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Women and Nutrition: A Menu of Special Needs

by Dori Stehlin

Dietary iron from plant sources, called non-heme, are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. Although non-heme iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron, the amount of non-heme iron absorbed from a meal is influenced by other constituents in the diet. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.

Calories and Weight Control

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council recommends that the average woman between 23 and 50 eat about 2,200 calories a day to maintain weight.

The best way for a woman to determine whether she's eating the right number of calories is to "keep stepping on the scale," says FDA's Stephenson.

She cautions, however, that cutting back on calories isn't always the answer to losing weight "You don't really want to cut back any more [calories] if you're down around that [1,500 calories] range," says Stephenson. She explains that the fewer the calories you have to work with, the harder it is to meet all your daily requirements for a healthy diet.

"If you find you are gaining weight, you need to think of not only cutting calories, but also about increasing exercise," she says. "Calories are only half the equation for weight control. Physical activity burns calories, increases the proportion of lean to fat body mass, and raises your metabolism. so, a combination of both calorie control and increased physical activity is important for attaining healthy weight.

"On the other hand, if you've been pigging out--well, you know what you have to do."

Cholesterol

Women tend to have higher levels than men of a desirable type of cholesterol called HDLs (High-density-lipoproteins) until menopause, leading some researchers to believe there is a link between HDLs and estrogen levels. But this doesn't let women off the hook--a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can still mean trouble.

For both women and men, blood cholesterol levels of below 200 milligrams are desirable. Levels between 200 and 239 milligrams are considered borderline, and anything over 240 milligrams is high. High levels of blood cholesterol increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

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