A varied, balanced diet rich in natural foods should form the basis of healthy living for everyone, but healthy eating can mean different things depending on your gender. Here are ten foods essential in particular for women's health, and that all women should eat more of.
Spinach is rich in many different vitamins and minerals, but one thing that makes it great for women is its high content of magnesium. Research has shown that magnesium is beneficial in reducing symptoms of pre-menstrual tension. It is also essential to bone health and for increasing bone density. About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones. This mineral therefore helps to prevent osteoporosis, a disease that women are more at risk of because they have less bone mass to begin with, and because when they go through menopause, they lose estrogen, speeding up bone loss.
Spinach is also a rich source of folic acid, a B vitamin that has been shown to help the healthy development of the baby's spine in the womb, so it is essential for pregnant women.
2. flax seeds
Flax seeds and flax seed oil are a superb source of lignans, which are plant compounds that act like a weak form of estrogen. The body converts these into hormone-like substances that smooth out fluctuating hormone levels, which is why they are beneficial for women's health. These lignans have also been found to protect against some forms of cancer and are useful for healthy weight loss. Flax seed oil is also a rich source of omega-3 fat, although in lower concentrations than those found in fish oils. But they provide a good alternative for those who do not eat fish or don't want to take fish oil supplements.
3. butternut squash
Butternut squash - like many other yellow/orange fruit and vegetables - is packed with carotenoids such as alpha-carotene and Beta-carotene. Carotenes should be included in everybody's diet for optimum health, but they are thought to be essential to women's health as a high-carotenoid diet has been linked to lowered risks of both breast and ovarian cancer.
Another carotenoid beneficial for women's health is lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes. Lycopene is the most common carotenoid in the human body and is one of the most potent carotenoid antioxidants. Studies have associated lycopene at being effective in preventing breast cancer. Furthermore, there has been considerable evidence to suggest that the powerful antioxidant can help reduce the risk of heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the developed world.
The availability of lycopene in foods is increased by processing the food. Therefore products such as tomato juice, soup, sauce, and ketchup (preferable home-made), produces the highest concentrations of bioavailable lycopene.
Salmon has a multitude of positive health benefits for women. Not only is it rich in iron - which is integral to the diets of premenopausal women - but it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, known for their mood-enhancing effects. Studies have suggested that omega-3 can help beat depression (something that affects twice as many women as men) and prevent mood swings, while salmon can also boost babies' intelligence when eaten during pregnancy.
Try to buy wild salmon because it is higher in nutrients and is free from toxic chemicals like dioxins and PCBs, which are found in farmed salmon.
The most potent benefit of cranberries is their ability to prevent and cure urinary tract infections such as cystitis, which is eight times more likely to occur in women than men. One study suggests that drinking two glasses of cranberry juice a day can prevent the symptoms of common urinary tract infections in women.
According to one scientist, cranberries are not only nutritious but have unique anti-adhesion and anti-bacterial properties not found in other fruit. These have been found to prevent certain harmful bacteria from sticking to cells in our body, including urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers and gum disease.
Oats are literally packed with health-boosting nutrients, many of which have a great impact on female health. Oats are not only great for heart health, digestion and blood pressure levels, but they contain vitamin B6, which can help prevent pre-menstrual syndrome and mood swings, and they also contain folic acid, which is important for women to consume before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects in babies.
Oats contain both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as silica. Insoluble fiber benefits the digestive system and silica is an anti-inflammatory mineral which soothes the digestive tract. The soluble fiber in oats works like a sponge in the body, cleansing arteries and preventing blockages. This beneficial fiber helps to relive the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which is much more common in women than men.
While all nuts are great for our health, walnuts have many great individual benefits for women. A study has recently found that walnuts, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols, and linked to reducing a women's risk of developing breast cancer. Walnuts also contain many nutrients essential for female health, such as calcium, magnesium and folic acid.
Walnuts have the highest level of omega-3 fats compared to any other nut. A one-ounce serving contains about 2.6 grams of brain-enhancing omega-3 fatty acid, which also has benefits for bone health, arthritis pain and depression.