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.
It's easy to get lost in a killer playlist or Friends rerun on the TV attached to the elliptical, but mindless exercise makes all your hard work forgettable—and you can forget about seeing results too. “There is a huge difference between going through the motions of an exercise and truly thinking, feeling, and engaging the key muscles,” says Kira Stokes, master instructor at the New York City location of indoor cycling studio Revolve. “Be conscious of and enjoy the sensation of your muscles contracting and the feelings of growing stronger and more powerful with each rep.”
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.
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.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin E is 15 mg. Don't take more than 1,000 mg of alpha-tocopherol per day. This amount is equivalent to approximately 1,500 IU of "d-alpha-tocopherol," sometimes labeled as "natural source" vitamin E, or 1,100 IU of "dl-alpha-tocopherol," a synthetic form of vitamin E. Consuming more than this could increase your risk of bleeding because vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant (blood thinner).
Some fat is an important part of your diet; fat is part of every cell. It maintains skin and hair; stores and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; keeps you warm; and protects your internal organs. It even helps your mental processes—not surprising given that fat comprises about 60 percent of your brain. But many women consume too much fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories.
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You know strength training is the best way to trim down, tone up, and get into “I love my body” shape. But always reaching for the 10-pound dumbbells isn’t going to help you. “Add two or three compound barbell lifts (such as a squat, deadlift, or press) to your weekly training schedule and run a linear progression, increasing the weight used on each lift by two to five pounds a week,” says Noah Abbott, a coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn. Perform three to five sets of three to five reps, and you’ll boost strength, not bulk. “The short, intense training will not place your muscles under long periods of muscle fiber stimulation, which corresponds with muscle growth,” Abbott explains.
The total fat in your daily diet should average no more than 30 percent of your total calories consumed. And saturated fat should be no more than 10 percent of those 30 percent of calories. The amount of fat and saturated fat you eat depends on the foods you select and consume that have fat in them. Consider consulting with a nutrition professional to learn more about how to calculate your fat needs and to not exceed what are healthy amounts. There are many tools available to help you determine how much fat you should consume each day based on your current energy and nutrition needs. Reading food labels is one way to begin to identify where and how much fat is in particular food items.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid system (www.mypyramid.gov) provides a good start by recommending that the bulk of your diet come from the grain group—this includes bread, cereal, rice and pasta— the vegetable group; and the fruit group. Select smaller amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans group. Eat few—if any—foods that are high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients. The amount of food you should consume depends on your sex, age and level of activity.
B12: Like folic acid, B12 is essential for healthy nervous system development and function. Pregnant women who are vegans or vegetarians may fall short on B12, since it is present in animal protein and to a lesser extent in dairy. Teenage and adult women need 2.4 mcg. Recommended levels rise to 2.6 mcg for pregnant women and 2.8 mcg for lactating women.
Iron: Iron, too, remains a critical nutrient. Adult women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 mg a day. Pregnant women should shoot for 27 mg a day. “The volume of blood almost doubles when women are pregnant, which dramatically increases the demand for iron,” Schwartz tells WebMD. After delivery, lactating women need far less iron, only about 9 mg, because they are no longer menstruating. But as soon as women stop breast-feeding, they should return to 18 mg a day.
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.
What you eat is even more important as you enter your 40s. Women need protein (meat, fish, dairy, beans, and nuts), carbohydrates (whole grains), fats (healthy oils), vitamins, minerals, and water. These foods have been linked to some disease prevention, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the development of healthy food supply chains in supplemental nutrition programs so as to broaden the availability of healthy food.
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Give your body a little more credit: It tells you when you’re hungry—you may not be listening, though. Before chowing down because there’s only one slice of pie left or because the last guest arrived at the brunch, stop and check in with your stomach. “If you’re not hungry, make yourself a small plate and sip on some tea or coffee while everyone else digs in,” recommends Elle Penner, M.P.H., R.D., a MyFitnessPal expert. When your belly starts to finally grumble, food will be there.
You should eat a healthful, well-balanced diet during pregnancy. However, you should avoid certain foods, including raw or undercooked fish, poultry and meat; raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs; unpasteurized juices; raw sprouts; unpasteurized milk products; and some soft cheeses (cream cheese is OK). Avoid deli meats and frankfurters unless they have been reheated to steaming hot before eating. To prevent food-borne illnesses, take the following precautions: