Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD, ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian.
We can spend so much time in the gym doing weight lifting circuits, running the treadmill, or doing more core work than we ever thought possible. But, sometimes strength is not just what we see on the outside, it’s what we create on the inside. Being strong starts from within by taking good care of our hearts, brains, and immune system with food. The female body is so powerful – why not eat the foods to make it even stronger inside and out?!
There are countless foods that will contribute to a long, healthful life, but here I listed the top 5 sources best for women to integrate into their daily meals and snacks…
- PLANT BASED FOODS. Of course! Fruits and veggies! Do you ever go to the farmer’s market and think ‘wow, this fruit just looks so much better?!’ Locally grown produce is just that – so much better! Making fruits and veggies the core of your diet will energize you to get through the day. You don’t need to completely eliminate processed foods or produce not locally grown, but make a point to get to the market and enjoy your neighbor’s garden! Also, always think balance and moderation…no need to eat 100% fruits and veggies for each meal. Pick one to have with each meal and optimize your nutrition with a good mix of whole grains, lean protein, and high quality fat. I know for me, I enjoy having difference whole grains in my kitchen to bake with including teff and buckwheat. It may take some experimenting with new recipes, but they taste amazing and will provide a nutritional kick within your female body!
- CALCIUM. It will forever be critical for women to have calcium rich foods! Even though bone growth stops in our mid 20s, we should not give up eating calcium rich foods. Women at are a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it is vital to consume calcium to support bone health. Calcium rich foods that are not animal based (i.e. milk, yogurt, and cheese) include beans, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens. Integrating all of these foods into your daily intake will give you the calcium you need. For me, I enjoy whole milk Icelandic yogurt or Greek yogurt each morning as a part of my breakfast. I also eat cottage cheese with most lunches and almond milk later in the evening. Beans, whole grains at all meals, and roasted Brussel sprouts are other favorites of mine!
- CAREFUL WITH PROTEIN. We all know that eating protein is part of a healthy diet, but eating too much protein can be dangerous especially for women. When a person eats too much protein in their diet, this will cause calcium loss, which leads to a decrease in bone density and osteoporosis. Yikes! Something that surprises most people…it can lead to weight gain because extra protein in the female body turns to fat. Solution: eat protein in small amounts throughout the day allowing protein to do its job in the muscle! Whether you enjoy animal protein or not, both are great sources of high quality protein. For me, I enjoy soy based products, lentils, and white fish. Food from the sea is always jam packed with protein and other nutrients that will strengthen the female body!
- IRON. I think women believe they get enough iron because they eat lean protein…but what most people do not realize is that iron is found in red meat, dark poultry, lentils, spinach, almonds, and iron-fortified cereals. Don’t neglect red meal and dark poultry even though it’s not deemed “lean.” It comes back to balance though…ensure each of your meals contains one source of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fresh products, you will optimize your nutrition…and get all the iron you need. A couple fun facts about Iron…It is used in the female body to carry oxygen in the blood, and travels throughout the female body giving you energy and helping with concentration. It also keeps your immune system strong fighting infections left and right! For women especially, Iron is vital for certain stages of life including growth spurts as an adolescent, pregnancy, and those heavily exercising.
- CUT BACK ALCOHOL & CAFFEINE. Certainly you don’t have to give up alcohol or caffeine, but know the facts. In the early morning rush to get a cup of coffee to ‘start the day’, keep in mind that caffeine increases stress hormone levels (aka cortisol!) and in turn, increases calcium loss from the bone. After a long day at work, drinking 2+ drinks leaves you at a higher risk of osteoporosis (can’t bank those drinks for the weekend either!) because the calcium you have worked so hard to build up leaches from your bones. Try to limit both to 1 cup or glass per day which I know at first is tough but over time you will start to enjoy creating your own energy versus getting it from beverages! I know for me, I used to think that caffeine was essential – but it’s really not at all. We don’t NEED it to function at work or home or through a workout – use your natural energy and strength from within to do all of those things!
The female body is so powerful and has so much potential – find it by making a couple easy tweaks to your daily intake!