A well-balanced diet, comprised of a variety of foods, adequately meets women’s needs for vitamins, minerals and energy. For good health, women need to pay special attention to calcium, iron and folate (folic acid) intake. A healthy diet also should minimize the intake of fat and sugar. Diets high in saturated or trans fat can promote high levels of blood cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. A diet that includes high sugar provides empty calories, or calories that do not provide any nutritional value and often times replace more nutritious food selections.
A 45-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity in addition to her normal routine should consume six ounce of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and/or beans; five teaspoons of oil; and just 195 calories of additional fat and sugar. With a higher level of daily activity (30 to 60 minutes), this woman would be able to consume a little more in certain food groups: her fruit intake could rise to two cups; meat and beans to five and a half ounces; oils to six teaspoons; and extra fat and sugar to 265 calories.
As the science of nutrition continually evolves, researchers recognize that nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle must be tailored to the individual for maximum effectiveness. Recognizing that people are not all alike and that one size does not fit all when it comes to planning and achieving a healthful diet, the Institute of Medicine's dietary guidelines, titled "Dietary Reference Intakes for Macronutrients," stress the importance of balancing diet with exercise and recommends total calories based on an individual's height, weight and gender for each of four different levels of physical activity.
A healthy vegetarian diet falls within the guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) may want to consider vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. You can obtain what you need from non-animal sources. For instance:
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.