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.
Folic acid: This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. However, some doctors recommend that women take a pregnancy supplement that includes folic acid, just to make sure they are getting the recommended 400 to 800 micrograms.
No matter how busy you are, eat lunch before 3 p.m., a Spanish study suggests. Researchers placed a group of women on a diet for 20 weeks; half ate lunch before 3 and half consumed their midday meal after 3. Although both groups’ daily caloric intake, time spent exercising and sleeping, and appetite hormone levels were the same, those who lunched late lost about 25 percent less weight than earlier eaters. Being European, lunch was the biggest meal of the day for these women, constituting 40 percent of their calories for the day, so consider slimming down dinner in addition to watching the clock.
What you eat is even more important as you enter your 40s. Women need protein (meat, fish, dairy, beans, and nuts), carbohydrates (whole grains), fats (healthy oils), vitamins, minerals, and water. These foods have been linked to some disease prevention, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the development of healthy food supply chains in supplemental nutrition programs so as to broaden the availability of healthy food.
Fats contain both saturated and unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fatty acids. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than unsaturated fat, which may even help lower harmful cholesterol. Reducing saturated fat (most comes from meat, dairy and bakery products) to less than seven percent of total daily calories may help you reduce your cholesterol level. Whenever possible, replace saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Gender differences in susceptibility and symptoms of disease and response to treatment in many areas of health are particularly true when viewed from a global perspective. Much of the available information comes from developed countries, yet there are marked differences between developed and developing countries in terms of women's roles and health. The global viewpoint is defined as the "area for study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving health equity for all people worldwide". In 2015 the World Health Organization identified the top ten issues in women's health as being cancer, reproductive health, maternal health, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), sexually transmitted infections, violence, mental health, non communicable diseases, youth and aging.
Women and men have approximately equal risk of dying from cancer, which accounts for about a quarter of all deaths, and is the second leading cause of death. However the relative incidence of different cancers varies between women and men. In the United States the three commonest types of cancer of women in 2012 were lung, breast and colorectal cancers. In addition other important cancers in women, in order of importance, are ovarian, uterine (including endometrial and cervical cancers (Gronowski and Schindler, Table III). Similar figures were reported in 2016. While cancer death rates rose rapidly during the twentieth century, the increase was less and later in women due to differences in smoking rates. More recently cancer death rates have started to decline as the use of tobacco becomes less common. Between 1991 and 2012, the death rate in women declined by 19% (less than in men). In the early twentieth century death from uterine (uterine body and cervix) cancers was the leading cause of cancer death in women, who had a higher cancer mortality than men. From the 1930s onwards, uterine cancer deaths declined, primarily due to lower death rates from cervical cancer following the availability of the Papanicolaou (Pap) screening test. This resulted in an overall reduction of cancer deaths in women between the 1940s and 1970s, when rising rates of lung cancer led to an overall increase. By the 1950s the decline in uterine cancer left breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death till it was overtaken by lung cancer in the 1980s. All three cancers (lung, breast, uterus) are now declining in cancer death rates (Siegel et al. Figure 8), but more women die from lung cancer every year than from breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. Overall about 20% of people found to have lung cancer are never smokers, yet amongst nonsmoking women the risk of developing lung cancer is three times greater than amongst men who never smoked.
Oaks BM, Young RR, Adu-Afarwuah S, Ashorn U, Jackson KH, Lartey A, Maleta K, Okronipa H, Sadalaki J, Baldiviez LM et al. Effects of a lipid-based nutrient supplement during pregnancy and lactation on maternal plasma fatty acid status and lipid profile: results of two randomized controlled trials. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2017;117:28–35.
Sweet chili peppers may not be a winter food, but continue eating them in your burritos, stir-fries, and soups, and you may burn more fat during your outdoor cold-weather runs. These not-hot veggies contain chemicals called capsinoids, which are similar to the capsaicin found in hot peppers. Combine capsinoids with 63-degree or cooler temps, and you increase the amount and activity of brown fat cells—those that burn energy—and give your metabolism an extra boost, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid 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) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.