Although healthy foods provide nutritional benefits to people of all ages, ethnicity and genders, certain types of food may be particularly beneficial for women. Science has revealed that certain foods may help prevent the diseases and symptoms women are prone to such as heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer and hot flashes.
Broccoli is practically unrivaled among all foods when it comes to protecting against cancer. Its powerful phytonutrients not only help neutralize carcinogens, but they also stimulate detoxifying enzymes that help the body rid itself of cancer-causing and other harmful toxins. Indole-3-carbinol, another compound found in broccoli, is particularly healthy for women; it’s been shown to reduce the risk of breast and cervical cancers and helps suppress the spread of existing cancer. This green vegetable also happens to be one of the richest food sources of the flavonoid kaempferol, which has shown protective benefits against ovarian cancer.
What’s more, broccoli is a superior source of folate, a B vitamin that’s needed for making and protecting DNA, producing new blood, forming new cells, and synthesizing protein.
Folate is one of the most essential nutrients for pregnant women. It supports proper development of the fetal nervous system and protects against neural tube (birth) defects. Second, research shows that women are twice as likely as men to experience depression, and numerous studies have linked folate deficiency with depression. The good news: There’s also evidence showing that boosting folate levels can increase serotonin levels and improve symptoms of depression.
An added bonus: As a natural diuretic, broccoli helps reduce bloating and water retention associated with premenstrual syndrome.
Onions have many healing and health-promoting properties: They’re anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and a natural blood thinner. Rich in chromium, vitamin C, and dietary fiber, onions are also a good source of manganese, vitamin B6, tryptophan, folate, and potassium.
This bulbous vegetable is used to combat cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis, and it helps fight infections, colds, fevers, and asthma. Onions also help prevent constipation, increase blood circulation, improve gastrointestinal health, promote heart health, and are thought to help lower blood pressure and triglycerides.
They’re particularly good for women, who are four times as likely as men to develop osteoporosis—and who are at even higher risk for osteoporosis during and after menopause. Onions help prevent bone loss by destroying osteoclasts, a type of bone cell that’s responsible for the breakdown of bones. In effect, onions work like bisphosphonates, a type of medication that’s commonly prescribed to treat or prevent bone disease. But unlike those potent drugs, onions bust up osteoclasts without dangerous side effects. And, like broccoli, onions are a potent cancer-fighting food; high onion consumption has been linked to a whopping 25 percent reduced risk of breast cancer and a 73 percent reduced risk of ovarian cancer.
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, watercress, cabbage, turnip greens, collard greens, and arugula share similar nutrient profiles, featuring impressive scores of vitamins K, A, and C; calcium; potassium; beta-carotene; manganese; folate; magnesium; iron; and dietary fiber.
Well-known research tracking 66,940 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study found a 40 percent decrease in the incidence of ovarian cancer in women with the highest dietary kaempferol intake as compared to women with the lowest intake. Along with broccoli, kale is one of the best sources of kaempferol—which has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Kaemperfol is also found in tea as well as in Brussels sprouts and other greens.
Spinach is extremely high in iron, which protects the immune system and helps the body produce energy. It’s especially important for menstruating and pregnant women, who require higher levels of this nutrient. However, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies for all women. Iron deficiency causes anemia and low energy due to decreased oxygen being delivered to the cells. You can find iron in most leafy greens; other good sources include chard, mustard greens, and romaine lettuce.
Dark leafy greens like Swiss chard, spinach, kelp, and turnip greens are also excellent sources of magnesium, which plays a significant role in many key biological processes. This miracle mineral has been credited with a slew of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, strengthening bones, aiding in sleep, relaxing muscles, and relieving stress and anxiety.
Magnesium has been shown to reduce the severity and recurrence of migraine headaches. And a study of 60 women with urinary urge incontinence found that magnesium supplementation improved the symptoms of overactive bladder in nearly half of participants. Magnesium also aids in calcium absorption, playing a significant role in preventing osteoporosis; several studies on humans have shown that magnesium helps maintain bone mineral density.
Depression has been linked to low levels of calcium and magnesium, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a study comparing the bone mass of depressed premenopausal women to their nondepressed peers found that the depressed women had reduced bone mass and the most thinning in their hip bones, putting them at higher risk of fractures.