What Should I Eat? The Best Foods for Women at All Stages of Life

Key Takeaways:

  • Women have special dietary needs at different phases in life.
  • What you eat during early life isn’t as beneficial later in life.
  • Developing practical eating habits helps to make healthier choices.

Women are amazing creatures. Human 2.0 – able to do anything the male species can, but also reproduce and nourish offspring. Such unique organisms have a few equally unique requirements to maintain optimal health. A nourishing diet is one of the most essential. 

The problem is that we are bombarded daily with fad diets, exaggerated health claims, clout-hungry influencers, and self-doubt, making it nearly impossible to make the food choices that serve us best. 

We also have the distinction of requiring different nutrients at various junctures in life. What we eat in our 20s isn’t always what we need to eat in our 40s. Menstruation, pregnancy, mid-life, and even exercise all impact which nutrients are the most essential in a woman’s body. 

Eating the right foods at the right phase of life greatly impacts how you feel. Our eating habits also play a pivotal role in women’s health. Let’s look at how women’s nutritional needs differ from men’s, how we should eat throughout life, and some good habits to pick up along the way.

Nutritional Needs: Women vs. Men

The nutritional needs of boys and girls are primarily the same. Women develop varied dietary requirements with the onset of puberty. These needs continue evolving as we undergo womanhood’s hormonal and physical changes. Our diet must also evolve to meet those changes. 

Women typically require fewer calories than men, but our need for specific vitamins and minerals is much higher. Hormonal changes accompanying menstruation, childbirth, and menopause give women a higher risk of osteoporosis, anemia, and weakened bones, making higher intake of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and folate necessary.

Female Dietary Needs Throughout Life 

Eating healthy, nutritious food is essential to all humans, but what is most beneficial for a woman varies depending on her life phase. 

Nutritional Needs During Menstruation

A lot happens to a woman’s body during menstruation. A bad diet can leave you feeling weak, nauseous, and depressed, while specific foods can help diminish symptoms. Those most helpful foods are rich in iron, vitamin B-6, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids, such as:

  • Fish
  • Dairy (if not dairy allergic or intolerant)
  • Red meat
  • Leafy greens
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Cruciferous veggies

Vitamin C and magnesium are also crucial nutrients during menstruation. They help calm frazzled nerves and ease cramps. The leafy greens you eat have them in abundance. 

Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy

Growing another human being is a strenuous task. The process takes a lot out of a woman’s body. What you eat during this time significantly impacts you and your baby’s health, how you feel during the pregnancy, and how fast you bounce back afterward.  

Some of the best foods to eat during this time include:

  • Whole grains
  • Leafy greens
  • Lean protein
  • Dairy (if not dairy allergic or intolerant)
  • Berries

These types of foods include folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids that help replace the lost nutrients and assist in creating a healthy baby.

Nutritional Needs During Mid-Life and Menopause

Babies and menstruation are now a thing of the past, and our minds and bodies can move on to other accomplishments in midlife. Hormonal and physical changes during menopause can make that difficult, but certain foods can lessen the effects. They include:

  • Dairy (if not dairy allergic or intolerant)
  • Leafy greens
  • Fruits
  • Fish
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Cruciferous veggies

Eating foods rich in phytoestrogens, calcium, and iron can keep you feeling great through the hormonal changes of midlife. 

Nutritional Needs During Exercise

Exercising is part of a healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t just keep you physically fit, it also helps keep your mind sharp and depression at bay. Heavy physical activity and sweating use vital nutrients, but certain foods help replenish supplies, such as:

  • Lean proteins
  • Leafy greens
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Cruciferous veggies

Humans require proteins, electrolytes, and plenty of water to sustain continued physical activity regularly. Keeping water on hand during a workout and eating lightly afterward is a good idea.

Catering to your body’s needs during pivotal life phases can help you feel your best at every age. It starts by developing healthy eating habits.

Healthy Eating Habits for Women

Eating healthy at any phase of life helps you live longer and feel better, but it isn’t always easy. We tend to forgo our own health for that of those we love. Developing eating habits that promote good health makes it easier to take care of ourselves at any age. A few of the most beneficial include:

Eat as Many Whole Foods as Possible

Filling all your meals with whole, unprocessed foods is the most reliable way to get all the nutrients required for good health.

Mix Fiber into Every Meal

Fiber promotes excellent bowel health, lowers the risk of colorectal cancer, and improves blood sugar as well as cholesterol.

Pay Attention to Your Body and Satiation Cues

One of the most crucial eating habits a woman can develop is listening to her body. Recognize the signs of hunger and satiation and learn to eat when your body tells you to. 

Developing habits around your eating routine makes it easier to choose healthy options. It becomes an automatic choice you don’t think about – you just do it. 

All humans must eat nutritious foods to benefit from good health, but women’s dietary needs are unique to their life stages and activities. Catering to those situations makes a world of difference in how you feel and how long you live.

Find Out More About Which Foods Are Most Beneficial for You

The foods you’ve eaten all your life might not be the best for you today. Dr. Karen Threlkel, ND, is a naturopathic doctor serving women (and women’s health concerns) primarily in the greater D.C. area. She provides a holistic approach to medicine (mind-body-spirit) and natural-focused remedies for treating symptoms and underlying conditions. Contact our offices today to see everything we can do for you.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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