Stress can wreak serious havoc on our bodies, but we actually need stress to a certain extent. For example, if we were running from a bear, we would need our stress response to kick in full force. We would start breathing faster, sending more oxygen to muscles to fuel movement, then our bodies would release stress hormones from our adrenal glands (cortisol) to heighten our focus by tapping into energy reserves for fuel so we could flee the danger. Cortisol isn’t always the bad guy, but when this response is high and chronic it tells your body to eat more than it “needs” because it’s thinking much more about survival, not stress over a work deadline or relationship woe. Cortisol is needed, but high levels of cortisol over time will contribute to those mentioned health impacts, especially abdominal weight gain! The problem is when we’re actually not in danger and our bodies are living in this state chronically. THIS is the magic piece of the puzzle – learning how we can turn off that heightened stress response when it’s not needed.
Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
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.
Research from Tufts University nutrition scientists shows that Americans are drinking so much soda and sweet drinks that they provide more daily calories than any other food. Obesity rates are higher for people consuming sweet drinks. Also watch for hidden sugar in the foods you eat. Sugar may appear as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate or malt syrup, among other forms, on package labels.
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.
Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
Good sources of iron include liver, kidneys, red meat, poultry, eggs, peas, legumes, dried fruits and dark, green leafy vegetables. Three ounces of cooked chicken liver contains 7.2 mg of iron; a cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg. Your health care professional will probably recommend iron supplements during pregnancy (probably starting at 30 mg per day).
Also limit the amount of cholesterol you consume. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in every cell of the body. It helps digest some fats, strengthen cell membranes and make hormones. But too much cholesterol can be dangerous: When blood cholesterol reaches high levels, it can build up on artery walls, increasing the risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Although dietary cholesterol can contribute to heart disease, the greater risk comes from a diet high in saturated and trans fats.
Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.
For once we're not talking about breakfast but rather the recovery meal after your workout. “So many women skip post-exercise nutrition because they don’t want to 'undo the calories they just burned,'” says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, vice president of nutrition and research for Athletes’ Performance and Core Performance. “But getting a combination of 10 to 15 grams of protein and 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of your workout will help to refuel your body, promote muscle recovery, amp up your energy, and build a leaner physique.”
Sugar is a source of calories, not nutrients. Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and tooth decay. Contrary to what many people think, there is no evidence linking high-sugar diets to hyperactivity or diabetes. However, high-fructose corn syrup, found in most processed foods, is linked with obesity, and obesity increases your risk for developing diabetes and other conditions.
To help you learn how to eat healthfully, start with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) dietary guidelines system, which you can find at http://www.mypyramid.gov. The MyPyramid system, which looks somewhat like the familiar food pyramid of old, offers guidance based on individual needs and replaces "serving" recommendations with actual amounts of food. It also emphasizes the importance of balancing nutritious (and tasty!) food choices from all food groups every day with daily physical activity.
“The reason most people don't see changes isn't because they don't work hard—it's because they don't make their workouts harder,” says Adam Bornstein, founder of Born Fitness. His suggestion: Create a challenge every time you exercise. “Use a little more weight, rest five to 10 seconds less between sets, add a few more reps, or do another set. Incorporating these small variations into your routine is a recipe for change,” he says.