People need a balanced diet for health and well-being regardless of their gender. Even though no particular diet is best for women, there are specific areas to consider when it comes to supporting women’s health.
This article explains what a healthful diet is and what it should include. It also looks at different diets that are suitable for women and the scientific evidence behind them.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 recommend that people eat healthful, nutritious foods that are not calorie dense, such as vegetables and whole fruits.
Healthful eating patterns tend to include nutrient dense forms of:
- a variety of vegetables in different colors
- legumes, such as beans and peas
- fruits (mostly whole fruits)
- protein foods, such as lean meats and poultry, fish and seafood, soy products, and nuts and seeds
- grains (at least half of which are whole grains)
- unsweetened dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
- healthful fats, such as olive oil, olives, avocados, and oily fish
The same guidelines also recommend that people limit or avoid certain foods, as follows:
- Limit calories from added sugars to 10% of total daily calories. Processed foods, sweet treats, and sugary drinks all contain added sugars.
- Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of total daily calories. Foods high in saturated fats include butter, cheese, and meat that is not lean.
- Avoid trans fats. Processed foods such as desserts, frozen pizzas, and coffee creamer can contain trans fats.
- Limit sodium to fewer than 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily (for adults).
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink daily for women and no more than two drinks daily for men.
Some diets can help people make more healthful food choices. Also, some specific diets can support health conditions or reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
The following diets all have a plant-based focus and include fish. The sections below will discuss each diet and what the evidence says about supporting women’s health.
According to some experts, the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for weight loss, heart health, and preventing diabetes. Research also indicates that the diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Women may have more health problems during perimenopause and postmenopause if they have overweight or obesity, according to one 2015 study.
The study suggests that Spanish women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet were less overweight and that the diet may improve quality of life during menopause.
A Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables and fruits, olive oil, nuts, and legumes.
Oily fish is an important part of the diet, as are unrefined grains. Also, some people drink wine as part of the diet.
Foods that people should limit when following a Mediterranean diet include meat and dairy. People should also avoid processed foods and eat as naturally as possible.
According to some research, eating a diet that restricts sugar, fat, and salt may also help with the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.
According to several studies, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can lower blood pressure and may help people lose weight. Rates of high blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase in women after menopause.
One 2017 study indicates that women aged 70 years and over maintain better cognitive function when they adhere to a long-term DASH diet.
A 2017 Cochrane review suggests that the DASH diet may also reduce cesarean section incidence in women with gestational diabetes.
Women aged 19–50 years who are moderately active need 2,000–2,200 calories per day. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet, the DASH diet has the following goals for daily and weekly servings of food groups:
- 6–8 daily servings of grains
- One serving is one slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice.
- a maximum of 6 daily servings of lean meats or poultry, eggs, and fish
- One serving is 1 ounce (oz) of cooked meat, fish, or poultry or one egg.
- 4–5 daily servings of vegetables
- One serving is a cup of leafy vegetables or half a cup of raw or cooked vegetables.
- 4–5 daily servings of fruit
- One serving is a medium piece of fruit or half a cup of frozen or canned fruit.
- 2–3 daily servings of low fat or fat-free dairy products
- One serving is one cup of milk or 1.5 oz of cheese.
- 2–3 daily servings of fats and oils
- One serving is a teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil.
- 4–5 weekly servings of nuts, seeds, beans, and peas
- One serving is a third of a cup of nuts or half a cup of cooked beans or peas.
- 2,300 mg of sodium daily (or 1,500 mg to lower blood pressure further)
- five or fewer sweet treats weekly
Women may wish to work out their calorie needs and decide whether or not they want to lose weight. They can then adjust the number of servings accordingly.
Learn more about the DASH diet here.
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
Adopting the MIND diet may help women as they age, as some studies suggest that it is associated with reduced cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The same benefits could also apply to men.
A 2020 study of Iranian women suggests that the participants had a 50% lower risk of breast cancer
when they adhered to the MIND diet.
Migraine is more common in men than women, and one 2020 study suggests that participants following the MIND diet had less frequent, less severe, and shorter migraine headaches.
The MIND diet emphasizes natural, plant-based foods, much like the DASH and Mediterranean diets. It specifically encourages people to increase their berry and green leafy vegetable intake.
The diet also limits animal-based and high saturated fat foods, especially butter, which people should limit to a tablespoon per day.
According to an article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, other guidelines for the MIND diet include:
- eating at least 3 servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable each day
- drinking a glass of wine each day
- snacking on nuts most days
- eating beans every other day
A flexitarian diet is a semi-vegetarian diet, in which someone occasionally eats meat or fish.
According to one 2016 review, flexitarian diets are more popular with women than men. The review suggests that the diet has benefits for:
- body weight
- blood pressure
- diabetes risk
- inflammatory bowel conditions
People who follow a flexitarian diet base their meals around plant foods but occasionally include animal foods, such as eggs, meat, or fish.
Someone who eats a plant-based diet should ensure that they get essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12. They may need to take a supplement for this purpose.