day.
8. Fruits rich in vitamin C
These include citrus fruits, strawberries, green and red peppers, collard and mustard greens, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, kiwi, guava and parsley. In addition to contributing to overall health, fruits rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant, have recently been linked to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Fit two to three servings (or more) of fruit into your daily diet. The RDA for vitamin C for women is 75 milligrams a day.
9. Iron-rich foods
Due to their monthly cycles, premenopausal women need more iron. Good sources of iron are garbanzo beans, lean beef, Swiss chard, tofu and dried apricots. Women need 12 to 15 milligrams of iron each day, compared to just 10 to 12 milligrams for men.
10. Calcium-rich foods
Calcium helps keep bones strong and along with regular weight-bearing exercise, helps to stave off osteoporosis. Good choices are low-fat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, collard greens), calcium-fortified soy products and tofu, calcium-fortified juices and calcium-fortified grains.
Check this list to see how much calcium you need each day:
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs)
4 to 8 years: 800 milligrams
9 to 13 years: 1300 milligrams
14 to 18 years: 1300 milligrams
19 to 50 years: 1000 milligrams
51 to 70+ years: 1200 milligrams
Note: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding please consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet, as you may require different amounts of some of the nutrients listed.