Nutrition & Women’s Health: Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Categories: Physically Active, Well Nourished

By Hannah Wise, Keene State College Dietetic Intern

As we all know, healthy eating is an integral part of living a long and active life. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains that focus on whole foods with limitations on processed foods are beneficial for everyone.

However, for women to maintain optimal health there are a few key areas of nutrition to zero in on.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis and breast cancer are the leading causes of disease for women. CVD is the primary cause of death in women over 65, ranking as high as deaths from cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and Alzheimer’s combined. Although genetics play a key role in the development of these diseases, the risk of development and progression can be highly influenced by diet and lifestyle.

Focus on Quality Whole Foods

In the United States, one in four women has heart disease. The good news is that there are plenty of small dietary changes that can drastically lower the risk of developing CVD. Results from the Nurse’s Health Study show that women who followed a healthy lifestyle pattern were 80 percent less likely to develop coronary artery disease over a 14 year period compared to other women in the study.

So what is a “healthy lifestyle pattern?” For the dietary component, that means focusing on quality, whole foods. For example:

  • Increase quality of carbs. The type of carbohydrate is much more important than the amount of carbohydrate, because some sources of carbohydrates (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains) are much healthier than others (like cakes, cookies, white bread products).
  • Go easy on sugar/unhealthy oils. Decreasing sugary beverage intake and cooking with healthy oils, like olive oil, is also the recommended for decreasing CVD risk.

Get Your Daily Dose of Calcium & Vitamin D

Because of the rapid decline in estrogen that occurs at menopause, osteoporosis is another disease women are particularly susceptible to.

Calcium and vitamin D play a key role in bone health, therefore it is important that women of all ages get adequate intake of both. The new recommended amount of calcium is 1200 mg/day for women older than 51 years, and 1,000 mg/day for women 19to 50 years old.

Whether you consume animal products or not, calcium is easy to find in foods. Milk, yogurt, dark leafy greens, shellfish, and soybeans are all excellent sources of calcium.

Vitamin D is a little trickier to find through dietary sources but it can be obtained through fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, egg yolks, and mushrooms exposed to sunlight.

Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Breast cancer is another disease that plagues thousands of women in the US annually. Luckily, survival rates are highly favorable, with a population of breast cancer survivors approaching 3 million.

Like other diseases, some of the risk factors are modifiable. Body weight, hormone therapy use, alcohol consumption, and cancer-protective factors, such as lactation (breastfeeding) and consuming plant-based, low-fat diets are controllable ways to reduce breast cancer risk.

So whether you are combating an illness or focusing on prevention and longevity, diets should be focused on quality foods with high nutritional value, such as leafy greens, citrus fruits, and whole grains.

Always think water first for thirst and save the soda and chips for a special occasion.


Getz, Lindsey. “Soyfoods & Cancer.” Soyfoods & Cancer. Today’s Dietitian, Apr. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.
Cox, Jean T., Karen Chapman-Novakofski, and Cynthia A. Thomson. “Practice Paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Abstract: Nutrition and Women’s Health.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113.11 (2013): 1544. Web. 
“What Should I Eat?” The Nutrition Source. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.