The Four Healthiest Foods for Women
The first step in any healthy diet is eating a balanced variety of foods, so everyone should start there. However, for women, science is showing that there are some foods that can help ward off osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, and much more.
Ripe and juicy, heirloom and cherry tomatoes are an easy food to love. So it’s just icing on the cake that observational studies suggest lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes may play a role in warding off breast and cervical cancers. Since no clinical trials have tested the hypothesis, it’s not proof positive. And maybe the protection comes from a diet rich in vegetables rather than just one vegetable. If that’s the case, consider tomatoes for heart health. After following nearly 40,000 women, Boston researchers conclude lycopene or other phytochemicals eaten as oil-based tomato products may protect against cardiovascular disease.
The right dose: To be determined. But cooking tomatoes, and adding oil, makes lycopene and other antioxidants more readily available.
A “hot” ingredient in foods targeted to women, scientists are teasing out three potentially beneficial compounds in flax: plant based omega 3 fats, fiber, and disease-fighting compounds called lignans. A Mayo Clinic study finds 40 grams of crushed flaxseed can cut down on hot flashes, and several reports suggest flax can lower “bad” or LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. (Interestingly, in one Chinese study, the cholesterol-lowering impact was more pronounced in women.) The brown or gold seeds may even play a role in fighting breast cancer. One caution: if you’re pregnant or nursing, some experts suggest avoiding flax until more studies are done.
The right dose: 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day since whole seeds aren’t readily digested.
An underappreciated leafy green, kale is chock-full of a lot of good things for health in general, and some for women in particular. Antioxidants like lutein and zeazanthin protect the eye. Add to that a day’s worth of vitamin C and small amounts of calcium. But tag its womanly superstar status to vitamin K, a potent bone builder. Researchers find that women who eat diets rich in vitamin K are at lower risk of hip fracture. Seems the body requires vitamin K to activate bone proteins needed to ward off osteoporosis, the crippling bone disease that strikes women four times more often than men.
The right dose: At 36 calories per cup cooked, the sky’s the limit.
While the omega 3 fats in salmon do everyone a lot of good, women net a few unique benefits. Pregnant? Studies find the oils in fatty fish like salmon can help you beat the post-partum blues, particularly if you ratchet up intake during the third trimester. Building blocks for the brain and nervous system, omega 3 fats are also critical for the developing fetus. In your forties and beyond? Keep in mind that heart disease is still the number one killer of women. And once estrogen levels begin to plummet, eating fatty fish can help keep the ticker healthy.
The right dose: Two servings (about 4 ounces) of salmon, or other fatty fish, per week.