Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

10 Real Foods Women Should Eat More Often for Good Health

November 21st, 2013 · 25 Comments · Food for Thought, Natural Health, Science of Nutrition

This post is revised from two articles I wrote in 2010 for the now-dormant Simple Homemade, just in case it sounds a little familiar.

10 Foods Women Should Eat More Often

“Less cellulite at 30 than 20?” My friend was ready to eat the next words out of my mouth when I told her I blamed one dietary change for my incredible loss of cellulite.

Quite often others counter my claim with a strange question: “How do you know?”

I’m sure their intentions are simply curious, but it’s a little uncomfortable to answer the obvious: “Um…I can see it.” My husband, as the only other person qualified to analyze the situation, concurs (with great joy, I assure you).

Men, I’ve noticed, do not worry about their cellulite. They also do not discuss monthly flow, experience PMS, or bear children. Although women often go to great lengths to prove that they are equal to men, we are far from “the same.”

Women’s Health Issues

When it comes to women’s health, there are many ways women have different challenges and different opportunities than men:

  • Women can bear children; men can’t. This alone opens the door to a huge list of health care topics, such as menstruation, PMS, fertility/ovulation, healthy pregnancies, and menopause.
  • Breastfeeding and postpartum care
  • Higher risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis
  • Different signs and symptoms of heart disease
  • Cellulite
  • Estrogen balance (Men have testosterone to balance, and we ought not be sharing our estrogen with them, one of the many reasons natural family planning is the green way to go.)

Considering I’m barely scratching the surface of women’s health issues, it seems clear that women ought to have some different dietary focuses than men.

Photo by veganfeast

Five Foods Women of Childbearing Age Should Eat More Often

The whole womb thing really sets us apart from men. Ladies, if you’re having menstrual cycles, trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, or nearing or experiencing menopause, make sure you’re paying attention to your intake of the following:

1. Eggs

Farmers Market eggs

Whole eggs, especially the yolks, provide choline for healthy eyes and brain development (for you and any unborn babies in your life), vitamin D for general health, and all the essential nutrients a human being needs. If you have a meal of one item, it may as well be eggs, which are nearly the perfect food for humans. Pay no mind to disillusioned health professionals who tell you the cholesterol in eggs will clog up your arteries. Whole eggs are back in style.

They won’t raise blood sugar because they’re a well-balanced protein and fat, and they even improve the look of your hair and nails. Eggs provide iron, which is hindered by calcium, so skip the milk with your omelet. Did you know Chinese women eat ten per DAY when pregnant? I shot for two eggs a day when I was trying to grow smart babies.

Other Resources:

*Food safety note: eggs should be consumed raw, very undercooked, for superb health benefits. However, I would only advise eating raw eggs from a trusted source with free range, well-cared-for chickens.

2. Spinach/Greens

Salmon Spinach Pesto Crustless Quiche (14) (475x356)

Spinach may just be, as Popeye would have us believe, the ultimate superfood. It battles nearly every disease you can think of, but it’s especially important for pregnant women because of the high level of folate, along with iron, and even protein, all vital for fetal development and mother’s health. The lutein in spinach, especially when paired with eggs, is a powerful weapon against eye degeneration. (That photo above is salmon spinach crustless quiche, coming in The Healthy Breakfast Book this December, and it has 3 of the foods listed here in it!)

Why folate? This B-vitamin is vital for a pre-conception/pregnancy diet; helps prevent birth defects, specifically spina bifida; builds baby’s brain; and helps avoid premature birth, high blood pressure, low birth weight and miscarriage.1 For those not looking to conceive, folate can help prevent strokes, heart disease, depression, and cancer.2

hiding behind spinach (475x317)

Other Resources:

3. Salmon

Fish can be a tough menu item for most homes: it’s notoriously easy to cook incorrectly, is often high on the “I don’t like it” list, can be expensive, and is rife with controversy about whether it’s safe to eat or not. Wild salmon is also the very best way to get your omega 3s and DHA, which support hormones, fight depression and help mood issues.

Fish also battles menstrual pain, osteoporosis, breast cancer and negative effects of menopause. Salmon improves babies’ IQs when eaten by pregnant or breastfeeding moms. If ever there was a food for women contest, I’d give a blue ribbon to wild salmon.

 

Minneapolis sustainable restaurant - salmon (3)

That said, it is important to know how to find safe salmon. Luckily, the inexpensive stuff in the cans is almost always “wild Alaskan” and can be easily made into no-fail salmon patties. (Eat the bones, too, for an incredible calcium boost!) Now if I could just get my husband not to run screaming from the room when I open the can…

Don’t be afraid of eating fish – they have more benefits than deficits. An article from Harvard states: “Women should recognize that avoiding seafood altogether is likely to harm their babies’ brain development.”

Other Resources:

4. Full fat dairy/butter

IMG_7633 (475x356)
Do you buy skim milk? Always grab the low-fat/fat-free versions of your favorite dairy products? If you’re hoping to conceive anytime soon, you may be making it an uphill battle for your womb. Research shows that women who eat low-fat dairy twice a day have an 85% greater risk of anovulatory infertility than those who go for the real thing.5, 6

When I recommend one change to someone seeking pregnancy, it is always to get rid of all the butter substitutes, margarine, and shortening in the house, pronto, and switch to real butter. You’re not only cutting out toxic trans fats and industrial oils, but you’re adding brain-boosting saturated fats. Grassfed butter in particular, although pricey, has incredibly higher levels of Vitamins D, A, E and K2.7

milk jar (2)No matter what your gender, fat-soluble vitamins like A and D must be eaten with fat to be metabolized in the body. Your salad with fat-free dressing? Practically useless. You need to dip those carrots in a fat-full dressing in order to get the Vitamin A into your cells where it belongs.

If you’re worried that going from low-fat to “Hi there, fat!” will make you fat, you’re not alone. For our family, I can truthfully say that in nearly two years of trying to incorporate more fat into our diets, including going from skim milk to farm fresh, grassfed milk with at least three inches of pure cream on the top of every gallon, neither my husband or I have gained a pound, and his cholesterol even dropped the first year. You might also like to read Kelly’s “Does Fat Make You Fat?”.

Other Resources:

5. Liver


cows grazing smaller

Organ meats.

If that sounds a little “primal” or “hunter-type” to you who would rather be a gatherer and eat some berries and nuts, check this out – liver has one of the highest level of B vitamins8, 9, 10 and iron11, 12 of any food. B Vitamins give energy (what woman, especially a mom, doesn’t need more of that?), and iron is super important for women because of the quarter cup of menstrual blood we lose every month (I know, it seems like more sometimes).

“Women of childbearing age have an RDA of 15 mg per day for iron, which  doubles with pregnancy.”13 Iron also keeps energy up and helps avoid anemia. Iron deficiency anemia affects about 20% of all women and fully half of mothers-to-be, yet only 3% of men.14“Having too little iron can result in fatigue, hair loss and brittle nails (Oh, vanity!), irritability, weakness, lack of being able to think clearly, etc.” (Sarah of Heartland Renaissance)

The famous liver and onions might not go over well at your kitchen table (it didn’t the one time I tried it), but putting a bit of liver in with hamburgers, meatloaf, casseroles, spaghetti and soups is a great way to incorporate a cheap superfood with power-packed nutrients. (Here’s my post on how to eat liver in other recipes.) Just be sure to only eat liver from organic sources, preferably local and grassfed, as factory farmed beef or chicken livers would be a net for toxins.

No?

Okay.

If you really can’t handle the liver, red meat like beef provides a great deal of iron and B Vitamins, too. If you can find grassfed beef, meaning the cattle eat only real grass or harvested hay and alfalfa, you get the most nutrients and a good source of CLA, a healthy fat that’s hard to find elsewhere, and even a high level of omega 3s. Don’t be afraid of red meat, ladies.

Other Resources:

Now there’s no reason that the first five foods aren’t healthy for men or children, but they do seem particularly suited to the needs of women.

Five More Foods That Everyone Should Eat to Boost Immunity

Moms don’t get sick days.

Women in general have to be pretty tough, and no one likes being under the weather. The next set of five foods is not only great for women but are particularly helpful to boost immunity for any age and gender.

There are even two foods that fight the flu and cellulite, believe it or not!

6. Cruciferous vegetables

Photo by La Grande Farmer’s Market

Why everyone should eat more: Vegetables always bring nutrients along, and the deeper the color, the better they are. Everyone needs to bulk up on antioxidants to fight the toxins in our air, our food, and our water, and broccoli and kale especially fill this need. Antioxidants support the immune system and fight cancer.

Why women should eat more: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage) have a special compound called indole-3-carbinol, which reduces estrogen in the body, i.e. fights build-up of synthetic estrogen that all women take in from our environment. I tackled that subject at Green…Your Way with “Does Your Water Have Estrogen in It?

Other Resources:

7. Chicken stock

chicken stock gelatin (2) (500x375)

Why everyone should eat more: Properly prepared chicken stock has gelatin to boost your immune system, aid digestion, increase protein efficiency (i.e., you can eat less meat and have the same benefits), and pump up bone density. You won’t believe how many diseases chicken stock can help!

Why women should eat more: Glucosamine in the stock rebuilds connective tissue damage that helps cause cellulite (see more at Cellulite Investigation). The collagen from the bones may also help the cellulite deal, but this is not even the food I assumed was responsible for my loss!

Other Resources:

8. Cod liver oil

Aw, man. I know, cod liver oil (or “CLO” for those in the know) sounds really yucky. Our family just started taking it this fall, and I cannot tell a lie: it is really yucky. We’ve learned to toughen up and take it because it’s good for us. Did you know CLO also comes in capsule form? Lovely.

Why everyone should eat more: Among the nutrients we really need for immune system and general health, Vitamin D is at the top of the list. Cod liver oil has twice as much Vitamin D as the next closest food in the running (pastured lard), four times that in sockeye salmon, and over 50 times as much as pastured eggs. The Vitamin D in CLO is more bioavailable than the synthetic stuff in your breakfast cereal or store whole milk. It also helps us balance our omega 3s with our omega 6s, which is key for many health issues. (You can also lower your intake of omega 6s by cutting out polyunsaturated vegetable oils.)

Why women should eat more: Omega 3 fatty acids and DHA, a healthy fat found almost exclusively in fish and breastmilk, both serve to help women build healthy babies, balance hormones, and fight depression and mood issues. Vitamin D also helps proper absorption of calcium, for which women over 40 have a particular need. If it’s really too gross for you, TriLight Health, one of our November sponsors, had many herbal immune boosters and a whole Pregnancy category. Winking smile

Other Resources:

9. Yogurt

This one is pretty easy to swallow, and just about everyone will agree that more yogurt is healthy for you.

yogurt with gluten free buckwheaties (3) (500x375)

Why everyone should eat more: Our guts house 80% of our immune system. I kid you not. If you want to have a balanced intestinal flora, you need to make sure you invite “good bacteria,” aka probiotics, to be among your 100 trillion microscopic houseguests. Make sure your yogurt has “live and active cultures” listed on the container, or make homemade yogurt to save money and increase your nutrition even more.

Why women should eat more: Probiotics help protect from yeast infections and osteoporosis, and they also ease symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, recently pegged as an attacker of more women than men. Yogurt also helps you feel full longer, a nice bonus.

Other Resources:

 

10. Coconut oil

Coconut (13) (475x356)

Why everyone should eat more: As a saturated fat, poor coconut oil has gotten a bad reputation in our time. However, coconut oil is still a plant oil, and its medium-chain fatty acids are unmatched in their ability to give quick energy. Lauric acid, a crucial component of breastmilk, is found in nature almost exclusively in coconut oil, to the point that formulas have to include coconut oil just to get it right. This fat is metabolized quickly and would be hard-pressed to stay on your figure as stored fat/extra pounds.

Coconut oil is naturally antiviral and antibacterial, so who wouldn’t want to have it regularly in their system while the viruses and bacteria from your neighbor’s sneeze are trying to take root?

Why women should eat more: The lauric acid is great for mother’s milk supply, and coconut oil also promotes strong bones for women as we age. Personally, I think the easily digested saturated fats may have been my cellulite’s undoing. Including coconut oil in our regular diet was one of many changes I’ve made in our family’s nutrition over the past two years, so my claim is certainly not backed by empirical data…but the coconut oil surely isn’t hurting!

Other Resources:

I hope you’re inspired to include these healthy foods for women in your diet as much as possible, like I was when I served salmon patties fried in coconut oil and a spinach and broccoli salad last night, along with egg drop soup for my fish-hating husband. I can’t tell you where I hid the liver in the meal; he might be reading! Winking smile

How do you incorporate these awesome foods into your regular diet?

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • Cinnamon Vogue

    If you could specify your research sources and provide a link that would help us a lot. Also how much is more? Should we eat Salmon everyday?

    Not a great dairy products fan primarily because of our tainted dairy production system. All my data show countries with high dairy consumption has high cancer rates and worse osteoporosis. Maybe I am biased because even though I love dairy products it upsets my stomach.

    The new health trend seems to be moderation and never eating the same thing more than once a week or month. A pattern interrupt if you will. So if you had steak this week then avoid it the next week. The idea is not to set food patterns/habits and restrict your self to eating the same things over and over again that can be a danger in itself.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    CV,
    I think most of my sources are linked in the bullets at the end of each section (but I admit, I did do the research 3 years ago when I first wrote the post – hours and hours of it – and didn’t do additional stuff this week).

    Have you ever tried raw, grassfed dairy? It makes a big difference for some folks.

    I really like your moderation/pattern interrupt philosophy. Although I couldn’t do it with larger food groups – like having red meat this week and not the next, although I could do red meat one day and not the next. Interesting!

    As for “how much is more” – it depends. Salmon, once or twice a week. Liver, once a week supposedly, but any increase for most people would be good. Eggs, greens, coconut oil = daily. All within reason of course.

    Thanks for pushing my thinking! :) Katie

  • Cam

    Do other organ meats like heart carry the same benefits as liver? Is liver a particularly good-for-you bit of offal? And do you have any references on this?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cam,
    The liver is extremely high in B vitamins, but the heart has other good benefits. I think my references are all in the bullets below the section.

    Here are two awesome and well-researched guest posts that I should have linked to from this one:
    http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/01/26/foods-for-fertility-guest-post/
    http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/01/27/super-foods-for-pregnancy-guest-post/

    I think that has more on liver particularly for women in there. Hope that helps! :) Katie

  • Stacy Makes Cents

    I was with you until liver. :-) I’m aiming for 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day. How much do you eat?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Stacy,
    I don’t really keep track honestly – I just use it in what I bake a lot, fry in it, and add it to my oatmeal…kind of the same with liver, but not in oatmeal (in chili and tacos and stuff).

    Stacy Makes Cents Reply:

    On the next Kitchen Stewardship: Liver Coconut Oil Oatmeal.

    Sarah Reply:

    With a drizzle of cod liver oil! Yum!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Ack.
    ROTFLMAO

  • Dede

    Thanks for the post! This is one of my favorites. Mostly because I score high. I’m fairly new to the real food world, but I’ve heard the same things you heard and am right on track with you. Thanks for summarizing so well and encouraging me. I do need to work on the liver bit though… and am considering cutting out dairy along with glutten. Other than that, I’ve had the same experience… losing weight and getting healthier and my baby boy, who eats all these foods too, is a CHUBS!!!

  • 'Becca

    Nice post! I am 17 weeks pregnant and have been eating all of these things except liver and cod liver oil. Although I had two months of all-day nausea and still struggle in the mornings, and I’ve been somewhat tired, I do feel better than I did in my first pregnancy 9 years ago when I ate a more standard diet and was mostly-vegetarian by way of just not eating meat, rather than making a point of eating non-meat proteins every day.

    Three protein foods that I find really helpful, in pregnancy and in general, are beans (especially lentils), almonds, and nutritional yeast flakes. Beans are great for immunity, as you’ve written before. I just recently read that almonds have some anti-nausea properties. Nutritional yeast is high in B vitamins, which can help with nausea and also with headaches.

    I’m really appreciating the fact that, since my first pregnancy, organic eggs, butter, whole-milk yogurt, and milk all have become affordable and available enough that I can buy them routinely. This makes it possible for me to eat plenty of these foods, rather than feel like I ought to avoid them because of toxins.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Oh my goodness, ‘Becca, congratulations!!! I’m thrilled for you!! (and glad your nausea is over, blech, that’s rough!) :) Katie

    'Becca Reply:

    Thanks! It’s exciting, especially now that the worst part is over.

    I forgot to mention another benefit of improved diet: I am not anemic in this pregnancy! That’s probably the reason I’m not struggling with frequent dizziness like I did the first time.

  • Beth G

    This is great! You should do a post next on top 10 healthy foods for men. *wink* Seriously. :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Beth,
    Oooo…that would take some research. Do men read about healthy foods? Just kidding…my husband is actually getting more into nutrition as he ages, so maybe that would be a fascinating endeavor!! :) Katie

  • Sondha

    I’m really curious about your recommendations for cruciferous vegetables with respect to estrogen. I have a multitude of ovarian problems that are caused by an excess of estrogen buildup in the body and a number of nutritionists (eastern and western) have recommended I stay away from cruciferous vegetables due to phytoestrogen buildups. Could you shed some more light on the matter?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sondha,
    That one is easy – definitely listen to your practitioners! I have read about phytoestrogens in soy, but that one is new to me (which probably just means I’m out of the loop). Thanks for sharing! :) Katie

  • 'Becca

    One caution about spinach: It is high in oxalic acid, which inhibits mineral absorption. Kale can be used in many of the same recipes and is low in oxalic acid, although it has a different overall nutritional profile–still wildly nutritious, though, and cheap year-round. I eat organic local spinach when it’s in season (spring and fall) and kale the rest of the time.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    ‘Becca,
    You’re right, and I cover oxalates in my spinach-specific posts. It’s good that they are reduced when the spinach is cooked, at least. Thanks! :) Katie

  • LR

    Wow! Great post!!! So much great advice!

    Ps. Please research the difference between folic acid and folate. Folate is naturally in foods, and folic acid is an artificial supplement. Women should avoid synthetic folic acid and eat folate and use supplements of folate. Thank you :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    LR,
    Good call – I did read something about that in the last year, but I forgot to update the terminology when I updated this older post. Am I correct in thinking that I just need to remove the words “folic acid” from the post and just share that spinach has lots of “folate?” That’s what I did, because I think you’re right. So much to keep track of in nutrition! :) Katie

  • kaylin

    aren’t you concerned with the extremely high amounts of vit. A in liver when it comes to pregnancy and breastfeeding???

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Kaylin,
    Always a good questions, but ultimately I think (and I’m pretty sure research backs me up) that Vitamin A from whole foods, not supplements, isn’t going to have an “overdose” problem. Plus, it’s not like we’re eating a pound in a sitting. Thanks for stopping by! :) Katie

  • J in VA

    Sadly, I’m not sure that fish are going to continue to be safe to eat and may not be safe now. The radiation leak in the Pacific from Japan and the residual affects in the Gulf from the oil spill have made us remove most fish from our diet.

    Farmed fish are even less safe so………………..

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/harriet-sugarmiller/radiation-pacific-fish_b_1553537.html

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    yes, it’s definitely getting more complicated to eat…that article certainly seemed to think even Pacific salmon would be safe in 4 years but was concerned about tuna. I bought lots of canned salmon and tuna maybe 6-12 months ago, hoping I stocked up for a while before any potential problem! Thanks, Katie

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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