13 Superfoods Every Healthy Woman Needs in Her Diet
The female body needs the best nutrient-packed, disease-fighting foods to stay strong, smart, and balanced.
Due largely to menstruation, women tend to be anemic more than men. And low iron levels in blood can cause severe fatigue. To get a good dose of iron, try bison. Bison, or buffalo, meat is lean and has what diet-conscious women want—lots of iron and less fat than most cuts of beef. "The iron content is about 3 milligrams in a 3 1/2-ounce uncooked portion," says Marty Marchello, PhD, at North Dakota State University. "That portion contains less than 3 grams of fat." Buffalo meat can help boost energy and lower weight. And you don't have to have a home on the range to get some bison anymore. You can pick it up at many supermarkets across the United States, or through mail order or on the Internet. Then make yourself a buffalo steak salad.
Fighting cancer is just one of the many health benefits of beans. In an 8-year Harvard study of more than 90,000 cancer-free women, those who ate beans and lentils two or more times a week decreased their chances of breast cancer by 34 percent compared to women who had them one or fewer times a month. This is likely because of their plant-based chemicals (like phytosterols) and high amounts of fiber. These are the best diets for women over 40 (and yes, fiber is important).
Strong bone health makes a crucial impact on everyone’s health, but ladies, it’s especially important for you. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men because they tend to have smaller, thinner bones. Once women reach menopause, there’s a sharp decrease in estrogen, a hormone than helps protect bones. Regular servings of low-fat or Greek yogurt ensure that you get enough calcium. Plus, yogurt’s probiotics keep everything in your GI tract running smoothly.
This tropical fruit packs about twice the vitamin C of an orange. Add it to your arsenal against gallbladder disease, which afflicts twice as many women as men. After analyzing the blood of over 13,000 people, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who had lower levels of vitamin C were more likely to have gallbladder illnesses. One medium papaya (about ten ounces), with its 188 mg of vitamin C and a mere 119 calories, is a refreshing source of the vitamin. The once exotic fruit now can be found in most supermarkets.
Women can get more than half of their recommended daily amounts of vitamin A from just one cup of chopped tomatoes. Vitamin A is key for maintaining a healthy complexion, controlling acne, and getting rid of lines and wrinkles. The tomato’s skin, on the other hand, is loaded with the antioxidant lycopene, which boosts the immune system, protects the eyes from light damage, and can fight breast cancer and heart disease.
Blueberries (and all berries)
Blueberries, especially wild ones, are some of the most antioxidant-rich fruits out there. They combat wrinkles, keep your brain sharp, and contain anti-cancer nutrients called anthocyanins. Strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries have the same effect. Mix them together for a cancer-fighting fruit salad.
Bakers use this nutty-flavored seed mainly to add flavor and fiber. But scientists see the tiny reddish-brown seed, rich in estrogen-like compounds called lignans, as a potential weapon against breast cancer. An exciting report at last year's San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium showed that adding flaxseed to the diet of women with breast cancer effectively slowed tumor growth. You can flavor your muffins with flaxseed, but the easiest way to get the beneficial lignans is to sprinkle a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your morning cereal. Look for the seeds in health food stores or in supermarkets on the flour aisle. They're easy to grind in a blender or coffee grinder. But get seeds—there are no lignans in the oil.
Go nuts for walnuts! Research shows they are multi-tasking disease fighters when it comes to improving your health. They’re linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and premature death by other causes. Several studies on animals have shown that walnuts shrink the growth of breast and prostate cancers, which leaves researchers optimistic about human studies.
Foods high in soy protein can lower cholesterol and may minimize menopausal hot flashes and strengthen bone. Isoflavones, plant chemicals in soybeans that have a structure similar to estrogen, may be the reason. Though animal studies form the bulk of the evidence, a human study found that 90 mg of isoflavones was beneficial to bone (specifically the spine). And two other studies suggest that 50 to 76 mg of isoflavones a day may offer some relief from hot flashes. A half-cup of tofu contains about 25 to 35 mg of isoflavones.
This humble vegetable may help fight osteoporosis, which afflicts many women late in life. In addition to getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, some studies suggest that vitamin K may have a bone-protective effect as well. Based on data from one of the largest studies of women, the Nurses' Health Study, researchers discovered that women who ate enough vitamin K-rich foods (at least 109 micrograms of the vitamin daily) were 30 percent less likely to suffer a hip fracture during ten years of follow-up than women who ate less. Researchers point out that dark-green leafy vegetables—Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli—are all good sources of the vitamin. But collard greens, with about 375 micrograms per half-cup, are among the best.
Fish are praised for their magical nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids, and salmon is no different. Omega-3s have the power to decrease inflammation and improve brain function. Salmon also contains vitamin D, which studies show has the potential to prevent up to 50 percent of breast, colon, and ovarian cancer. In fact, one 3-ounce serving of canned salmon contains a whopping 133 percent of your recommended daily amount of this important vitamin.
Not every delicious appetizer has to be packed with calories. One medium-sized shrimp is only about seven calories, leaving you plenty of room to indulge. Shrimp get their reddish color from an antioxidant called astaxanthin. Among its many uses, it can treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and high cholesterol, and may even protect you from heart disease.
Equally important for men, oats and other whole-grain foods have valuable soluble and insoluble fiber that keeps you full and stops you from overeating. What’s more, that fiber also helps lower cholesterol, improves metabolism, and keeps your blood sugar in check. Oatmeal is a powerful source, as are the 14 cereals nutrition pros swear by.