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Grains, vegetables and fruits are essential to getting the vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber) and other nutrients you need to sustain good health. Some of these nutrients may even reduce your risk of certain kinds of cancer. But experts say we rarely eat enough of these foods. To make matters worse, we also eat too much of unhealthy types of food, including fat (and cholesterol), sugar and salt.
Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include fatigue and headaches. After menopause, body iron generally increases. Therefore, iron deficiency in women older than 50 years of age may indicate blood loss from another source and should be checked by a physician.
Research from Tufts University nutrition scientists shows that Americans are drinking so much soda and sweet drinks that they provide more daily calories than any other food. Obesity rates are higher for people consuming sweet drinks. Also watch for hidden sugar in the foods you eat. Sugar may appear as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate or malt syrup, among other forms, on package labels.
Iron: Essential for healthy blood cells, iron becomes especially important when girls begin to menstruate. With each period, a woman loses small amounts of iron. “About 10% of American women are iron deficient,” says Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Maine and co-editor of Nutritional Concerns of Women (CRC Press, 2003). “About 5% have iron deficiency anemia.” Symptoms of low iron include fatigue, impaired immunity, and poor performance at school or work.
“The reason most people don't see changes isn't because they don't work hard—it's because they don't make their workouts harder,” says Adam Bornstein, founder of Born Fitness. His suggestion: Create a challenge every time you exercise. “Use a little more weight, rest five to 10 seconds less between sets, add a few more reps, or do another set. Incorporating these small variations into your routine is a recipe for change,” he says.
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.
Nutrition is particularly important during pregnancy to ensure your health and the health of the baby. It's normal to gain weight during pregnancy—not just because of the growing fetus, but because you'll need stored fat for breast-feeding. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a gain of 25 to 35 pounds in women of normal weight when they get pregnant; 28 to 40 pounds in underweight women; and at least 15 pounds in women who are overweight when they get pregnant. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional.
If you thought texting changed your love life, imagine what it could do for your waistline. When people received motivational text messages promoting exercise and healthy behaviors twice a week (i.e., “Keep in the fridge a Ziploc with washed and precut vegetables 4 quick snack. Add 1 string cheese 4 proteins”), they lost an average of about 3 percent of their body weight in 12 weeks. Participants in the Virginia Commonwealth University study also showed an improvement in eating behaviors, exercise, and nutrition self-efficacy, and reported that the texts helped them adopt these new habits. Find health-minded friends and message each other reminders, or program your phone to send yourself healthy eating tips.
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.
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