During adolescence and early adulthood, women need to consume foods rich in calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass. This will reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, a progressive condition where there is a loss of bone that leaves those affected more susceptible to fractures. Women also need an adequate iron intake because they lose iron through menstruation. Women also need an adequate intake of calories to support energy and nutritional needs in order for the body to function properly. The amount of calories that an individual needs varies for each person and is based on age, gender and activity level. As a general recommendation, women between 23 and 50 years of age generally need between 1,700 and 2,200 calories per day to maintain their current energy needs and body weight. Older women generally require fewer calories to support and sustain energy needs. Consuming fewer than 1,500 calories per day, even in attempts to lose weight, can put women at nutritional risk and can result in malnutrition and poor health. For more information on how to calculate one’s nutritional needs, go to www.choosemyplate.gov and insert your personal information. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is another reference or guide to assist you in learning to eat a balanced and nutritious diet for good health.
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Foods that contain natural folic acid include orange juice, green leafy vegetables, peas, peanuts and beans. (One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 230 mcg of folic acid.) Fortified foods, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, also contain a synthetic form of folic acid, which is more easily absorbed by your body than the natural form. Folic acid is now added to all enriched grain products (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron have been added to enriched grains for many years).
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.
Long-term goals are imperative, but they can make you feel overwhelmed or discouraged at times. Instead of thinking about how many dress sizes smaller you want to be in four months, focus on small everyday victories, suggests Michael Snader, BodyAware specialist and nutritionist at The BodyHoliday, a health and wellness resort in St. Lucia. “For example, today you are going to eat breakfast, fit in a workout, and drink more water,” he says. Stay focused on the present, and your future will be successful.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid system (www.mypyramid.gov) provides a good start by recommending that the bulk of your diet come from the grain group—this includes bread, cereal, rice and pasta— the vegetable group; and the fruit group. Select smaller amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans group. Eat few—if any—foods that are high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients. The amount of food you should consume depends on your sex, age and level of activity.
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet though the use of vitamins and supplements. However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.