Women’ Health Nutrition and Lifestyle Recommendations: The Basics
Eat a diet rich in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
They contain antioxidants, minerals and fiber. Anti oxidants help to clean up free radicals. Free radicals have been proposed to lead to cancer, cardiac disease and premature aging. Antioxidants vitamins A,C and E plus selenium and zinc are contained in fruits and vegetables.
Examples of food sources include:
· Vitamin A – orange and yellow fruits and vegetables
· Vitamin C – citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, berries, sweet potatoes
· Vitamin E – nuts, avocados, seeds, vegetable oils
· Vitamin K – green leafy vegetables, some herbs and spices
· Selenium – Brazil nuts, tuna, cabbage
· Zinc – pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish, almonds
Consume complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, brown rice, oats.
Carbohydrates give us energy and the type of carbohydrate determines the quality of the energy. “Refined” carbohydrates do not have associated fiber and this causes the release of glucose into the bloodstream quickly. By choosing unrefined carbohydrates appetite and cravings can be minimized.
Choose carbohydrates such as:
· Beans and pulses
· Brown rice
· Buckwheat (part of rhubarb family) Fruit (particularly berries, apples and pears and citrus)
Avoid refined carbohydrates such as:
· Biscuits, cakes and pastries made with white flour and sugar
· Breakfast cereals with added sugar
· Brown and white sugar
· Fruit juice (as the fiber has been removed)
· Instant oats
· Soft drinks
· White flour
· White rice
Eat organic as possible.
Depending on how crops are rotated and the soil that the foods are grown in, they may be more nutrient dense. This however, depends on growing practices. Organic foods minimize environmental exposures.
Consume phytoestrogens in the form of beans, lentils and chick peas.
Plant phytoestrogens may have a balancing affect on hormones. These compounds may be beneficial for menopause and peri menopause symptoms, fibroids, endometriosis, irregular or heavy menses. They may be beneficial for reduction of cholesterol, and breast cancer reduction. These phytoestrogens are found in almost all fruit, vegetables and cereals but they are most beneficial in the form of something called ‘isoflavones’, which are found in legumes such as soy, lentils, and chickpeas.
The soy controversy.
Not all soy is the same: soy beans versus protein isolate. Soy protein isolates are made in an industrial setting. The fiber from the soy bean is removed with an alkaline solution and then the beans are put into an aluminum tank with an acid wash. This is where aluminum concerns may develop. Soy protein isolates undergo a number of other chemical treatments, which add nitrates to the end product. Nitrates are another concern, as they are now known to be potent carcinogens (cancer-forming agents). This 'food', which no longer resembles the original soy bean, can then be made into anything, including textured vegetable proteins (with added ‘chicken’ or ‘beef’ flavors, for example), flavor enhancers in soups and sauces (as hydrolyzed vegetable protein) and others. The difference is that these products are not made with whole soy beans, but with powdered soy isolate..
Traditional soy foods can be broken down into two primary types: Fermented, including soy sauce (also tamari), miso, natto and tempeh (tempeh is fermented in two days but miso and soy sauce can take many months, the fermentation process aids digestion); Unfermented soy, including soy milk and tofu
Consume soy products in their traditional form, choosing products such as miso, tofu, or organic soya milks. These foods are healthy, and they can have a dramatic effect on your health, particularly during the menopause. Avoid processed soy bars and snacks unless you know they are made from the whole bean, and even then make sure that the beans are not raw or genetically modified. Variety is the key to a healthy diet, and it’s important to remember that soy is only one of many phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are found in other legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, garlic, celery, seeds (including flaxseeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds), grains such as rice and oats, certain fruits, vegetables, alfalfa and mung beansprouts and herbs such as sage, fennel and parsley.
Phytoestrogens help to produce se hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein produced by the liver that binds sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, in order to control how much of them are circulating in the blood at any one time.
The thyroid connection. Some foods are termed ‘goitrogens’, which means that they have the ability to block the uptake of iodine from the blood. Iodine is essential for thyroid function, and a deficiency can be the cause of an underactive thyroid condition. Therefore, any food that is a goitrogen will make an under active thyroid problem worse. Soy is one of those foods, but so are turnips, cabbage, peanuts, pine nuts, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and millet. If you are diagnosed with a severe thyroid problem you will normally be told to restrict your intake of these foods. When eaten raw, and in excess, problems can occur. So make sure they are cooked well and eaten in moderation.
Eat food with good oils such as fish, nuts, seeds and oils.
Avoid unsaturated fats. Consume monounsaturated fats (omega 9 fats) are not classed as essential fatty acids, but they can have health benefits. Olive oil, for example, is high in monounsaturated fats, which has been found to lower LDL cholesterol and elevate HDL cholesterol.
Consume polyunsaturated fats. Omega 6 oils are found in nuts and seeds and also include evening primrose and borage oil. Omega 3 oils (which are found in fish oils and linseed (flaxseed) oil and also to some extent in pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dark green vegetables. Oily fish includes mackerel, tuna, sardines, herrings and salmon Consume oily fish two to three times a week.
More and more research suggests that it is vital to supplement these fatty acids, not relying solely on diet. 'Good' prostaglandins, beneficial prostaglandins (which are hormone-like substances) are made from these essential fatty acids. These prostaglandins help to prevent inflammation, regulate the immune system and reduce abnormal blood clotting. They play a major role in helping with endometriosis and period problems so they are extremely important when thinking about women's health.
The body produces 'bad' prostaglandins from saturated fats which cause inflammation and can cause swelling and pain.
Choosing an EFA supplement. Don’t supplement with cod liver oil capsules. In the sea, fish can accumulate toxins and mercury, which pass through their livers (the organ responsible for detoxification) and extracting the oil from the liver of the fish is likely to provide higher quantities of these toxins than the oil taken from the body of the fish. If you are vegetarian or prefer not to take fish oil, the other way to get those Omega 3 fatty acids is by taking linseed oil capsules.
Decrease saturated fats.
Saturated fats should be kept to a minimum. These fats come mainly from animals, and are contained in foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products. They are also present in tropical oils, such as palm and coconut. Saturated fats can be detrimental to your health, especially when consumed in large amounts. Saturated fats can block other nutrients. They can interfere with your body's absorption of the essential fatty acids which are essential for health. A diet high in saturated fat is now known to increase the level of estrogen in your blood, so it follows that eliminating animal products (the richest course of saturated fats) can help to do the opposite. If you can’t cut out saturated fats completely, take a good probiotic supplement, which helps to ensure that ‘old’ hormones are reabsorbed. Addtionally, the saturated fats in red meat and poultry produce infammatory prostaglandins that can lead to swelling and pain.
Choose proper oils and cooking techniques.
Oils can easily become damaged so it's essential that you take care when choosing, storing and using them. If oils are over-heated, left in sunlight or re-used after cooking, they are open to attack by free radicals, and these have been linked to cancer, coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and premature aging.
To prevent free radicals from forming, always choose cold-pressed, unrefined vegetable oils or extra-virgin olive oil. Store your oil away from sunlight and do not be tempted to reuse it after cooking. Do not fry in polyunsaturated fats as they can become unstable when heated. Reduce the cooking temperature to minimize the chances of free radicals forming. Keep all fats to a minimum when frying – try to bake, steam, roast or grill instead.
This is important for waste elimination. You should aim to drink around six glasses of water a day, which should take the place of less healthy drinks, such as canned soft drinks, coffee, sugary drinks, etc. An excellent start to the day is a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon. It's excellent for the liver, and it works by kick-starting and cleansing. Herbal teas can be counted as part of your liquid intake but other drinks, such as coffee or black tea, can't. Tap water can be contaminated with impurities such as arsenic, copper and lead, all of which can occur naturally and leach into the water from the pipes. Other substances such as pesticides and fertilizers can leach into the water from the ground. Investment in a water filter may be well worth the expense.
Fiber plays a major role in balancing hormones. The fiber contained in grains and vegetables reduces estrogen levels and seems to work by preventing estrogens that are excreted in the bile from being reabsorbed back into the blood.
Studies show that women who eat a vegetarian diet (high in fibre) are able to excrete three times more ‘old’ estrogens than women who eat meat as well. Meat-eaters also reabsorb more estrogen, which can cause havoc with overall health. There are many problems associated with excess estrogen, including breast cancer, fibroids and endometriosis.
There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains and vegetables, while soluble fiber is found in fruits, oats and beans. Soluble fiber helps to control cholesterol because it binds with some of the cholesterol and fat in the food you eat. Fiber can also be useful when you want to lose weight because it helps digestion, increases your feeling of fullness and removes toxins from the body.
Fiber does have a very beneficial effect on the bowels because it binds water and increases the bulk of the stools, so that they are easier to eliminate from the body. Fiber also prevents food from putrefying inside your body, which can give you symptoms such as bloating and flatulence.
Avoid additives, preservatives and chemicals.
Avoid artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners have been linked to mood swings and depression. It has also been found that people who regularly use artificial sweeteners tend to gain weight because they can increase appetite.
Decrease caffeine. Caffeine has a diuretic effect on the body and so depletes valuable stores of vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy hormone balance. Caffeine in tea, coffee, chocolate, and caffeinated soft drinks are all stimulants and cause a fast rise in blood sugar followed by a quick drop which contributes to the roller-coaster ride of blood sugar swings. Reduce caffeine consumption gradually.
Alcohol affects the liver and can compromise its ability to detoxify your system, which is one of its main roles. It also contributes to blood sugar imbalance and it acts as an anti-nutrient, which means that it blocks the good effects of your food by depleting vitamins and minerals. Alcohol can also interfere with the metabolism of essential fatty acids, which are absolutely crucial for your health. It is also full of calories – a glass of wine gives 100 calories and a pint of beer around 200 calories. How to reconcile with the idea that red wine is good for us. Certainly the French eat even more saturated fat than we do and yet their heart disease rate is lower than in the US and the UK. Grapes contain an antioxidant called ‘resveratrol’, which decreases the 'stickiness' of the blood platelets and keeps blood vessels from narrowing. Resveratrol is mainly contained in the skin of grapes, which is why red wine seems to be more effective than white (red wine is made from the whole grapes including the skin and pips whereas white wine is only made from the flesh). Researchers have even compared the effect of alcoholic and non-alcoholic red wines and found that the non-alcoholic version is actually better for the heart.
In the long term, once you have achieved optimum health, the best approach is to keep alcohol in moderation and to save it mainly for the weekend or special occasions. Do not drink every night and when you do, don't have more than one glass of wine or beer.
Sugar is a problem because it can make you gain weight which then increases estrogen production and creates a hormone imbalance. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body releases. The more insulin is released the more of your food is converted into fat, and your body therefore fails to break down previously stored fat. Fat stored on your body is a manufacturing plant for estrogen so it is important not to have too much excess weight. Fluctuations in blood sugar, especially low blood sugar, can cause a number of symptoms including irritability, aggressive outbursts, depression, fatigue, dizziness, crying spells, anxiety, confusion, inability to concentrate, headaches, palpitations, forgetfulness and lack of sex drive. When you eat any food in its refined form you digest it very quickly. Refined foods are no longer in their 'whole' state and have been stripped of their natural goodness by various manufacturing processes. Two of the most widely used refined foods are sugar and white flour.
If digestion is too fast, glucose enters the bloodstream too rapidly. This also occurs when you eat any food or drink that gives a stimulant effect, such as tea, coffee or chocolate. The initial stimulating 'high' quickly passes and you plummet down to a 'low', in which you feel tired and drained.
If you have a long gap between your meals your blood glucose will drop to quite a low level, leaving you feeling the need for a quick boost like a cup of coffee. When the glucose (sugar) level falls too low, adrenaline is released by the adrenal glands to get your liver to produce more glucose to rectify the imbalance. You can then end up with too much glucose (sugar) in the blood which means that your pancreas has to secrete more insulin in order to reduce your glucose levels. Your body is then on a roller-coaster ride of fluctuating blood sugar levels.
If you continually ask your pancreas to produce extra insulin, it will literally become exhausted and unable to cope with the demands. You then have the opposite problem – high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) – because your body is not producing enough insulin to deal with the glucose. The extreme form of this is diabetes. With this condition, insulin is supplied from the outside of the body in order to control glucose levels.
How to balance your blood sugar.
To help maintain a steady blood sugar level during the day, aim to eat unrefined carbohydrates as part of your main meals and make sure that you eat little and often during the day.
If you find the symptoms associated with low blood sugar are greatest first thing in the morning or if you wake during the night with heart pounding and you are unable to get back to sleep, then it is very likely that your blood sugar level has dropped overnight and adrenaline has kicked into play. Eating a small, starchy snack, like half a slice of rye bread, one hour before going to bed will help to alleviate these symptoms.
And make sure your complex carbohydrates are unrefined. In general, this means choosing brown instead of white. For example, whole-wheat bread, brown rice and wholemeal flour as opposed to their white versions which have been refined and stripped of essential vitamins, minerals, trace elements and valuable fiber.
· Unrefined complex carbohydrates including whole-wheat bread, potatoes, brown rice, millet, oats, rye, etc.
· Dilute pure fruit juice
· Always eat breakfast.
· Oatmeal is a good choice.
· Eat small frequent meals no more than three hours apart
· Reduce, preferably avoid, stimulants including tea, coffee, chocolate, smoking and canned drinks that contain caffeine
· Refined carbohydrates
· Avoid 'white' in general. Remember that white flour is in many things such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and white bread.
Consume a probiotic
Remember to drink water, and stay hydrated.
Healthy Lifestyle for Women
Avoid xenoestrogens. These are found in pesticides and plastics, and they are stored in body fat.
Eat as organic as possible.
Avoid plastics. Avoid in drink bottles, plastic containers for food storage. Remove food from plastic as soon as possible.
Avoid saturated fats.
Do not heat food in plastics.
Increase fiber intake.
Eat more cruciferous vegetables, this may help to avoid absorption into the body. These vegetables contain indole 3 carbionol, which may help prevent absorption of xenoestrogens and also help with metabolism.
Buy natural cleaning products for the home and your clothes.
Use natural cosmetics.
The benefits are numerous. Helps with the intestines so that elimination of toxins is enhanced. It may help to improve the function of the immune system and glucose regulation. It also produces endorphins which may improve mood and help with pain. It increases HDL (good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Exercise may also have a direct effect on hormone balance. It will also help to prevent bone loss.
Take care of your liver
The liver helps to eliminate toxins and metabolize estrogen.
To help the liver:
Minimize alcohol intake.
Supplement with B vitamins.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an excellent herb for the liver. A number of studies have shown that it can increase the number of new liver cells to replace old damaged ones.
For overweight women, losing weight has also been found to be helpful in correctly polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids and endometriosis.
Adrenaline is the hormone that most of us associate with stress. This hormone is released in a 'fight or flight' situation, and it has a powerful effect on the body. The heart speeds up and the arteries tighten to raise blood pressure. Your liver immediately releases emergency stores of glucose into your bloodstream to give you instant energy to fight or run. Because it is not necessary for immediate survival, your digestion shuts down. more quickly than normal.
Stress can directly affect your reproductive system. Women going through a bereavement or other kind of trauma, for instance, can stop having periods. The hormone prolactin can also be released when you are under stress and this hormone will prevent ovulation.
Your immune system can also be compromised if you are under stress and it will not work efficiently.
If stress is a problem for you, it is important that you get your blood sugar in balance in order to reduce the amount of adrenaline released. Also it would be worth learning some form of relaxation, stress management techniques or meditation.
If stress is affecting your sleep then herbs can be very helpful.
· Valerian is a wonderful herb for helping with insomnia and it is classed as a sedative in herbal medicine
· Passionflower (or passiflora) is another good herb for helping you sleep and can be used together with valerian for maximum effect.
· A cup of hot chamomile tea before bed can also be effective.
Aromatherapy oils such as bergamot, lavender and Roman chamomile, can be added to a relaxing warm bath just before bed, and some women have said that sprinkling the essential of lavender onto the pillow is restful.
Restorative sleep is important, and for a variety of reasons.
Even occasional sleeping problems can make daily life feel more stressful or cause you to be less productive.
Adequate sleep is associated with poor memory, an inability to make reasoned decisions and to concentrate, as well as irritability and, of course, fatigue.
The herbs suggested for reducing stress can help if you find things difficult. It’s also a good idea to cut out caffeine, and to reduce levels of stress.
In order minimize environmental exposures, use organic cotton that has not ben chemically treated. Dixins may be present in standard tampons.
Antiperspirants and deodorants
Your body sweats for a reason. Sweating is an essential process designed to eliminate waste products through your skin. Contained in this fluid, which is secreted by the sweat glands, is salt (sodium chloride) and urea. Sweating is your body's way of getting rid of nitrogenous waste and at the same time controlling your body temperature. The evaporation of sweat from the surface of your skin has a cooling effect on the body.
It is recommended to use an aluminum free chemical free deodorant, not an antiperspirant.
Supplements to Consider
Blood Sugar Regulation