Five Top Nutrients for Women

Don't eat this, don't eat that. Every nutrition message we receive seems to scream don't, don't, don't! How are we supposed to keep up? Instead of feeling empowered, we feel guilty nearly every time we put a fork to our mouth.

 

Because of stress, fad diets and busy schedules, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is not a top priority for most people. In general, the American diet is over-processed and lacks variety, leading to the absence of essential nutrients.

What can you do?

For starters, you can ignore the negative messages and learn to love food again. Instead of making you feel guilty, we're sending you a love letter. Learning to love certain nutrients expresses love for your body.

With some minor tweaks here and there, you can enjoy a healthier, more nutritious diet. Just take it one day at a time, and before you know it, your body will respond accordingly. Following are the top five nutrients you can learn to love.

Calcium
While we know about the link between calcium and osteoporosis, many women, especially athletic ones, still lack enough calcium to protect themselves. Calcium protects your bones, warding off osteoporosis and stress fractures.

The nutrient is critical for high-impact athletes like runners, as well as for women under age 25. Women under 25 need 1,200 to 1,500 mg of calcium per day to support bone health. Women 25 to 50 need 1,200 mg per day, and women over 50 need 1,500 mg per day.

The good news is that adding more calcium to your diet isn't a daunting task. Food manufacturers fortify everything from cereals to orange juice with calcium. You also can receive your calcium needs from veggies like broccoli and turnip greens, if you eat plenty of them.

The old standard, dairy products, still applies. Consume plenty of skim or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. You still may need to take a supplement for extra protection, adds Yvonne Thigpen, a registered dietitian for Mount Clemens General Hospital in Mount Clemens, Mich. To help with absorption, Thigpen recommends choosing a supplement that also contains vitamin D. But don't overdo calcium -- doing so may cause kidney damage and calcification of soft tissues.

Folic Acid (Folate)
While a lack of folic acid won't directly affect your physical performance, it can have plenty of impact on your overall health. In addition to preventing some genetic diseases and guarding against birth defects in babies, folic acid also may prevent such diseases as cancer and heart disease.

While most women are aware they should consume folic acid, many don't make it a priority. And, unfortunately, it's easy to let folic acid drop off your nutrition radar since many of the processed grains we eat are stripped of folic acid and other nutrients during the refining process.

Introduce more folic acid into your diet by eating more whole grains. Choose breads and cereals by looking for "whole grain" on the labels. When buying wheat bread, look for "100 percent whole wheat flour" as opposed to "enriched wheat flour." Also eat fortified cereals and plenty of green leafy vegetables like spinach and collard greens.

Most women should consume about 400 micrograms of folic acid per day, while pregnant women and those anticipating pregnancy should consume about 600 micrograms.

Fiber
An often overlooked but essential nutrient, fiber helps your digestive tract move and prevents many diseases like colon cancer. In addition, if you're in training, it helps keeps your weight at its current athletic level.

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