The Good News Guide for Healthy Women

from the American Dietetic Association

There's good news about women's health that can affect the way every woman looks and feels about herself.

You don't have to go to extremes in diet and exercise to be healthy and attractive. Instead, there's exciting new evidence that achieving and maintaining a "healthy weight" has a significant impact on a woman's health and well-being.

Simple changes in what you eat do not only affect your appearance, they may reduce your risk for developing heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and certain types of cancer, diseases that strike millions of women each year.

The best news is that it's the little things you do, the small changes, that can make the most difference to your health.

Now is the perfect time to make small, easy changes--changes that can lead to big benefits in how you look and feel and put you in charge of your life.

Healthy Weight/Healthy Women
A key to taking charge of your own health is to be at a healthy weight.

New studies show that excessive weight gain and/or obesity may place women at a higher risk for all five leading causes of death in which diet plays a role: heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

But the news for women wishing to lose weight is excellent.

Healthy weight may be more attainable than you think. Scientific research indicates that if you're overweight, losing just 5 percent to 10 percent of your total body weight can have positive health benefits. As a result, experts recommend that you create a realistic goal and aim to lose just 10 percent of your total body weight. Being realistic about your weight goal also makes it easier to maintain, so you can continue to reap the benefits.

Even a small weight loss combined with regular physical activity can deliver big results in reducing health risks. Studies show that in some overweight people, losing as little as two pounds lowers blood cholesterol; and for others, losing seven pounds can bring high blood pressure down to normal. It is important not to lose weight too rapidly. The recommended rate of weight loss is 1/2-1 pound a week and not more than 2 pounds a week.

Chances are very good that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will make you look and feel better, too.

Heart Disease

You can take steps to protect yourself against heart disease--the leading cause of death in women.
Many risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, can be directly influenced by your diet, physical activity and body weight.
To reduce your chances for heart disease--and to help you maintain a healthy weight, choose a diet lower in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and high in complex carbohydrates (breads, cereals, pasta and dried beans), fruits and vegetables. Become less sedentary and more physically active.

If you're not concerned about osteoporosis, you're not looking very far ahead. A major disease for women, it can affect your vitality as you grow older. Osteoporosis causes decreased bone density or strength and makes bone fractures much more likely later in life.
The good news is you can reduce your risk of osteoporosis by getting enough calcium and vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise. This is especially important for young girls between the ages of 8 and 16 when most bone density is formed, a process that continues until around age 35. Getting adequate calcium and vitamin D is essential for women of all ages; even after menopause, eating calcium-rich foods results in slower bone loss.

Breast Cancer
The role of food choices in breast cancer is less clear, but still promising.
In studies of different population groups, women eating low-fat diets appear to have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer.
Recently, some studies have indicated that women who have gained a large amount of weight during adulthood may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Where your fat is stored in your body may also be important. Some early studies show that women with excess fat around their abdomens--an "apple shape" rather than a "pear shape"--may also be at increased cancer risk.
Many ongoing studies are now examining these issues in greater depth. Meanwhile, it would be wise to choose a low-fat diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, and to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

For persons with diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet are important for good diabetes control.
Diet and exercise work together to improve diabetes control. A diet that is low in saturated fat is recommended for persons with diabetes.
If you have diabetes, it is wise for you to see a registered dietitian to talk about what is best for you to eat. In addition to a dietitian or diabetes educator, see a health care provider, such as a physician, for your diabetes care.

Good News Guidelines
Smart Eating and Active Living Put You In Charge
The good news gets even better. The same eating and activity habits that will protect your health are also most likely to help you reach or maintain a healthy weight.
The best news is it's possible to learn and follow one set of good habits that will help you achieve all these goals--simultaneously--by using the guidelines below.
Plan to eat a diet that is lower in fat and high in carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta), fruits and vegetables, and be sure to get the calcium and other nutrients you need every day. You want to become less sedentary and increase your physical activity.

Guidelines for Healthy Eating
Here's the foundation for an overall healthy diet. Keep in mind, you don't need to do everything at once to get started. Select one or two recommendations to put into practice, such as eating an extra piece of fruit and a calcium-rich food each day. When you feel you've mastered these small changes, try others. Remember, your goal is to make changes gradually, going as slowly as necessary so you can stick with them.

The Food Guide Pyramid can help you plan what to eat each day. Foods at the base of the pyramid--breads, cereals, rice and pasta, vegetables, and fruits--should form the foundation of your healthy food choices. 

On this sound base, you can add dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese and protein foods such as meats, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs, and nuts in moderate portions. The top of the pyramid--fats and sweets--can be eaten sparingly. 

Include plenty of calcium. Recommendations are 1200 mg each day for women ages 11-24 years and for those pregnant or nursing. All other women should have at least 800 mg of calcium each day. This means eating several servings of calcium-rich foods every day like milk, cheese, and yogurt (choose low-fat varieties), canned sardines and salmon with bones, and leafy green vegetables like broccoli and kale. (One cup of milk provides about 300 mg of calcium.) 
If they are factors in your life, excess alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, and cigarette smoking should be curbed as you make positive changes in your eating habits and activity. 

Tips to help you practice the nutrition basics...

These simple tips can help you remember how to follow the recommendations listed above.

The Color/Crunch Test.
Try to choose foods with a variety of colors and textures at each meal. 

The Pie Test.
Think of your plate as a pie. 75% of the pie is made up of fruits, vegetables and grains, 25% of other foods such as dairy products or protein foods. 

Five servings of vegetables and fruits each day are important for your good health. Count them as you go along. 

Tips to make food preparation a snap:
Preparing meals with less fat doesn't have to be tough or confusing. Salad dressings, mayonnaise and cheese account for much of the fat in a woman's diet. Substitute nonfat or low fat varieties. Cut down on butter or margarine, or choose low fat varieties. Choose leaner meats, poultry and fish. 

Make vegetables, dried beans and grains the main dish and use meats, cheese and eggs as side dishes. 
If you like convenience, shop for packaged foods that are lower in fat and calories and add pizzazz to your meals. There are many single-serving frozen entrees that you might never prepare from "scratch" that can be delicious additions to your daily fare. 

Guidelines For An Active Lifestyle
Being less sedentary doesn't necessarily mean strenuous exercise, it just means moving more. Again, take it one step at a time so the changes you make become a permanent part of your lifestyle.

To get started, just add extra steps to what you normally do--walk an extra block or "window shop" around the mall before entering a store. 
Learn to replace periods of inactivity with activity--stand up and walk in place during a TV commercial or choose stairs whenever you can. 
Rediscover how good your body feels when it's active. Walk more frequently, play the radio and dance, garden, ride a bike--whatever you enjoy enough to do regularly. 

Guidelines To A Healthy Attitude
Your thoughts and attitude play a big part in taking positive steps. Here are some important ideas to keep in mind as you choose to live more healthfully.
All foods can be part of a healthy diet. There are no good or bad foods, simply some that are best eaten frequently and others occasionally or in moderation. Make trade-offs in your food choices to achieve balance overall. 

Plan ahead when you can. Shop smart and stock up on lower fat foods. Decide what meals you will have each day and then stick to your plan. 
Periodic overeating, or eating more sweet or fatty foods does not mean that you have failed. In fact, it's normal. The key is to aim for balance. If you overeat one day, be more active or make lower fat food choices the next day. Learning this balancing act is a key part of maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet. 

Your health is the foundation of your well-being. Good health enables you to do what you want to do, whereas illness limits your abilities. Give yourself credit everyday for even the smallest step you take to be healthy. Each one is evidence that you are empowering yourself to live a higher quality of life. 

The Power of Group Support...

Changing your nutrition and activity habits can be overwhelming. You don't have to do it alone. If it seems frustrating to put this all together, consider joining a group of people who can support and advise you along the way. You may find it's easier and more fun when you are with people with similar goals.
The Nutrition & Health Campaign for Women, sponsored by The American Dietetic Association and its Foundation, is a national effort to promote the role of nutrition in women's health.

For more information:
The American Dietetic Association/National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics Consumer Nutrition Hot Line. For food and nutrition information or for a referral to a registered dietitian in your area, call 800/366-1655. For customized answers to your food and nutrition questions by a registered dietitian, call 900/CALL-AN-RD (900/225-5267). The cost of the call will be $1.95 for the first minute and $.95 for each additional minute.
Copyright © 1996-2000 The American Dietetic Association. Reprinted with permission.