National Nutrition Month

Woman eating healthy food

Healthy Nutrition for a Healthy Life

Healthy nutrition is an integral component to enjoying a healthy quality life. Being overweight or having obesity are primarily caused by poor nutrition and eating habits in combination with a sedentary lifestyle. Yet more than 2 out of 3 women ages 20 years or older in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese indirectly causes millions of deaths annually in the U.S.

These combined lifestyle factors contribute to developing serious health consequences, including:

  • Breathing problems including sleep apnea, which can lead to heart disease.
  • Many types of cancer, including breast, colon and rectal, endometrial, gallbladder, stomach, esophageal (throat), liver, kidney, meningioma (cancer of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord), multiple myeloma (cancer of blood plasma cells,) pancreatic, ovarian and thyroid cancers.
  • Twice the likelihood of developing diabetes.
  • Heart disease, the leading cause of death of women in the U.S., even if no other health conditions that raise heart disease risk are present.
  • Twice the likelihood of developing high blood pressure, which damages arteries that in turn can lead to stroke and heart disease.
  • High cholesterol, which speeds the buildup of fatty plaque within arteries and increases heart disease risk.
  • Pregnancy problems, including difficulties conceiving, plus complications during pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, dangerously high blood pressure or preeclampsia.
  • Stroke, especially in those with extra body fat around waist (apple-shaped body) rather than around hips and thighs (pear-shaped body.)

What’s more, women face unique nutritional challenges throughout their lives. Proper nutrition incorporating foods including vital, specific nutrients is key to achieving optimal health throughout your life, from your teen and reproductive years through peri- and menopause and well beyond into your golden years.

March is designated National Nutrition Month. Your local Capital Women’s Care team offers you sound information about the importance of proper nutrition for women, including highlighting vital nutrients your body needs throughout each stage of your life. Plus, we guide you toward implementing and enjoying a healthy diet of nutrient-dense foods to maximize your heart, bone, blood and overall health.

What Is Healthy Nutrition for Women?

Healthy nutrition encompasses a variety of foods containing necessary nutrients your body and its systems need for optimal function and overall good health.

A balanced eating pattern is a cornerstone of health for both women and men. Women (and men) should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all the foods groups daily, including:

  • whole grains
  • whole fruits and vegetables
  • healthy fats
  • low-fat or fat-free dairy
  • and lean protein.

Nutrient-rich foods provide your body much-needed fuel to build energy and proper function while helping to reduce your disease risks. A healthy eating plan regularly includes:

  • A minimum of 3 ounce-equivalents of whole grains (whole-grain bread, whole-wheat cereal flakes, whole-wheat pasta, bulgur, quinoa, brown rice or oats.)
  • 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products (including milk, yogurt or cheese; or calcium-fortified soy milk.) Non-dairy sources of calcium for those who don’t consume dairy products include calcium-fortified foods and beverages, canned fish and some leafy greens.
  • 5 to 5 ½ ounce -equivalents of protein foods (lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds.)
  • 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits, including those that are fresh, frozen, canned or dried without any added sugars.
  • 2 to 2.5 cups of colorful vegetables that are either fresh, frozen or canned without any added salt.

Click here for more information about daily nutritional guidelines. This infographic from the American Heart Association (AHA) outlines daily recommended portions of heart-healthy foods.

It’s important to recognize women also have special nutrient needs that may change depending upon their current stage of life.

Establish Life-Long Healthy Nutrition

Women experience many stages throughout life, from the teen and reproductive years into perimenopause, menopause and beyond. These varying life stages require different nutritional needs that play a significant role in optimizing, maintaining and continuing good overall health.

There are several key nutrients you need to monitor to make sure you get your recommended daily requirement throughout your lifetime, including:

  • iron
  • folate or folic acid (vitamin B9)
  • and vitamin D and calcium.

Iron is important to good health, but the required amount needed differs depending on your stage of life. Iron needs are higher during pregnancy and diminish after menopause. Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Pregnant women need at least 27 milligrams of iron each day.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • lean red meat, chicken, turkey, and pork
  • fish
  • kale and spinach
  • beans and lentils
  • and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals.

Plant-based iron sources are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. To get both these nutrients during the same meal, opt for fortified cereal topped with strawberries, spinach salad with mandarin orange or kiwi slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.

Folate (folic acid) plays an important role in decreasing birth defect risks in women who are in the reproductive stage of their lives. The requirement for women who aren’t pregnant is 400 micrograms (mcg) per day. Foods naturally containing folate include:

  • oranges
  • leafy green vegetables
  • and beans and peas.

There also are many folic acid fortified foods, including:

  • breakfast cereals
  • some types of rice
  • and breads.

Eating a variety of healthy foods is recommended to help meet nutrient needs, but a dietary folic acid supplement should be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, since their daily need for folate is higher, 600 mcg and 500 mcg per day, respectively. Be sure to consult with your Capital Women’s Care team of women’s health professionals before initiating any new supplements when you schedule a consultation to devise a preconception health plan if you’re planning to conceive.

Women of all ages need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods daily for healthy bones and teeth. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps reduce risk of osteoporosis. During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby's teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. When a pregnant woman doesn’t consume enough calcium, it’s transported from her bones for her baby. It’s important to consume adequate amounts of calcium daily before, during and after pregnancy.

Some calcium-rich foods include:

  • low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese
  • sardines
  • tofu (if made with calcium sulfate)
  • tempeh
  • Bok choy
  • soybeans
  • sesame seeds
  • green leafy vegetables
  • and calcium-fortified foods and beverages (including plant-based milk alternatives, juices and cereals.)

Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women age to stave off osteoporosis.

Good vitamin D sources include:

  • fatty fish (salmon)
  • eggs
  • fortified foods and beverages (milk)
  • and some plant-based milk alternatives, yogurts and juices.

Be Mindful About Nutrition

As you become more mindful toward enacting regular healthy nutrition, be aware of sources including

  • added sugars
  • saturated fat
  • and alcohol.

Sugars, saturated fat, alcohol and too much sodium can lead to inflammation, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart health issues, including heart attack and stroke.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calorie intake. This includes limiting:

  • sugar-sweetened beverages
  • candy
  • cookies
  • pastries
  • and other desserts.

The guidelines also specify women should limit consumption to 1 drink or less per day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Women who are pregnant should avoid consuming alcohol.

Food high in saturated fats should be avoided, with focus on sources containing heart-healthy unsaturated fats options, including vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean proteins instead of full-fat counterparts, which contribute to greater risks of heart disease, being overweight and obesity.

Balance Calories with Daily Physical Activity

Women need fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight and activity level than men due to women typically having less muscle, smaller body frames and more body fat than their male counterparts. Women who are more physically active may require more calories.

In addition to healthy nutrition, physical activity is an important part of your health. Regular physical activity not only helps with building and retaining muscle strength, balance, flexibility and stress management, it also helps you enjoy a better quality of life, especially as you age.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team is here to answer your questions or concerns about healthy nutrition practices or any women’s health issue. Our knowledgeable healthcare professionals and support staff prioritize optimizing your health, so you enjoy and achieve a long quality life.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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