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Nutrients and Foods for Women

Unfortunately, most of the health-related news we hear is negative. And much of this negative news impacts women directly. Breast cancer rates continue to increase; a growing number of women are suffering from heart disease; and falls and fractures caused by osteoporosis are on the rise. It is encouraging to note, however, that you can make great strides towards better health and disease prevention by adding just a few key nutrients and foods to your diet. Please read on for more information.

Fiber: Increasing fiber in your diet is probably one of the most important things you can do for your health. A high dietary intake of fiber can lower your cholesterol levels, normalize your blood sugar levels, help you lose weight, and help prevent colon cancer. Nutrition experts recommend a fiber intake of a minimum of 25 grams per day. Many foods contain good amounts of fiber, including dark green leafy vegetables, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, lentils, raspberries, and brown rice.

Bone-building nutrients: Calcium is important for maintaining the strength and density of bones, and inadequate intake of calcium in women throughout their lifetime, but especially after menopause, leads to more rapid breakdown of bone, resulting in osteoporosis. Of course, dairy products contain significant amounts of calcium, but remember that many vegetables, especially the dark green leafy vegetables, are excellent sources of calcium. Vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption and utilization of calcium. As a result, vitamin D deficiency negatively impacts calcium status and bone health. Take care to include foods that contain vitamin D (eggs, halibut, and snapper) and be sure to get outside so that your skin is exposed to sunlight on a regular basis. Boron, a trace mineral that is also an important nutrient for bone health, is found in raisins, which are among the top 50 contributors in the U.S. diet of this important nutrient for bone health.

Antioxidant nutrients: To help prevent heart disease and cancer, focus on obtaining an abundance of the antioxidant nutrients, including vitamin E, vitamin C, and carotenoids to protect your cells from free radical damage. Food sources of these nutrients include dark green leafy vegetables and a variety of fruits. The members of the mustard family vegetables (including broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, horseradish, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli sprouts) also contain potent antioxidant compounds. Plus, these foods provide unique nutrients that support your body’s production of “good” estrogens while decreasing the “bad” ones and stimulate the detoxification systems of the body.

Isoflavones: These hormone-like compounds are believed to play a role in the prevention of heart disease and breast cancer. Isoflavones have been shown to act as antioxidants, reduce high estrogen levels, prevent the growth of new blood vessels around tumors, prevent tumor cells from growing and dividing. Soy products (soybeans, tofu, soymilk, and tempeh) contain significant amounts of isoflavones. If you are approaching menopause, soy foods may also help relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms, most notably hot flashes.

Lignans: These are specialized fibers that can help block the cancer-promoting effects of estrogens on breasts. Flaxseeds are a rich source of lignans. Because flaxseeds are so hard, ground flaxseed provides more nutritional benefits than whole flaxseeed, and is easier to digest, as well. Flaxseed is easily ground in a coffee grinder, food processor, or blender, and may be added to foods such as hot cereals, salads, or smoothies.

For more information on key nutrients and foods for women, please see the articles on Breast Cancer and Osteoporosis on the website, and the article on Adult Women in the special needs section of the web site.

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