While there are some foods that all of us should be eating more of, men and women also have their own set of dietary requirements as well as their own unique health concerns. Therefore, in this short blog, I’m going to address the SUPER SIX foods that would be beneficial for women’s health in particular. While these foods won’t cover all your nutrient bases, incorporating them into your diet as often as possible can help give you a wide range of health benefits.
- Wild Salmon
Wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and iron, and it’s a high quality source of protein. Our bodies don’t produce essential fatty acids so we must get them from our diet. Wild salmon is exceptionally rich in heart-healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids, which guard against inflammation, reduce the risk of stroke, boost HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and help prevent heart disease. Other benefits of omega-3s include a reduced risk of breast cancer and improved brain function. Salmon is also one of the few food sources naturally rich in vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium, and promote normal bone growth. Thus, vitamin D is regarded as important nutrition in helping to prevent osteoporosis, which women are more prone to developing to men. And finally, not only will eating salmon give you physical health benefits but may also be beneficial for your mental health! Fish oils have been shown to raise serotonin levels which are especially important for women because women have half the level of serotonin in their brains compared to men. This explains why women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression.
- Green, leafy vegetables
Greens such as broccoli, spinach and kale offer roughage, water and many essential phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Broccoli is practically unrivalled among all foods when it comes to protecting against cancer. Its powerful phytochemicals not only help neutralise carcinogens but they also stimulate detoxifying enzymes that help the body to rid itself of cancer-causing and other harmful toxins. Broccoli is a superior source of folate, which is one of the most essential nutrients for pregnant women in particular as it supports proper development of the fetal nervous system and protects against birth defects. Both spinach and kale are bursting with vitamins A, K and C and are also a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Research has shown that magnesium may be beneficial in reducing many of the symptoms associated with PMS which plague women, including reduction of swelling, breast tenderness, bloating and weight gain. Iron is also an essential nutrient in a woman’s diet, as most women become deficient in iron during menstruation. Women need between 12-15 milligrams of iron every day.
USDA researches recently placed fresh berries on their list of the 20 foods richest in antioxidants, with blueberries in particular containing the most antioxidants. Research shows a diet rich in blueberries can help with memory loss, prevent urinary tract infections and relieve eye strain. Furthermore, most women will be happy to hear that their high content of antioxidants makes them the most potent age-defying food! (Wrinkles, be gone!) Add just a half a cup of blueberries to your diet a day for maximum health benefits – put handful into your porridge, throw them into a smoothie or just eat them as is for a healthy snack!
Tomatoes are the most common source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Observational studies suggest lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes may play a role in warding off breast and cervical cancers. Tomatoes are also beneficial for heart health. After following nearly 40,000 women, Boston researches concluded that tomatoes protect against cardiovascular disease. This may be due to the polyphenols in tomatoes which thin your blood naturally, so they’re good for your heart. The only problem with tomatoes is that we generally eat them in the form of sugar-loaded jarred spaghetti sauce or a thin slice in a sandwich. Try eating whole as a delicious side to a meal – Quarter and coat with olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper and roast in the oven, yum!
- Greek Yogurt
When it comes to yogurt, there are plenty of reasons to go Greek! First of all, it’s rich in calcium and good for your bones. In fact, one serving supplies nearly one-fourth of a woman’s daily calcium needs. Greek yogurt also offers double the protein of regular yogurts and far less sugar. The protein content may be hugely beneficial to women, in particular to women over 40, as approximately 25% of them don’t get enough protein in their diets. Many women rarely think about how much protein they eat. But they should! Studies suggest that eating higher amounts of protein helps women with weight loss, muscle maintenance and promotes healthier ageing. The guideline daily amount of protein from the Institute of Medicine is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight.
- Dark Chocolate
And I’ve saved the best for last, dark chocolate! Yes, you heard me right! Most women (including myself) are chocoholics, so try and cross over to the ‘dark side’ in terms of your chocolate for some great health benefits without feeling guilty! Dark chocolate is filled with flavonoid antioxidants (more than 3 times the amount in milk chocolate) which keep blood platelets from sticking together and may even unclog your arteries. Thus, dark chocolate can help reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. It’s also loaded with magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc and phosphorus – all of which are important for strong bones. It may also help with weight loss by keeping you feeling fuller for longer, according to a study from Denmark. Researchers gave 16 participants 100g of either dark or milk chocolate and 2 hours later offered them pizza. Those who ate the dark chocolate ate 15% fewer calories than those who had the milk chocolate and were less interested in fatty, salty, and sugary foods. Try and find dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa. Have 2 tablespoons of dark chocolate chips with fresh berries as a mid-afternoon snack or for an after-dinner dessert!
This article is by Coach Claire Shanahan. Sport and Exercise Scientist, and Strength and Conditioning Coach at ACLAÍ.