In honour of Women’s Month, our guest dietitian Melanie Sher, unpacks key ingredients and lifestyle advice, from plant-based protein, what to eat for optimal hormone production and self-care for overall health and wellbeing for women.
Hello August! Woman’s Month! And in my opinion, and I may be ever-so-slightly bias, the best month of the year!
One of my favourite quotes goes as follows “I am a woman – what’s your superpower?” And this is indeed true – most women are superwomen, nurtures, caregivers, organizers, co-ordinators… they just manage to do it all. We are great at looking after others, but are we always as good at looking after ourselves?
This month, the focus is on women’s health and what women can do to live right and stay healthy.
So let’s discuss a few things that YOU, as a woman, can do for yourself to ensure you live your best possible life.
“You are what you eat?” Heard this one before? Food is the source of nutrition and all good things for the body. The food you eat will affect everything: your appetite control, your mood, your energy levels, your health, and your immunity. So let’s discuss some foods you can incorporate into your diet for overall health and wellbeing.
- Soy. It is considered to be ‘A storehouse of nutritional riches,’ as it contains all 9 essential amino acids, vitamin E, some B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium, amongst others, making it one of the best vegetarian protein alternatives. Some examples include edamame beans, soymilk, miso, tempeh, tofu and meat alternatives, like Fry’s. My favourite from the Fry’s range is the Chicken-Style Strips! I love including it into a veggie stir fry for dinner – yum! But for years, soy got a bad rap because of its isoflavones, as it was feared that they could act as estrogen in the body and stimulate cancer cells. But a steady stream of studies showed that a diet moderate-to-high in soy didn’t increase the chances of developing breast cancer and may even reduce that risk.
In one study of more than 73,000 Chinese women, researchers found that those who ate at least 13 grams of soy protein a day, roughly one to two servings, were 11% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who got less than 5 grams. So without going into too much science, soy can be eaten in combination with a healthy, balanced diet. But, as with everything else that we eat in our diet, it should be eaten in moderation, and in combination with other foods.
- Healthy fats. Yes, you heard me right, fats are not the enemy. In fact, the ‘good fats’ are an essential part of a well-balanced diet. Fat is a major source of energy and helps you absorb certain vitamins and minerals. We need fat to build cell membranes and protective myelin sheaths. Healthy fats also have a cardio-protective effect, are essential for brain functioning, and are the raw material that we need to produce and maintain proper hormone function. So what are these healthy fats we talk of? Your mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, of course. Here are some of my favourite food items you can eat to ensure you’re getting your ‘daily dose:’
- Seeds! Eating pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds consistently as part of a healthy diet supports hormone balance. They provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids, trace minerals, and nutrients needed for hormone production. But remember to grind seeds with a harder shell, such as flaxseeds, before eating them, sprinkling them on your salad or adding them to your smoothie. This allows easier digestion by the body, and ensures that you get the full nutritional value!
- Avocados! Besides the fact that they are absolutely delicious, avocados are another excellent addition to your hormone-balancing diet. They’re full of mono-unsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid — all essential for maintaining hormonal balance in the body. They are also low in sugar and high in fiber, making them a great choice for regulating the production of insulin in your body.
- Non-dairy calcium sources. It’s no secret that calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth, but it goes beyond that. This mineral also helps the body maintain healthy blood vessels, regulate blood pressure, and even prevent insulin resistance (which could lead to type 2 diabetes). For women it is extra-important to reach our daily calcium requirements to decrease our risk of developing osteoporosis. So with all these known benefits, we need to make sure we are eating enough calcium daily. Not sure how to add alternative food sources of calcium into your diet? Why not make a tasty broccoli salad, throw some black beans into your stir fry or prepare a scrambled tofu wrap from work lunch? Some other non-dairy sources of calcium include almonds, fortified orange juice, and soy milk and products, which can all be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. Did someone say non-dairy, delicious smoothies?!
One of the keys to living a healthy, well-balanced life is making time to exercise regularly. Exercise is one of those controllable factors in ensuring overall health, and whilst cardiovascular exercise improves heart health and assists with weight management, resistance training – especially when using your own body-weight – will help you build and maintain muscle mass.
Other benefits of exercise include lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, preventing diabetes, improving mood and cognitive function, and reducing mortality.
Many of the health issues that women face can be improved substantially with consistent exercise.
- Exercise helps counteract hormonally-driven mood swings. Women live with shifting levels of estrogen and progesterone that impact their fertility patterns as well as their brain chemistry and moods. When estrogen levels drop, such as before and during a woman’s period or leading up to menopause, there is a decrease in the release of the “feel-good” brain chemical called serotonin. This makes them more susceptible to moodiness, depression and anxiety attacks, such as the symptoms found in severe premenstrual syndrome or postpartum depression. Exercise counters these hormonally-triggered mood swings by releasing endorphins, another mood regulator. Sometimes called the “runner’s high”, endorphins leave you feeling happy and relaxed after a workout.
- Exercise also plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. This is because exercise helps release hormones that promote the ability of your muscles to absorb amino acids. This helps them grow and reduces their breakdown, which helps promote overall health.
Over and above these health benefits of exercise of women, exercise can also increase your energy levels, improve your digestion, improves your quality of sleep, and can decrease your risk of developing chronic diseases. Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health!
We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Rather than complain about the things you think you deserve, take a few moments to focus on all that you have. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. Whether you choose to write a few sentences in a gratitude journal, or simply take a moment to silently acknowledge all that you have, giving thanks can transform your life.
Some health benefits of practicing gratitude are as follows:
- Gratitude improves self-care.
- Gratitude improves physical health.
- Gratitude improves psychological health.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
- Grateful people sleep
- Gratitude improves self-esteem.
- Gratitude increases mental strength.
So superwomen … what are you going to do to take care of yourself during this beautiful Women’s Month?
Want to know more about your nutrition? Get in touch with Melanie Sher.