A healthy, well-balanced diet is critical to overall health. After all, deficiencies in certain nutrients can lead to all kinds of problems. But even though a balanced diet is important for everyone, women might have slightly different dietary needs than those of men. It’s a great idea to stay educated on the current guidelines of diets for women – that way, you can do your best to follow them.
A well-balanced diet consists of the correct amount of foods from each food group. This means eating the right quantity of fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat (or fat-free) dairy products.
Essential Nutrients for a Healthy, Balanced Diet
While the dietary needs for women are very similar to men’s, there are some key differences – and if you’re of reproductive age, there are certain nutrients that are especially important.
For instance, iron is especially important for women during their reproductive years. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends women of reproductive age get about 18 mg of iron daily.1 Women who have reached menopause are at a much lower risk of iron deficiency than young adult women.2
Folic acid is another important vitamin for women during this time.
This is a B vitamin that is very important to healthy fetal development.
The NIH recommends about 400 mcg of folic acid daily.3,4
Calcium and vitamin D are especially important for postmenopausal women to help prevent the loss of bone mass in the body – a big risk factor for older women. One easy way to increase your vitamin D intake is by spending a little more time in the sun (just be sure to wear plenty of SPF!).5
Diets For Women: Nutrition and Dietary Guidelines
If you want to have the energy needed to keep up with today’s busy world, eating the right foods is important – as is consuming the correct amount of food. Your current health and daily activity levels will have an effect on your dietary needs.
Let’s cover some of the basics about healthy diets for women.
It’s recommended that women consume between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day, depending on their activity levels. Moderately-active adult women are advised to consume about 2,000 calories per day.6 If you are obese or trying to lose weight, talk with your doctor about reducing daily caloric intake.7
Weight loss diets for women can vary from those for men, so it’s important to talk with your doctor and come up with the correct diet plan for you.
The Food Pyramid: The Cornerstone of a Well-Balanced Diet
The following are the recommended daily amounts of each food group for moderately-active adult women who consume 2,000 calories per day:
- Vegetables: About 2 ½ cups per day (include a variety of colors, leafy greens, and legumes)
- Fruits: About 2 cups per day
- Grains: About 6 ounces per day (focus on whole grains and avoid refined ones)
- Dairy: About 3 cups per day
- Protein: About 5 ½ ounces per day (focus on seafood and lean proteins, like poultry and nuts; lower red meat intake)
- Oils: About 27 grams per day8
Which Foods to Limit and Avoid
Foods containing the following should be avoided, or limited, in order to maintain a healthy diet:
- Trans fats and saturated fats
- Highly-refined grains
- Sugars (especially sugary drinks)9
Diet and Nutrition During Your Reproductive Years
Your dietary needs will change as you go through various stages of life – especially if you choose to have children. The foods you choose are very important when trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy, and when breastfeeding.10 It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
If you’re pregnant, talk to you doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin – this is a great way to ensure you and your baby are getting the right nutrients (especially folic acid).11
A Warning About Fad Diets
If you read about certain fad diets for women, proceed with a healthy level of caution. Many of these diets for women limit or eliminate entire food groups – which can mean you’re not getting enough of essential vitamins and nutrients.
These types of diets can be low-fat, fat-free, low-carb, no-carb… and just about anything else you can think of. Fad diets can be dangerous – and oftentimes, there’s not enough research available to properly evaluate risk factors.12
So, if you’re dying to try a certain fad diet, check in with your physician – especially if that diet cuts out foods that contain essential nutrients.
On the other hand, certain diet plans are actually considered healthy and effective. These are generally the ones that focus on reducing calories while still allowing you to eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods – including all of the food groups. These diets also encourage exercise to boost weight loss along with dietary changes.13 If you feel inspired by a particular diet plan, talk to your doctor and see if he or she thinks it might work well for you.
Vegetarianism and Veganism
Research suggests that the health of Western vegetarians is similar and comparable to that of non-vegetarians.14 If you’re interested in becoming a vegetarian or vegan, discuss your diet choices with your doctor. You want to be sure you’re getting enough protein, and other key nutrients, from the foods you eat – or from alternative sources, like supplements.
Every Woman is Unique
While there are some pretty basic guidelines when it comes to healthy diets for women, everyone’s body is different, and everyone has unique dietary needs. Several factors can affect your dietary requirements – including your age, allergies and intolerances to certain foods, nutritional deficiencies, and more. This is why it’s so essential to talk with your doctor about your diet – he or she will know the best steps for you to take.
And remember, good overall health for women doesn’t end with diet and nutrition — try to get plenty of exercise. Watch drinking to excess. And definitely, stay away from cigarettes and nicotine in general. These tips should help you with your health. Keep at it, stick to a healthy diet, and you can keep your overall health in optimal condition.