Folate is most important for women of childbearing age. If you plan to have children some day, think of folate now. Folate is a B vitamin needed both before and during pregnancy and can help reduce risk of certain serious common neural tube birth defects (which affect the brain and spinal chord). Women ages 15-45 should include folate in their diet to reduce the risk for birth defects if one becomes pregnant, even if one is not planning a pregnancy.
After menopause. Lower levels of estrogen after menopause raise your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects these chronic diseases. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating plans and whether you need more calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones. Read more about how very low estrogen levels affect your health in our Menopause section. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. Find out how many calories you need based on your level of activity.
No matter how busy you are, eat lunch before 3 p.m., a Spanish study suggests. Researchers placed a group of women on a diet for 20 weeks; half ate lunch before 3 and half consumed their midday meal after 3. Although both groups’ daily caloric intake, time spent exercising and sleeping, and appetite hormone levels were the same, those who lunched late lost about 25 percent less weight than earlier eaters. Being European, lunch was the biggest meal of the day for these women, constituting 40 percent of their calories for the day, so consider slimming down dinner in addition to watching the clock.
Men who choose to drink and can do so responsibly may benefit from one to two drinks a day, counting 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits as one drink. But women face an extra risk: Even low doses of alcohol can raise their risk of breast cancer. So women who choose to drink might be wise to limit themselves to half as much as men.
In addition to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors can also play an important role in bone health. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, while weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, dancing, yoga, or lifting weights) can lower your risk. Strength or resistance training—using machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight—can be especially effective in helping to prevent loss of bone mass as you age.
For some simple suggestions about eating a healthy, balanced diet, check out the "New American Plate Concept" from the American Institute for Cancer Research. This concept suggests you fill your plate with two-thirds or more of vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and only one-third or less of animal protein. This simple principle can guide you toward healthier eating. For more details, visit http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reduce_diet_new_american_plate.
Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
Calcium: For adult women aged 19-50, the USDA recommended daily allowance is 1,000 mg/day. For women over 50, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 mg/day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, certain fish, grains, tofu, cabbage, and summer squash. Your body cannot take in more than 500 mg at any one time and there’s no benefit to exceeding the recommended daily amount.