Beans and Pulses
Beans and pulses should be included in everyone’s diet, but for women they are especially important. They are highly nutritious, low in fat, and an excellent source of vegetable protein. A fibre-rich diet is one of the first components to colon cancer prevention, and with more women dying of colon cancer than breast cancer every year; it makes sense to eat plenty of beans. This group of foods also contain phytoestrogens, the natural plant hormones, which are also protective against cancer, as well as being important for bone health.
Kale is an often-overlooked vegetable that happens to be loaded with folate (folic acid), an important B vitamin for women. Having a deficiency in folic acid during pregnancy may cause neural-tube defects in babies. In the UK, all women of childbearing age are now thought to need 400 micrograms of folate daily. Kale is also an excellent source of vitamin C and calcium, too.
Orange squashes (and tubers) like pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are a girl’s best friend when it comes to nutritious, comforting food. All these foods are filling, low in calories, and rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which will work plenty of it’s antioxidant magic in your body. Antioxidants are important in the anti-ageing process, helping to repair and regenerate skin and other tissues. Beta-carotene is also thought to help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Flax seeds (or linseeds) and flax seed oil have so much to offer women. For starters, flax is full of “essential” Omega 3 fatty acids (EFA’s), which help to balance a women’s hormones, protect a woman from heart disease (the leading cause of premature death among women) and the pain of arthritis. The dietary fibres in flax are called lignans, which contain phytoestrogens, currently being researched and showing promise in cancer prevention. Lignans are also thought to have antioxidant properties. The best way to get the benefit of the flaxseeds fibre and oils is to grind them in a clean coffee mill, used just for this purpose. Alternatively use a pestle and mortar, and sprinkle them onto cereal in the morning or add them to a bowl of natural yogurt and fruit. The essential fatty acids are very fragile, unstable, and liable to oxidation if exposed to light and air. Within the whole seeds, the oil is protected. So buy fresh, organic seeds if at all possible. You can eat them whole; just chew them thoroughly!
Women need to eat more iron-rich foods. Getting iron from food (as opposed to a supplement) is by far the best way to get the correct amount of iron the body needs and can absorb. Lean red meats and dark poultry are the ideal food sources of iron. Unfortunately that doesn’t help much if you are vegetarian or one of the many women who avoid red meats. In this case, think about eating more of the following iron-rich foods… lentils, dried apricots, beans, spinach, enriched wholegrain cereals, pumpkin seeds, and oysters! If you do need to take a supplement, the best choices are Easy Iron (Higher Nature Ltd), which is an organic, food-form of iron, and Floradix, an herbal-based iron-rich tonic. Increase your intake of vitamin C too, which helps to absorb non-haem sources of iron.
Soya foods (including beans, tofu, soya milk & yogurt, soy sauce, Tamari and Miso) are the richest food sources of phytoestrogens (and of course soy protein). The natural plant substances – phytoestrogens – are now thought to be beneficial in maintaining bone density, as well as being the best “alternative” to HRT when many women need hormonal support as they enter menopausal years. Tofu, milk, and yogurt are also great calcium sources. All these foods can help a woman significantly lower her bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise the good (HDL) cholesterol. Tofu is a great source of low-fat, vegetable protein, best used in a vegetable stir-fry with soy sauce, and brown rice. Try Cauldron Foods, firm tofu.
Broccoli is not only a good source of calcium and B vitamins; it contains plant substances called sulphurophanes. These plant chemicals are cancer-protective and help the liver process and clear any excess oestrogen. Nowadays we don’t just produce oestrogen internally, but we are exposed to it in the environment in the form of oestrogen-like chemicals found in plastics, tap water and other insidious places. Excess oestrogen causes weight gain, hormonal imbalances, night sweating, and presents an increased risk of fibroids, breast cysts, breast cancer and endometriosis.
Calcium and magnesium – rich foods
Women of all ages need enough calcium in their diets to build and maintain strong bones. Calcium-rich foods that are also good sources of magnesium (and other nutrients) go a long way to supporting bone, and heart health. Magnesium is the nutrient that plays an important role in the creation of new bone; so think about seeds and nuts as healthy additions to a wholegrain cereal. Calcium, magnesium and potassium are alkalising minerals. Bones serve as a reservoir of these highly important alkaline minerals, which are released to help neutralise the acids in your body. If your body is overly acidic (this happens if you eat a lot animal protein, smoke or drink too much alcohol, or become highly stressed), your bones must donate their minerals to restore your pH balance. This can deplete the bones, leaving them brittle and weak.
The UK RNI for calcium is 700 milligrams a day, but many experts feel it should be more like 1200 to 1500 milligrams a day. When you take into consideration the epidemic of osteoporosis and heart disease among women, it is wise to include or increase your intake of the following foods… plain natural yogurt, which is not only a source of beneficial bacteria for good colon health, it is also much easier to digest than other dairy products), parmesan cheese (again, easy to digest), ricotta cheese & goat’s cheese, tinned bony salmon, freshly grilled sardines, kale, almonds and sunflower seeds, tofu, fortified “SoGood” soya milk (20% more calcium than cow’s milk) and “Provamel” soya yogurts. Replacing dairy with soya milk and yogurts in the diet provides all the benefits of soya protein while reducing the amounts of animal fats in the diet. A 100g serving of tofu or 125g pot of plain yogurt both provide 200mg of calcium. An ounce of Parmesan provides a whopping 390mg of calcium, and 100g canned pink salmon 300mg. Don’t forget your fruit and vegetables… latest research in bone health shows that women who have more fruit and vegetables in their diets, tend to have higher bone density. Fruit and vegetables contain an array of micronutrients such as magnesium, vitamin C, and boron. We now know that these play an equally important role in bone metabolism.
If you feel you need to supplement with calcium, remember that calcium should be taken with magnesium in a 2:1 ratio. This is because calcium and magnesium require each other for proper absorption, and utilisation in the body. So, if you supplement with 500 mg of calcium, you need to take 250 mg of magnesium at the same time. Most reputable companies now formulate supplements that take this into account, as well as the synergistic “need” for the other nutrients involved in the entire process of bone metabolism. Choose carefully.
Water is a nutrient and the fact is, we need it… and plenty of it. Certainly, water may be one of the best tools in the weight loss game. It not only suppresses the appetite, but helps the body metabolise stored fat. Water keeps the body’s tissues well hydrated, so if you want smooth, line-free skin for as long as is naturally possible… drink!
Salmon and other oily fish (in moderation)
Salmon was at one time avoided in favour of white fish or sole, due it’s higher fat content. However, once we understood the value and benefit of the essential “Omega 3 fatty acids” present in salmon and other oily fish, it was back on the plate.
The time has arrived however, that food-conscious individuals are steering away from oily fish again (or at least cutting down), not because of the fat content, but because of the presence of harmful chemicals and metals. Fish such as mackerel, salmon and swordfish are known to contain high levels of potentially carcinogenic chemicals, and others, including shark, marlin, swordfish and red snapper contain the highest levels of mercury. These larger, long-lived predatory fish and mammals tend to accumulate more mercury from the environment than shorter-lived fish.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that we eat 2-4 portions of fish a week, and 1-2 at least should be of an oily variety. Pregnant mothers are the only group that need to limit oily fish intake to 2 portions a week, but not to avoid fish altogether. Omega-3 fats are vital for the baby’s brain development. Many people often prefer to take an uncontaminated fish oil supplement, or stick to flax seeds as a source of Omega-3’s. Nutri’s Eskimo oil is one of the best un-contaminated fish oils on the market, and contains the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E to ensure the fish oils do not oxidise in the body.
Remember Omega-3s ARE essential to good health, and freedom from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis… so as I say, don’t avoid fish altogether, as fish oil is clearly the richest source of Omega 3’s we know. Important omega-3s are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – from fish oil and algae – and alpha linolenic acid, usually from vegetable sources such as flax seed oil. In a healthy person, linolenic acid can be converted to DHA, and EPA, provided the correct enzymes are present. However, only 2% of the alpha-linolenic acid found in flax oil is actually converted to EPA… far less than we find in fish oil. EPA and DHA substantially lower your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, prevent blood platelets from becoming sticky, and can lower blood pressure. They also promote good bone health, heart health, and breast health. DHA is particularly important during brain development, so is a popular and useful supplement during pregnancy.
Re: CANNED FISH – During the canning process of tuna, all the fat is lost, so tinned tuna does not count as an oily fish. The canning process of other fish (salmon, sardines, pilchards etc.) is different to that of tuna, and does not affect the oil content of the fish. How the canning process affects the stability and integrity of the delicate fish oils has not been fully elucidated. The possible presence of mercury and toxic chemicals I would imagine is no different in canned vs. fresh fish.
Eating fruit to offset mercury absorption?
To enjoy fish while minimising your mercury exposure, eat some tropical fruit for dessert… eating antioxidant-rich tropical fruits, such as mango, pineapple, banana, and papaya, may help reduce the amount of mercury that your body absorbs, according to research published recently in Environmental Research (2003).
This particular study was a 12-month prospective dietary survey, carried out with 26 adult women from a fish-eating community in the Brazilian Amazon. They found a strong relationship between fish consumption and mercury (Hg) levels in hair. Not surprising you may think…. What was surprising and very interesting was the finding that this strong relationship was significantly modified by fruit consumption: for the same number of fish meals, those who ate more tropical fruits had lower hair mercury levels. The findings of this study indicate different ways of maintaining fish consumption while reducing Hg exposure in the Amazon. A number of phytochemicals and nutritional fibres present in fruits might be interacting with Hg in several ways: absorption and excretion transport, binding to target proteins, metabolism, and sequestration.
More research on larger worldwide populations would further elucidate the extent, and public health implications of the use of fruits to counteract the toxic action of methylmercury.
Try this tasty fish dish… with minimal mercury exposure!
Fresh Tuna Steak with Mango Salsa
2 fresh Tuna steaks, marinated in olive oil and chopped garlic
For the salsa:
1 whole mango, peeled, sliced off the stone and chopped
A small piece of finely chopped fresh ginger root
Handful of chopped fresh coriander
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, mixed
Juice of half a lemon or lime
Ground black pepper to taste
Place the steaks into a frying pan. Pan-fry on a medium heat until opaque on the outside and a little pink in the middle.
While the fish is cooking, combine all the salsa ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Serve the fish alongside the mango salsa and a large mixed green salad.