6 Super foods for women

Super Food # 3: Beans

Goal: 3 to 4 servings every week

What it does: Low in fat, beans are a good source of protein and fiber and may have protective effects against heart disease and breast cancer. Beans may also play a role in stabilizing female hormones, says nutritionist Susan Krause, MS, RD.

“Beans have been around so long that most people don’t view them as a fancy new health food,” Krause says. “But in fact, they are among one of the healthiest things a woman can eat.”

In studies published in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers found that beans in general, and lentils in particular, may have some protective effects against breast cancer. In research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, doctors found a relationship between a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and a higher intake of legumes. Well known legumes include peas, beans, lentils, and peanuts.

As a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, Krause says, beans can help lower cholesterol, while their level of a nutrient known as isoflavone can help in the regulation of hormones and may aid with PMS, perimenopause, or menopause symptoms. Although soybeans have among the highest levels of isoflavones, other sources include red clover, kudzu, mung beans, alfalfa sprouts, black cohosh, and chickpeas.

“Beans also contain something called protease inhibitors, which may help protect against breast cancer,” says Krause. Protease inhibitors help slow the division of cancer cells and in this way may prevent tumor formation.

Last but not least, if you are in your reproductive years, beans can give you a steady supply of folic acid -- essential if you should become pregnant.

6 Super foods for women

Super Food # 2: Fatty fish -- like salmon, sardines, and mackerel

Goal: 2 to 3 servings every week

What it does: The healthy factor in fish is omega-3 fatty acids, and specifically two types known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

“Fatty fish not only plays a vital role in the health of the membrane of every cell in our body, it also helps protect us from a number of key health threats,” says Laurie Tansman, MS, RD, CDN, a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Some of those threats include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, joint pain, and a number of illnesses linked to inflammation, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Somer says fish may even offer some protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

While many foods -- such as walnuts, flaxseed oil, and some mayonnaise brands -- claim the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, Somer cautions that only the DHA or EPA forms of omega-3 can be directly used by the body.

“What you get in foods like walnuts and flaxseed oil is an omega-3 acid known as ALA -- alpha-linoleic acid,” says Somer. “And while it’s certainly good for you, it requires a process in the body to convert it to DHA. And that conversion process can be influenced by a variety of individual factors.”

6 Super foods for women

Super Food # 6: Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries)

Goal: 3 to 4 servings every week

What It Does: In a way similar to wine, these fruits may protect your body with powerful anti-cancer nutrients known as anthocyans, which are believed to play a role in cell repair. Krause says research shows anthocyans may decrease the risk of several cancers, including those in the breast and gastrointestinal tract.

“These berries,” says Krause, “are also high in vitamin C and folic acid, which is essential for all women in their childbearing years. And they offer powerful anti-oxidant protection, which not only protects the heart but also may protect against skin aging, from the inside out.” Moreover, she tells WebMD that cranberries may help reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women, while the nutrient, lutein found in all the berries, can help protect vision.

6 Super foods for women

Super Food # 1: Low-fat yogurt

Goal: 3 to 5 servings a week

What it does: As a health food, yogurt is almost as old as, well, good health itself. But experts say evidence continues to accumulate that reveals its benefits in many new and exciting ways.

“There is a suggestion [that yogurt] may decrease the risk of breast cancer,” Somer says. ”And there’s very strong evidence it can reduce problems associated with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory digestive tract disorders -- both conditions that impact women more than men.” Additionally, she says, yogurt can help reduce the risk of stomach ulcers and vaginal infections.

Enjoy a cup of yogurt at breakfast, lunch, or snack to help meet the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation for three servings of low fat dairy each day. “It’s loaded with bone-healthy calcium -- something every woman needs more of at every age,” Somer says. One cup of yogurt has about 448 mg of calcium, compared to just 300 for eight ounces of skim milk.

The key, according to Somer, is to choose a low fat yogurt with live cultures -- like Lactobacillus acidophilus. And do check the label, Somer advises. Some store brands may not have the level of cultures found in more established brands.

Also important: Skip the fruit-on-the-bottom or other flavored varieties. “Too much sugar,” says Somer, who also reminds us that, no, those two blueberries on the bottom of the container do not constitute a serving of fruit!


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