It’s not easy being a girl! Women’s nutritional needs are high throughout life, but calorie needs are typically lower than many men’s requirements. For example, during the childbearing years, teenage girls’ and women’s iron needs are more than twice that of men’s needs. Other nutrients, such as calcium, copper, folate, and vitamin B12 are the same, but with a lower calorie need, it is easy to fall short of optimal. That means every bite must count. (1)
Combine high nutrient needs with a junk-food culture and it’s easy to see why many women don’t get all the nutrients they need. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, average energy intake in the past few decades has increased by roughly 300 calories with refined grains accounting for 46% of those calories and added fats and sugars accounting for another 47%. That reflects intakes of refined and processed foods, which can contribute to expanding waistlines and less-than-perfect health. (2,5-7)
Don’t despair. A few adjustments in your food intake does wonders for health today and down the road. Besides, good-for-you foods taste great! Here’s a quick course on the Healthy Woman’s Diet:
Vegetables and Fruits
(Goal: 8 or more servings a day)
Be honest. How many colorful fruits and vegetables do you eat every day? (Hint: The three blueberries in that coffee shop muffin do not count as a serving!) Loading the plate with colorful fruits and vegetables is one of THE most important diet habits you can adopt for your health and waistline.
Colorful produce is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidant-rich phytonutrients, yet is low in calories. For example, watermelon is a source of vitamin C, a nutrient that supports healthy brain function, helps boost iron absorption, and is important for healthy gums and teeth. The vitamin A in watermelon helps with vision, immune function, and healthy skin. Because watermelon is 92% water, it helps keep you hydrated. The fiber in watermelon helps you feel full faster, so you are less likely to overeat. It also helps keep you regular and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
The Improvement Plan: Include two fruits and/or vegetables at every meal and snack. Select deep-colored produce, such as watermelon, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, and green peas.
(Goal: 3 or more servings a day)
Two-thirds of Americans consume less than one serving of whole grain a day, which contributes to a fiber shortfall, not to mention the phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that are lost when grains are processed. (2,3) The Improvement Plan: Choose 100% whole grain cereals and bread, brown rice, and plain oatmeal.
Low-fat milk Products
(Goal: 3 servings a day, 1,000 to 1,300mg calcium)
(Goal: 2 servings a day)
While women typically eat more than enough meat, they often fall short of optimal for legumes and fatty fish, such as salmon. Both legumes and fish are sources of protein, B vitamins, and minerals, such as iron. Fatty fish also supplies the omega-3 fats important for brain and heart health. (2,4)
The Improvement Plan: Limit red meat, select skinless poultry breast, and add one to two servings of both legumes (kidney or black beans, lentils, split peas) and fatty fish to the weekly diet.
1. Dietary Reference Intakes
2. Putnam J, Allshouse J, Kantor L: U.S. per capita food supply trends: More calories, refined carbohydrates, and fats. USDA’s Economic Research Service: FoodReviews 2002;25(3):2-15.
3. McGill C, Lii V, Devareddy L: Ten-year trends in fiber and whole grain intakes and food sources for the United States population. Nutrients 2015;7(2):1119-1130.
4. Jahns L, Raatz S, Johnson L, et al: Intake of seafood in the US varies by age, income, and education level but not by race-ethnicity. Nutrients 2014;6(12):6060-6075.
5. Agarwal S, Reider C, Brooks J, et al: Comparison of prevalence of inadequate nutrient intake based on body weight status of adults in the United States. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2015;January 7:1-9.
6. Pignotti G, Vega-Lopez S, Keller C, et al: Comparison and evaluation of dietary quality between older and younger Mexican-American women. Public Health Nutrition 2015;January 7th: 1-10.
7. Wang D, Leung C, Li Y, et al: Trends in dietary quality among adults in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine 2014;174(10):1587-1595.