As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium a day for girls aged 9 through 19. Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice, because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption. Milk, yogurt, and cheese contribute most of the calcium in our diets. Some vegetables are also good sources, including broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu. The daily intake for Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for most children and healthy adults.
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.
Trimming some fat may eliminate some guilt, but be warned: Buying foods labeled “low-fat,” “non-fat,” or “fat-free” may encourage you to eat up to 50 percent more calories, according to three studies by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. Fat’s not the issue when it comes your weight since most of these foods only have about 15 percent fewer calories than their regular counterparts. Go for the full-fat version and eat less—you probably will naturally since they taste better.
There's not much doubt about this one: Women need more iron than men, because they lose iron with each menstrual period. After menopause, of course, the gap closes. The RDA of iron for premenopausal women is 18 mg a day, for men 8 mg. Men should avoid excess iron. In the presence of an abnormal gene, it can lead to harmful deposits in various organs (hemochromatosis). Since red meat is the richest dietary source of iron, it's just as well that men don't need to wolf down lots of saturated fat to get a lot of iron.
It takes a lot of discipline to turn down a cupcake or roll out of your warm bed for a cold morning run. To make staying on track easier, it's important to make a real connection with your motivation, says Tara Gidus, R.D., co-host of Emotional Mojo. So think less about fitting into your skinny jeans or spring break bikini and more about emotional ties to the people you love. “Your relationships will grow stronger when you are physically healthy and taking care of yourself,” she says.
You know it's easier to fall off the healthy-eating wagon when the person across the table from you is going whole-hog on mozzarella sticks, but science still felt the need to study this. And evidence presented at the 2013 Agricultural and Applied Economic Associations annual meeting backs you up: In the study, people made similar dining choices as their companions did, possibly because we simply want to fit in. Not all eating partners make a bad influence, though. The report further speculates that if you're eating with a health-conscious person, you may be more likely to order something more nutritious as well.
Getting enough water also is important. Many experts recommend at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily—more if you exercise frequently or are exposed to extremes of heat and cold. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize drinking more water and other calorie-free beverages, along with fat-free or low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juices, instead of calorie-packed regular sodas.
A person's caloric requirement depends on his body size and exercise level. Sedentary people of both genders will keep their weight stable by taking in about 13 calories per pound of body weight each day. Moderate physical activity boosts this requirement to 16 calories a pound, and vigorous exercise calls for about 18 calories a pound. On average, a moderately active 125-pound woman needs 2,000 calories a day; a 175-pound guy with a similar exercise pattern needs 2,800 calories. And like women, men will lose weight only if they burn more calories than they take in.
A year later, a second Harvard study added to the concern. The Physicians' Health Study of 20,885 men did not evaluate diet per se, but it did measure the blood levels of ALA in 120 men who developed prostate cancer and compared them with the levels in 120 men who remained free of the disease. Men with moderately high ALA blood levels were 3.4 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels; curiously, though, men with the very highest levels were only 2 times more likely to get the disease.