A balanced eating pattern 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; or calcium-fortified soymilk. (Non-dairy sources of calcium for people who do not consume dairy products include calcium-fortified foods and beverages, canned fish and some leafy greens.)
- Five to 5-and-a-half ounce-equivalents of protein foods such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds.
- One-and-a-half to two cups of fruits — fresh, frozen, canned or dried without added sugars.
- Two to two-and-a-half cups of colorful vegetables — fresh, frozen or canned without added salt
Iron is important to good health, but the amount needed is different depending on a woman’s stage of life. For example, iron needs are higher during pregnancy and lower after reaching 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. To get both these nutrients at the same meal, try fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with mandarin orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.