Since March is National Women’s History Month, I thought I’d give some tips on how women can stay healthy to keep fighting the good fight. Women have unique health issues – pregnancy, menopause and conditions to certain body parts. The most recommended health screenings for women are for breast cancer, cervical cancer and bone density. If you’re trying to get pregnant, or even thinking about having kids someday, it’s never too early to prepare your body for the nutrient needs of fertility and pregnancy.
The following recommendations come from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: First and foremost is the need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Having too much or too little body fat can affect fertility. Iron deficiency anemia is also a big problem for women of childbearing age, so build up your iron stores with iron-rich foods like spinach, beans and lean meats. In addition to stocking up on iron, women also need to prevent folic acid deficiency, as it can lead to infant neural tube defects like spina bifida. The recommended amount of folic acid is 400 mcg through a daily supplement plus food sources like dark leafy green veggies, beans, citrus fruits and fortified breads, cereals and pasta. To balance out those veggies and grains, women should also eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are an excellent source of getting antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress, a problem that can interfere with implantation of a fertile egg to the uterine wall.
Now, let’s not forget the health concerns that go beyond reproduction. There are the problems that affect both sexes but affect women differently. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men. To prevent this, follow a heart-healthy diet by keeping your sodium/salt intake low for stable blood pressure and cut out artery-clogging saturated fats and trans fats found in fried and junk foods. Increase your soluble fiber intake as well through whole grains, oatmeal, beans, fruits and vegetables to help keep cholesterol in the healthy range. And don’t forget to exercise to keep that heart muscle in shape.
Another health problem to consider is osteoporosis – a condition in which weak bone density leads to high risk for fracture. After adolescence, men and women continue to develop bone density until approximately 30 years of age. Gradual bone loss begins around 40 years of age. This bone loss is accelerated in women after menopause and the CDC states that for every one man diagnosed with osteoporosis, four women have the disease. Some risk factors can’t be helped, like ethnicity, number of pregnancies, hormonal shifts and family history. Others, however, can be modified, like tobacco use, lack of physical activity, being overweight or obese and inadequate diet. It’s important to consume as many bone-building nutrients as possible, which can be found in – you guessed it – calcium. The recommended calcium intake for women ages 18 to 50 is 100 mg per day. Ages 51 and over should take 1200 mg per day. While the supplements are a great source, a diet filled with calcium-rich foods is better. This includes dark greens, soybeans, kefir and yogurt drinks, calcium-fortified cereal and juices, and fruits and vegetables, which provide an alkalinizing effect that improves calcium balance and stops bone tissue breakdown and mineral loss. And, of course, no list is complete without milk. For added calcium absorption, get plenty of vitamin D.
Women are faced with numerous challenges and health issues are not the least of them. So as busy as life may be, it’s time to make health a priority so that every woman can continue to do the great things that only women can do.
Karen Two Shoes is a registered dietitian and the nutrition coordinator for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Health Department. She is a member of the Panther Clan and is a married mother of two.