A woman’s schedule is always full — she has to work, manage households, maintain relationships, and also take care of her health. Women go through unique biological changes at various stages of their lives such as pregnancy, menstruation and menopause. Nutrition, therefore, is essential to maintain health and well-being during these stages.

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Diet-related health concerns

Heart diseases and stroke (both hemorrhagic, or bleeding in the brain, and ischemic, or the blockage of a blood vessel that causes impaired blood flow) are two major health concerns for women. They are most likely to die of heart disease. The symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, and arm weakness. Additionally, every year 55,000 more incidence of stroke is observed in women than men.

The third-common health concern is diabetes; it increases the risk of heart diseases in women. Diabetes-related complications such as blindness, kidney disease, and depression, are also more prevalent in women. They experience gestational diabetes or elevated blood glucose levels during pregnancy. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 1 in 6 pregnancies is affected by diabetes.

The number one cancer among Indian women, according to various national cancer registries, is breast cancer, with an age-adjusted mortality rate of 12.7 per 100,000 women and an age adjusted incidence rate of 25.8 per 100,000 women. It is important to self-examine breasts regularly to identify any changes that need to be shared with your provider. Then, you should have a yearly mammogram starting at age 40.

The last, but not the least health concern for women is osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to weaken, making them susceptible to fractures. Postmenopausal women are at higher risk for fractures associated with osteoporosis.

Five healthy foods to add to your daily diet

There are many nutritious foods available, but only those should be included in a woman’s daily diet that are abundant, easily-available and affordable.

1. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables: Crunchy cruciferous vegetables are great additions to salads, curries, soups, and sautés. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc., are nutritionally dense, and possess anti-cancer properties. In lab-based studies, sulforaphane, a chemical derived from broccoli and other vegetables from this family, demonstrated self-destruction of leukemia and melanoma cells. Additionally, one cup of broccoli provides 135 per cent of your daily vitamin C needs. You must not overcook broccoli to avoid losing its vitamin C content.

2. Root vegetables: Phytonutrient-rich root vegetables such as beet, carrot, radish, sweet potato should be included in your diet. The carotenoid content of these veggies helps boost the immune system, skin health, and eye health since it is a natural antioxidant pigment. Root vegetables provide other essential nutrients such as potassium, folate, vitamin B, vitamin C, fiber, and are vital for overall good health. A 2004 review found people with diabetes who consumed 4 grams of white sweet potato extract every day for 12 weeks were linked to better control of blood sugar level.

3. Turmeric: Indians — and people living in Asia — use turmeric in abundance. It is known for its curcumin content, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound. Chronic inflammation is a difficult condition to deal with. Studies have found that a low level of inflammation is associated with a lower risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. Curcumin helps to reduce the risk of inflammation, oxidative stress, and chronic illnesses. To enhance the availability of curcumin, combine it with black pepper.

4. Greek yoghurt and other dairy: Include Greek yogurt and other dairy products that provide calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium — essential for maintaining strong bones. Healthy live bacterial cultures, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and more can be found in green yogurt. The amount of protein in yogurt is impressive — 12 grams per 200 grams. Yogurt is packed with protein, probiotics, and other essential nutrients that can boost immunity, keep digestion running smoothly, and prevent osteoporosis. If Greek yogurt is not available in your local store, you can use curd or kefir as a substitute.

5. Soybean and soy foods: Soybean and foods derived from soybean are a must, as they are rich in phytoestrogen, a plant compound that mimics the function of female hormone estrogen. Soybean is rich in essential amino acids, polyphenols, antioxidants, calcium, and iron. Several health problems can be prevented by soy foods including heart disease, stroke, coronary heart disease (CHD), some cancers, and improved bone health. Women who eat soy-rich diets may benefit from improved fertility, according to some research. A 2015 study of 315 women found that those with a high intake of soy isoflavones were 1.3–1.8 times more likely to conceive in the following fertility treatment cycle than those with low soy isoflavone intakes.

Also, women who are lactose intolerant can easily rely on soy-based foods to obtain optimum calcium.

A nutritious, whole-day eating menu for women

* Breakfast – Greek yogurt + fruits + one teaspoon mixed seeds
* Lunch – Brown rice + vegan/vegetarian/nonveg proteins (legumes, beans, tofu, paneer, fish, seafood, lean meat) + broccoli and green beans curry + buttermilk
* Snacks – Roasted chana and peanut mix + green tea
* Dinner – Multigrain chapati + thick dal + protein

Remember that a healthy balanced diet will yield the best health benefits, not just one food or food group. As women go through physiological changes, they should be extra careful about how they nourish their bodies.

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