Women’s Health Needs
From the Giant Eagle Health Library:
Women and men have different health and nutrition needs. However, the benefits of nutritious eating, regular physical activity and scheduled medical screenings benefit both genders.
Adopting healthy habits can help you prevent heart disease and stroke, the top two health risks for women according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And though there is no certain way to prevent cancer like breast cancer , a healthy diet combined with regular screenings makes smart sense to reduce your risk. Place improving your overall health at the top of your priority list this year with these eight guidelines.
Eight guidelines for better health
1. Lower your sodium intake: The CDC recommends a daily sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams or less. It’s easy to exceed that number, though, since so many of the foods we eat have been processed with extra sodium. Because a high-sodium diet has a direct link to heart disease and stroke, it’s important to be vigilant about your numbers.
Best bets: Choose a diet with an abundance of natural foods. Fresh produce, low-fat natural dairy products and lean meats present better options for your heart and blood pressure. And by cooking with salt substitutes, you’ll add flavor without raising your risk of high blood pressure .
2. Choose lower-fat living: A lower-fat diet is healthier for your heart and arteries — and several studies show that lower-fat diets may help prevent cancers common in women, like breast and colon cancer. Eating a healthy diet also reduces your risk of obesity, which can have negative effects on your overall health.
Best bets: Read labels when you visit Giant Eagle®, and look for lower-fat and fat-free versions of popular items from our family of brands, including salad dressing, peanut butter, cheese, and milk. When preparing meals, use low-fat cooking sprays, or choose recipes made with heart-healthy olive oil instead of butter or margarine. Select leaner cuts of beef , chicken and pork, and trim fat and skin from fattier cuts of meat before preparing and serving.
3. Eye your iron intake: Women of childbearing age need significantly more iron than men. Why? Each month, a woman loses iron through menstrual blood — or if she is pregnant, the developing fetus uses up available sources of iron in the body. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), iron deficiency can lead to anemia — and can compromise your immune system, which raises your risk of infection.
Best bets: Add more iron-rich foods to your diet. Lean beef, chicken, fortified cereals, soybeans, spinach, and lentils provide good sources of dietary iron. Concerned you’re not getting enough iron from food? Schedule an anemia test with your physician — and discuss adding an iron supplement to your diet.
4. Fill up on fiber: Fiber, found in grains, fruits and vegetables, helps promote digestion, encourages satiety during meals and may help protect you from colon cancer, according to the NIH. If you have diabetes, fiber can help regulate your blood sugar — and if you don’t, a high-fiber diet can help prevent diabetes. Soluble fiber, found in lentils, barley, apples, carrots, and oatmeal, can also promote healthy blood cholesterol levels.
Best bets: Incorporate more sources of fiber into your diet. A healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, lentils, and whole-grain cereals provides variety and vital nutrients.
5. Boost bone health: Until their early 20s, women build bone. However, older women, particularly women going through menopause, are at risk of losing bone mass, which can lead to bone weakness and fractures. This condition is called osteoporosis. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, a high-calcium diet supplemented with Vitamin D and combined with regular weight-bearing exercise provides protection for your bones.
Best bets: Check your calcium requirements and seek calcium-rich foods to savor. Lower-fat cheeses, milk (including calcium-fortified soy, rice and almond milk), yogurt, fortified cereals and juices, and certain green vegetables all add calcium. If you’re approaching menopause, schedule an appointment with your physician to discuss a bone-density screening. No matter what your age, you may wish to discuss calcium supplements with your doctor, too.
6. Aim for exercise: Exercise provides plenty of benefits to your overall health. It helps keep your weight in check, reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, helps protect your bone mass, and provides a mood boost.
Best bets: If you haven’t yet, schedule time for regular exercise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes a day, five times a week at minimum. To protect your bones, make some of your workouts weight-bearing exercise — walking, jogging, sports like tennis and basketball, and working out on a treadmill all count. Always contact your physician before beginning an exercise program.
7. Schedule regular screenings: Regular physician visits can detect illness early. No matter how old you are, a regular physical, including a PAP smear, can help you and your doctor note changes in your health. Examining your breasts and skin once a month for spots, discoloration, lumps, or changes can detect some cancers early on. (Editor’s note: Check with your physician to determine how often you should schedule a physical and other exams.)
Best bets: If you are over 18, aim to visit your physician at least once every two years for a full physical, blood tests and manual breast exam — depending upon test results, you may need to go more or less often. Women ages 40 and older should visit a physician yearly, but may need PAP smears less often (always ask your physician). If you are planning to have a child in the next year, set aside time to discuss prenatal vitamins and nutrition with your physician during your visit.
This health screenings chart from the National Women’s Health Information Center outlines what types of tests and exams you should seek, when and how often. During your visit, you must also be sure to disclose any special health concerns such as migraine headaches, medications taken (including birth control pills), changes in your menstrual cycle or bowel habits, or unusual lumps or spots.
8. Stamp out bad habits: Smoking, drinking more than one serving of alcohol each day, grazing on high-fat foods, neglecting exercise, or being under constant stress can all have negative effects on your health — and can increase your risk of illness.
Best bets: Replace bad habits with better ones. For example, if you smoke — or are under constant stress — kick the bad habit and take up yoga for its calming effects. If doughnuts make you weak in the knees, swap them for fresh, seasonal produce. If you loathe exercise, seek out an exercise buddy who can encourage you to reach your goals.
Remember: A lifetime commitment to best practices and better habits improves your health, and may significantly reduce your risk of illness. Always discuss changes to your diet, exercise program or lifestyle with your physician and a registered dietitian. To schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian at Giant Eagle®, email Nutrition@gianteagle.com .