Fem-Friendly Foods

With today being International Woman's Day, below are some of the vital nutrients and foods that women should aim to include in their diet for optimum health.

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I perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the world’s food, but receive only 10% of the world’s income. I make up around half of the refugees and internally displaced in the world. In the UK, my unemployment rate has increased by almost 20% and, despite comprising half of the world’s population, I represent an astounding 70% of the world’s poor. Who am I?

Image: Carl Warner

Image courtesy of Carl Warner

In case you hadn’t already worked it out, the answer to the riddle is: A Woman. As these few snapshot facts indicate, gender inequality is, sadly, still rife worldwide. We only have to look at the recent news in India and the recent report by the Centre for Women & Democracy, Sex and Power 2013, showing the presence – or lack thereof – of women in politics and public decision making in the UK today, to see that whilst women’s rights have improved a lot over the past century, there is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done to stem the tide of gender bias.

Each year around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. This annual event, first observed worldwide in 1909, forms a global hub for the general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women, whilst simultaneously providing a platform for the commemoration of the economic, political and social achievements of women worldwide.

Of course, every day should be women’s day, and it could be argued that setting aside one of the 365 days of the year to acknowledge the power of women’s potential is a demeaning and arbitrary exercise. Still, whatever your stance on International Women’s Day, we can all concur that the overall objective of the occasion, namely to continue to focus on the political and social struggles of women worldwide, are wholly necessary and apt.

With 3.4 billion women worldwide, at the top of the health-research agenda is women’s health. Heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis and various autoimmune diseases are just a few of the top health concerns for women.

Whilst women require fewer calories than their male counterparts, it is often overlooked that they need more nutrients than men to be at their best. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, nutrition has been shown to play a key role in health problems that are special to women. For example, fizzy and soft drinks, which have recently been at the centre of a tax debate in Britain, have been linked to depression, and in women, osteoporosis and risk of stroke.

Research has shown an association between a high intake of fizzy drinks and osteopenia in young people, which I have also observed with my own patients” – Anne-France Rix, nutritional therapist at the Food Doctor Clinic, in an interview with the Metro.

Below are some of the vital nutrients and foods that women should aim to include in their diet for optimum health.

soy

A soy there

Whilst there remains a great deal of controversy surrounding soy foods, there is significant evidence that eating moderate amounts (one to two servings per day – around 25g) of traditional soy foods can lower LDL cholesterol and be either neutral or protective against breast cancer.

Sources: Tofu, Soy milk, Soy nut, Miso, Soy yogurt.

 

Whole-grain health gainswholegrain

In the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study, women who ate 2 to 3 servings of whole-grain products each day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease over a 10-year period than women who ate less than 1 serving per week. Whole-grains are also proven to prevent digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, which are more common in women than in men.

Sources: Brown rice, Whole-grain breads, Barley, Quinoa, Buckwheat, Bulgur, Millet

 

folateIncorporate folate

A water-soluble B vitamin, folate helps to make red blood cells, prevent birth defects and lower homocysteine (an amino acid) levels in the blood. Many women only opt to supplement with this vitamin during pregnancy, however folate has many health benefits throughout a woman’s lifecycle – such as preventing age related hearing loss and reducing breast cancer risk.

Sources: Spinach, Oranges, Green beans, Asparagus, Broccoli, Lentils, Beets, Cauliflower

 

Don’t scrap ironiron

For women, blood loss through menstruation can lead to iron deficiency. According to UK recommendations, between age 11 and 50, women need 14.8mg a day. Latest research from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that women were failing to meet this target. Whilst it is true that you absorb iron best from meat and fish, non-meat eaters can opt for food sources such as pulses and dried fruit.

Sources: Garbanzo beans, Lean beef, Swiss chard, Tofu, Dried apricots, Dried figs

 

calciumCalcium and vitamin D

Calcium helps build strong teeth and bones, but without vitamin D the body is unable to regulate the amount of calcium in the blood. With age, particularly at menopause, women’s ability to absorb calcium decreases leaving them susceptible to diseases such as osteoporosis. Getting adequate calcium, vitamin D, and sufficient weight-bearing exercise is essential to bone health for all women.

Sources (calcium): Dairy products, Kale, Turnips, Greens, Almonds, Dried figs. Sources (vitamin D): Sunlight, Oily fish – Salmon and Sardines, Eggs, Organ meats

 

‘C’ the differencevitc

In addition to contributing to overall health, foods rich in vitamin C have recently been linked to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. As we are unable to synthesise our own vitamin C as humans, it is important that we incorporate this into our daily diets.

Sources: Blackcurrants, Kiwi fruit, Broccoli, Parsley, Papaya, oranges, lemons, strawberries, cabbage.

 

Magical magnesiumdark choc

Women of all ages benefit greatly from the intake of energy-giving magnesium. Besides staving off osteoporosis, magnesium health benefits in women include relief from menopause and PMS, reduction in the risk of premature labour and cardiovascular diseases, and treatment in migraines, insomnia and depression. In the UK, 7 out of 10 women are reported as having an inadequate intake of this important mineral.

Sources: Rice, Oats, Pumpkin seeds, Dark chocolate, Brazil nuts, Almonds