A balanced diet is a cornerstone of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all of the foods groups, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat or fat-free dairy and lean protein. But women also have special nutrient needs, and, during each stage of a woman’s life, these needs change.
Nutrient-rich foods provide energy for women’s busy lives and help to reduce the risk of disease. A healthy eating plan regularly includes:
At least three ounce equivalents of whole grains such as whole-grain bread, whole-wheat cereal flakes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or oats.
Three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products including milk, yogurt or cheese.
Five to 5-and-a-half ounce equivalents of protein such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans or peas,nuts and seeds.
Two cups of fruits — fresh, frozen or canned without added sugar.
Two-and-a-half cups of colorful vegetables — fresh, frozen or canned without added salt.
Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy levels in women prior to menopause. Foods that provide iron include red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Plant-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. So eat fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with mandarin orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.
Folate (and Folic Acid) During the Reproductive Years
When women reach childbearing age, they need to eat enough folate (or folic acid) to help decrease the risk of birth defects. The requirement for women who are not pregnant is 400 micrograms (mcg) per day. Including adequate amounts of foods that naturally contain folate, such as citrus fruits, leafy greens, beans and peas will help increase your intake of this B vitamin. There also are many foods that are fortified with folic acid, such as breakfast cereals, some rices and breads. Eating a variety of foods is recommended to help meet nutrient needs, but a dietary supplement with folic acid also may be necessary. This is especially true for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, since their daily need for folate is higher, 600 mcg and 500 mcg per day, respectively. Be sure to check with your physician or a registered dietitian nutritionist before taking any supplements., .
Daily Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements
For healthy bones and teeth, women need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps to reduce the risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily. Some calcium-rich foods include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, sardines, tofu (if made with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified foods including juices and cereals. Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods and beverages, such as some yogurts and juices.
Foods and Beverages to Limit
To keep weight in check at any age, women should avoid excess calories from added sugars, saturated fat and alcohol.
Limit sweetened beverages, including regular soft drinks, candy, cookies, pastries and other desserts.
Limit alcohol intake to one drink per day, if you choose to drink and are of legal age. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Eat fewer foods that are high in saturated fat. Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean proteins instead of their full-fat counterparts. Incorporate more plant-base protein foods, such as beans, lentils and tofu, into your diet.
Balancing Calories with Activity
Since women typically have less muscle, more body fat and are smaller than men, they need fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight and activity level. Women who are more physically active may require more calories.
Physical activity is an important part of a woman’s health. Regular activity helps with weight control, muscle strength and stress management.
Different types of foods we should be eating and in what proportions. These include some simple rules to follow like getting a minimum of five fruit and veg a day, including wholegrains and choosing more fish, poultry, beans and pulses, less red meat and opting for lower fat, lower sugar dairy foods. But that’s not the whole story. How much should you be eating and is there an ideal time to eat protein, carbs or fats? Read on for our guide to healthy eating around the clock.
Reference Intakes (RI)
Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the Reference Intakes (RI) or daily amounts recommended for an average, moderately active adult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight.
The RIs for fat, saturates, sugars and salt are all maximum amounts, while those for carbs and protein are figures you should aim to meet each day. There is no RI for fibre, although health experts suggest we have 30g a day
MenWomenEnergy (kcal)25002000Protein (g)55 50 Carbohydrates (g)300260Sugar (g)12090Fat (g)9570Saturates (g)3020Salt (g)66
Numbers and figures are all very well but how does this relate to you? Keeping the Eatwell Guide in mind, you can personalise your portion sizes with our handy guide.
FoodsPortion sizeCarbs like cereal/rice/pasta/potato (include 1 portion at each main meal and ensure it fills no more than ¼ of your plate)Your clenched fist Protein like meat/poultry/fish/tofu/pulses (aim to have a portion at each meal)Palm of your handCheese (as a snack or part of a meal)2 of your thumbsNuts/seeds (as a snack or part of a meal)1 of your cupped handsButter/spreads/nut butter (no more than 2 or 3 times a day)The tip of your thumbSavouries like popcorn/crisps (as a snack/treat)2 of your cupped handsBakes like brownies/flapjacks (as an occasional treat)2 of your fingers
Don’t forget, as set out in the Eatwell Guide, we should all be aiming for a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Discover what counts as one portion using our five-a-day infographic.
Kick-start your metabolism by including protein at breakfast, choose from eggs, salmon, lean ham or dairy. We burn more calories digesting protein rather than carbs so, by making your breakfast a protein one, you’ll be revving up your metabolism and because protein keeps you fuller for longer, you’ll eat fewer calories the rest of the day.
A protein breakfast needn’t take any longer to prepare. Top your morning toast with a scrambled egg, a slice of smoked salmon or some lean ham and when you do have a little more time, enjoy an omelette or frittata.
Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast as this sets your blood sugar off on a roller-coaster that means you’ll end up choosing the wrong foods later in the day. Remember breakfast makes an important contribution towards your daily intake and it plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.
Protein breakfast recipes:
Many people find eating little and often helps them manage their blood sugar levels. This doesn’t mean they eat more but instead spread their day’s intake evenly throughout the day. Make every snack count with nourishing options that supply both the ‘pick me up’ you need while topping up your five-a-day.
Swap your morning biscuits for oatcakes spread with peanut or almond nut butter and a banana, or have a tasty dip with veggie sticks.
Make lunch a mix of lean protein and starchy carbs. Carb-rich foods supply energy and without them you’re more likely to suffer that classic mid-afternoon slump. The key is to choose carbs that produce a steady rise in blood sugar, which means passing on the sugary ‘white’ foods and going for high-fibre wholegrains that help you manage those afternoon munchies.
Opt for an open rye-bread sandwich topped with salmon, chicken or lower fat dairy as well as plenty of salad, or choose wholegrain toast topped with baked beans.
Protein and carb lunch recipes:
Satisfy that sweet craving and the need for energy with fruit. A handful of dried fruit combined with unsalted nuts or seeds provides protein and healthy fats to keep you satisfied till supper.
Swap your chocolate or cereal bar for a handful of dried apple rings with a few almonds or walnuts. Dried fruit is four times as sweet as its fresh equivalent, which is great if you’ve got an exercise class or a gym session planned for the afternoon. Combining dried fruit with nuts helps stabilise the release of their sugars keeping you energised for longer. Alternatively stock your fridge with plenty of low-calorie nibbles like cherry tomatoes, apples and vegetable crudités that will prevent you reaching for the biscuit tin when you fancy something sweet or crunchy.
Don’t curfew carbs. They’re low in fat, fibre-rich and help you relax in the evening. Combine them with some healthy essential fats, the ones you find in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as nuts, seeds and their oils. Your body can use these healthy fats along with protein overnight for regeneration and repair, important for maintaining healthy skin and hair.
Fill half your plate with a colourful variety of vegetables or salad, drizzle with a dressing made from linseed or rapeseed oil and add meat, fish or beans with brown rice, quinoa or wholemeal pasta.
Nutritious dinner recipes: