Good nutrition is a key ingredient to looking and feeling your best. When you eat right you not only fuel your body with energy and boost your immune system, you may also reduce your risk for diseases such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers.
Even though a woman's nutritional needs may vary somewhat from early adulthood through pregnancy and later in life, her need for balanced nutrition is constant. Frequent eating out, skipping meals and an on-the-go lifestyle can make eating well a challenge. Factors such as stress, smoking or a predisposition to certain diseases increase a woman's need for high quality, nutrient-rich foods.
The following are a few general dietary guidelines to help improve a woman's overall health:
- Eat a variety of foods from all food groups
- Select foods low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar
- Eat more whole grains and less prepared or convenience foods
- Don't skip meals
- Use less salt
- Drink alcohol only in moderation
Many women don't meet the recommended levels of vitamin E, folic acid and calcium. These and other nutrients are needed to maintain a healthy body.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin, which means that it helps prevent oxidation damage on a cellular level. This process may help protect against the development of coronary artery disease, cancer and a number of chronic diseases. For women, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin E is 8 mg/daily. Good sources of vitamin E include wheat germ and wheat germ oil; dry roasted almonds and peanuts; safflower, corn and soybean oils; liver; egg yolks; and dark green vegetables.
Calcium is necessary for building strong bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Adequate calcium intake is important throughout a woman's life, beginning in early childhood. For women, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is between 800 - 1,000 mg/day. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should maintain a daily intake of 1,200 mg. Good sources of dietary calcium are milk, cheeses, yogurt and green vegetables. Vitamin D, which can be synthesized in the body following exposure to the sun, increases calcium absorption. The RDA for vitamin D is 400 I.U. and good dietary sources are fortified milk, fortified cereals, egg yolks, saltwater fish and liver.
Folic acid is especially important during a woman's child-bearing years to help reduce the risk of giving birth to a child affected by serious birth defects of the brain and spine (neural tube defects). It is also important for older women who may be at risk for heart disease. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of folic acid for women is 400 mg/daily. Folic acid is found in abundance in raw green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and wheat germ.
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