By Taylor Kuether, Communications Coordinator at SWHR
Women’s bodies need a variety of nutrients to function properly, and maintaining a well-balanced diet is essential to staying healthy and energized all year long. But come the holiday season, this common knowledge is often thrown out in favor of heavier, richer fare.
Certainly, the season is a time to indulge in large meals, sweets, even booze – but there’s a way to do so mindfully.
Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you can skimp on nutrients – in fact, it’s more important than ever to maintain a balanced diet through the season when stress levels are high and we seldom see sunshine (there goes our Vitamin D!) .
According to the SWHR Nutrition Fact Sheet, here are a few essential nutrients that everyone should be eating all year:
- Carbohydrates – a good source of the energy that is necessary for the body to function. No, carbs are not the enemy – so go on, break bread!
- Proteins – provide upkeep and repair for different body parts and form the basis for structures such as muscles, skin, and hair. Good thing Thanksgiving turkey is a lean protein choice – just stick to lighter cuts of meat and skip the fatty skin! Veggie lovers, fear not – “tofurky” (made from tofu) is packed with high-quality protein, as well.
- Fiber – helps maintain a healthy digestive system. Eat your veggies – they’re full of this stuff!
- Vitamins – assist various chemical reactions in the body.
- Healthy fats (think avocados, olive oil, etc.) – these help the body absorb vitamins and keep skin and the immune system healthy.
Nutrients especially important to women include:
- Calcium – strengthens bones and fortifies teeth. It also helps to regulate blood pressure, and relieve PMS. Consider drinking a tall glass of milk with your holiday meal!
- Iron – women of child-bearing age lose 15 to 20 milligrams of iron per month due to menstruation, and must make up for this loss with iron-rich foods or supplements. Women who have an insufficient level of iron in their blood may develop anemia, which causes weakness and fatigue along with other debilitating symptoms. You can get iron from dark, leafy greens like spinach as well as beans, nuts, broccoli, tofu, and most meats.
- Folic acid – this B vitamin helps the body make new cells. It is particularly important for pregnant women, as it may prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Greens – like collard, mustard, turnip, etc. – and packed with folic acid.
Just as these nutrients are essential for women’s health, there are some that women should avoid. Saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars all can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke (not to mention obesity and diminished quality of life) . Unfortunately, most of these are well-represented at the holiday table.
Fortunately, there are myriad ways to make healthy choices. For example, treat a holiday meal as just that – one meal . Eat as you normally would for the rest of the day, with a balanced breakfast, protein-packed lunch, and even healthy snacks. Eating normally throughout the day keeps your body’s blood sugar levels in check, preventing you from going all-out once you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner .
When loading up your plate, opt for leafy green salads, vegetable dishes (without marshmallows on top – we see you, sweet potatoes!), and lean proteins, and take smaller portions of the richer dishes . We’ve even included a healthy recipe for cranberry relish to try out – see below. You’ll still feel full on the healthier fare and will have participated fully in the meals with loved ones that make the holidays so special.
Bev’s Fresh Cranberry Relish
- 1 bag fresh cranberries
- 1 apple, cored (any kind)
- 1 orange, peeled
- ½ can crushed pineapple (you can drain if you’d like)
- Pulse in food processor until chopped – not pureed!
- Add in sugar to taste.
- Mix in ½-1 cup crushed walnuts before serving (optional).
Can be made two to three days ahead of time.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR ®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.