"Women are not small men." Have you heard this buzzing around on social media, blogs, or articles across the internet? Lots of women want to take steps to improve their health, but the general nutrition advice our male counterparts follow often neglects female-specific needs. We can't just do a simple calorie conversion to translate a man's dietary needs to our own! But how do we differ? And what are some simple ways to start meeting our requirements? We're sharing some of our favorite foods and ideas to help you feel more empowered in your eating and meal choices.
While carbs have become feared by many as of late – largely due to recent diet fads – the fact is, we need them for energy, fiber, and key nutrients. Opt for a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes as your carb sources to get the most nutrient ‘bang for your buck.' These nutrient-dense foods are all good sources of fiber, which plays a vital role in reducing the risk for diseases which affect women like heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and colon cancer.1 Here are some easy swaps you can start making:
- Instead of throwing crunchy granola on top of your yogurt or overnight oats, go for some chia seeds! Not only will they pack a fiber punch with 10 grams per serving, but they'll also add more protein and omega-3 fatty acids. If you're looking for that hearty crunch, swap your granola for omega-3-rich nuts like walnuts or almonds.
- Love a savory, warm grain bowl? Substitute brown rice for quinoa to bump up the fiber content while getting some additional magnesium to meet the recommended 310-320 mg per day for women.2
- While colorful, fresh pressed juices look refreshing post-workout or for an afternoon pick-me-up, you're better off grabbing a homemade green smoothie instead. The fiber from fruits and vegetables is lost in the juicing process – the pulp from your smoothie will still get you that fiber boost.
- Add a variety of beans and lentils to your soups, salads, and, well, as a part of any meal to increase fiber and many of the micronutrients which are imperative in a woman's diet.
These two work together as a team to support bone health and prevent osteoporosis – a condition that disproportionately affects women. Vitamin D can also help promote immune health and reduce inflammation.
Having a well-balanced diet is important no matter your gender, but there are specific micronutrients that women need more than our male counterparts. While supplements do play a vital role in ensuring we're hitting recommended nutrient intakes, it's always preferred to get them via whole foods whenever possible. If that's not a realistic option for you, it's best to get your blood tested to understand exactly which supplement and dosage is right for you.
Calcium and vitamin D
- To get both in one sitting, grab low-fat fortified milk! Cow's milk naturally contains calcium, but non-dairy options such as soy and almond milk are fortified with the calcium they lack. Both dairy and non-dairy varieties are then fortified with vitamin D.
- Choose dark leafy greens to get a plant-based dose of calcium, especially if you aren't eating low-fat dairy or fortified foods. Just know that calcium in veggies is absorbed less than that in animal foods, which means you'll need to eat high volumes to hit your daily needs.
- Fish such as tuna and salmon are great sources of vitamin D. If you get canned salmon, opt for the version that contains soft, edible bones for an added source of calcium.
Ironit's no secret that as women, we lose this mineral during our menstrual periods, which puts premenopausal women at risk for anemia. Iron needs are also especially high during pregnancy to supply adequate blood to the baby.3
- If you're a meat-eater, add in lean red meats and seafood like mussels, sardines, and oysters. Unfortunately, poultry is relatively iron-poor, so try swapping out one serving of poultry a week with one of these options.
- Plant-based (a.k.a. "non-heme") iron is not as easily absorbed by the body as that in animal foods ("heme"). But it is found in a wide variety of beans, dark leafy greens, and fortified whole grains. Pair these with vitamin C rich foods (like by giving your spinach salad a drizzle of lemon juice) to increase absorption.
FolateThis mineral is especially important during childbearing years to prevent neural tube defects and promote both a healthy birth weight and healthy growth.
- Opt for spinach or dark leafy greens to add to meals, salads, or smoothies. Grab an orange when choosing a fruit, and add in nuts and beans to snacks and meals.
Vitamin B12This B vitamin plays a role in cell health and nervous system function. Inadequate B12 intake can lead to a lesser-known variety of anemia, which can make us feel weak and disoriented. If you're pregnant, over 50 years of age, or choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you are at a higher risk to fall short in this nutrient.3
- If you follow an omnivorous diet, regularly have meals with eggs, poultry, or other animal-source foods, as plant-source foods lack this nutrient. Try mixing up your fish choices and get creative with flounder, herring, or sardines.
- For vegetarians and vegans, try adding nutritional yeast to recipes – it's rich in a wide variety of B-vitamins, including this one. Soy milk and fortified whole grain cereals also contain B12 nowadays. Since the best sources of this nutrient are from animal products, supplementation may be necessary.
The bottom line
It's common to get caught in a rut of eating the same foods and recipes – it's easy to go on autopilot and follow our habits. But we encourage you to take a step back and start by choosing a few simple food swaps or try a new recipe for your meal prep. Small changes can go a big way to up your nutrient game to improve your health in the long term.
Stevie Lyn Smith, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDNStevie Lyn is a Content Strategist and Team Nutritionist at InsideTracker. As a Registered Dietitian and Ironman triathlete, she enjoys combining her passions to help educate others on how to fuel for overall health and performance. When she’s not swimming, biking, or running with her dog, you’ll find her in the kitchen working on a new recipe to improve her biomarkers.
Healthy eating and women. womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-eating/healthy-eating-and-women. Published 2019. Accessed March 19, 2019.
Office of Dietary Supplements - Magnesium. Ods.od.nih.gov. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h2. Published 2019. Accessed March 19, 2019.
Vitamins and minerals for women. womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-eating/how-eat-health/vitamins-and-minerals-women. Published 2019. Accessed March 20, 2019.
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