Healthy eating for women doesn’t involve any fad diets or unrealistic goals based on vanity. It’s about finding the right nutritional balance for our bodies based on our unique genetic body composition, and balancing our hormone levels. Eating hormone-supporting foods is especially important since female hormones fluctuate rapidly over the course of the month. Female health and healthy eating for women are more important than you might think, and there are some differences in dietary needs compared to men.
In a world where we are trying to end the separation of sexes, it can feel strange to have something like your diet so distinctly targeted to women. However, the distinct differences in genetic makeup and hormonal requirements between the male and female sexes do result in different nutritional needs. In this guide, we will take you through the importance of healthy eating for women.
Is Diet Really Gender Specific?
It seems strange, but the truth is that diet really is gender specific in many ways. As children, the dietary needs of boys and girls are pretty much the same. It isn’t until we hit puberty that these different needs really come into effect. Our bodies begin to go through changes, and these are both physical and hormonal (including hormonal health risks), which have a significant impact on the nutrition that we require.
In terms of calories, the average woman needs less calories per day than the average man. Of course, everyone is unique, and so there are exceptions to the norm based on genetics, physical activity, and the lifestyle that we lead. But more than this, the vitamin and mineral requirements for women are quite different from men.
As women, we go through menstruation, we potentially go through pregnancy, and we eventually go through menopause when we get older. This means that we are at a higher risk of:
- Brittle or weak bones
- Anemia (iron deficiency)
As a result, we need to ensure we are getting enough vitamins and minerals in our diet to support strong bones, and get plenty of iron. Men should ensure this for themselves as well, but women tend to need more:
- Vitamin B9
- Vitamin D
What are the Key Aspects of Women’s Health?
While healthy eating for women is essential, it’s not the only part of our health that we have to be aware of. Our physical health is interconnected with everything from diet and hormone levels to strength and coordination, and we need to ensure every aspect of our health is taken care of if we want to thrive.
The core components of our overall health are:
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Emotional health
Healthy Eating for Women: Optimal Nutrition
Nutritional supplements can seem like a tempting option as part of healthy eating for women, but the truth is they will never be enough to replace a healthy and balanced diet. Taking supplements to top up your vitamins and minerals is an excellent idea (we all need to sometimes), but you can’t use them as your sole source of these essential nutrients.
Instead, you need to ensure you are getting enough of these vital nutrients as a natural part of your diet. Don’t necessarily give up the foods you love, but rather, add more of those nutrient dense foods into your diet to boost your health and wellness.
Let’s take a closer look at the nutrients you need most as a woman (and how much of each you should be taking every day):
- Iron: 8-15mg
- Calcium: 1,000-1,200mg
- Magnesium: 320-400mg
- Vitamin D: 600IU
- Vitamin B9: 400-600mcg
Which foods are best to incorporate into your diet if you want to ensure you are getting enough of these vital nutrients? This list should give you a clearer idea of what will help boost your diet.
- Plenty of whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat)
- Fruits and vegetables (leafy greens, potatoes, and dark cabbage especially)
- Dark chocolate (it’s really good)
- Lean proteins (chicken, tofu, turkey, lean beef cuts, fish, and legumes)
- Good fats (avocado, nuts, olive oil, and oily fish)
- Dairy (healthy dairy products include plain greek yogurt or skim milk)
Of course, the standard dietary advice for foods to eat less remains the same for men and women. You should limit the amount of processed food, refined carbs, trans fats, and sugary drinks you consume to achieve a better sense of balance in your diet. You don’t need to cut them out completely, just eat less of them and replace them with more nutritious alternatives.
Which Foods to Eat for Hormonal Health
In her fascinating book, Fast Like a Girl, Dr. Mindy Pelz explains that while most women have been taught to primarily look at the number of calories per serving when they review a nutritional label or consider eating a certain food. However, calorie counting is not something that will support your hormonal health, and rather, there are hormone-supporting foods to be aware of.
When it comes to healthy eating for women, Dr. Pelz’s book Fast Like a Girl explains that there are various foods that support healthy hormone levels for women.
Let’s take estrogen, for example, which is an important hormone for women.
Below is a list of other foods that support healthy estrogen levels:
- Organic soybeans
- Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts and walnuts
- Olive oil and sesame seed oil
- Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
- Chickpeas, lima beans, kidney beans, mung beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, lentils
- Blueberries, strawberries and cranberries
Read Fast Like a Girl for more tips on foods that support healthy levels of specific hormones.
Your Diet and PMS
PMS is awful, and women often experience bloating, painful cramps, and severe fatigue that makes us want to sleep for a solid week. This is because our hormones fluctuate rapidly throughout our menstrual cycles, and it messes with our bodies.
As part of healthy eating for women, there are a few tips and tricks that might help ease the pain and frustration that comes with your monthly cycle:
- Increase the amount of calcium in your diet
- Eat foods with a lot of zinc and iron
- Reduce your salt intake (it helps with bloat)
- Try to avoid fried foods, sugar, and trans fats
- Remember that caffeine and alcohol can make it worse
Healthy Eating for Women: Menopause Advice
Menopause is a completely natural process that begins up to a decade before your reproductive system fully retires. The production of hormones in the body shifts completely, causing all sorts of hormonal imbalances, which can be difficult for us to go through. However, your diet can help ease the symptoms a little, and this is our top advice for that:
- Increase the amount of calcium in your diet
- Eat more foods that contain magnesium and vitamin D
- Prepare foods that are rich in good fats
- Try consuming more soy to ease your symptoms
- Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake to help reduce hot flashes
Tips and Advice for Your Diet When You’re Pregnant
Pregnancy is tough on the body, and even when we are breastfeeding, it takes a toll. Healthy eating for women extends past our everyday life, and pregnancy changes so much in our bodies with regard to our nutritional needs. Here is some of our best advice for how you can alter your diet to be better suited to pregnancy:
- Ensure you get a lot of high-quality protein
- Increase your calorie consumption (especially for breastfeeding)
- Ensure you are getting plenty of calcium
- Take pregnancy and prenatal supplements to help
- Eat smaller meals more frequently (try 6 small meals per day instead of 3 large meals)
- Avoid potentially harmful foods (caffeine, alcohol, soft cheese, etc.)
Furthermore, here is some advice on the optimal breastfeeding diet for women.
Healthy eating for women is so much more important than you might think. It’s about taking the best possible care of our bodies so that we can maintain good health. Your body deserves to thrive, and with the correct treatment, you can enjoy fantastic health while also easing symptoms of PMS and menopause (two things that can be a real struggle).
This could lead to higher body positivity, a healthier relationship with your body, more self-love, increased confidence, and a better functioning, healthier body overall.
Getting a DNA test from CircleDNA could also prove useful in your quest for excellent health. The results of this at-home DNA test don’t just give ancestry information and disease risks; it also reveals the optimal diet for you, based on your genetic makeup.
- How Does Gender Affect Nutritional Health? MedicineNet. Published May 31, 2022. Accessed March 13, 2023. https://www.medicinenet.com/how_does_gender_affect_nutritional_health/article.htm
- Feskens EJM, Bailey R, Bhutta Z, et al. Women’s health: optimal nutrition throughout the lifecycle. European Journal of Nutrition. 2022;61(S1):1-23. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-022-02915-x
- Fast Like a Girl by Dr. Mindy Pelz