A Prescription for Better Health Through Food

By Beth Machnica, RD

It is an understatement to say women wear many hats. We are mothers, daughters, wives, caregivers, and community leaders. We teach from home, single parent (kids, pets, and sometimes grandchildren), work the frontlines, and give birth to future generations — all on top of being human. The super-women we are deserve applause but also demand reflection. When we carry too much weight, it is difficult to serve others in a meaningful way. There is only so much you can pour from an empty cup. Emerging from the darkest days of the pandemic and a new normal, as women put themselves and their communities back together, their health, well-being, and emotional resiliency are more important than ever.

You might think that replenishing your mental bandwidth is entirely rooted in yoga, pet snuggles, hot baths, or eating chocolate — and these are all great — but the power of food to heal the mind is equally important. Eating is more than just a bodily transaction where calories and macronutrients are burned through exercise or sleep. Studies show that vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in certain foods contribute to happiness and well-being, reduce stress, and support bodily functions. Nutrient-rich foods containing omega-3s, folate, fiber, B-vitamins, amino acids like tyrosine, and vitamin D are especially critical for women throughout their lives. While single-nutrient supplements could deliver these, it is always best to get nutrition through food.

Evidence shows that the recommended daily eating pattern to best promote women’s health should include whole grains, proteins, animal proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nourishing fats.

  • Whole grains. Quinoa, buckwheat, barley, brown rice, oats, and corn
  • Proteins. Chickpeas, legumes, lentils, soy, nuts, and seeds
  • Unprocessed Animal Proteins. Small 1 to 3-ounce portions, especially fish
  • Fresh fruits. Especially berries, citrus fruits, and stone fruits (peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, apricots, dates, mangoes, coconuts, green almonds, lychees, and olives).
  • Colorful vegetables. Fresh, frozen or canned, preferably grown locally, especially dark leafy greens including kale, spinach, collards, and escarole
  • Nourishing fats. Avocados, sunflower seeds, flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts

In addition to being mindful of what to eat, women should be cognizant of the importance of maintaining steady blood sugar levels. Large fluctuations in blood sugar due to fasting for too long or eating simple sugars causes body stress, can be prevented through consuming protein, healthy fats, and fiber at each meal and as snacks. It is also important to support the body’s natural detox system. The liver and large intestines are major paths for eliminating toxins, hormonal wastes, and other chemicals. Drinking water throughout the day, and eating foods high in fiber and micronutrients such as oats, celery, beans, apples, brazil nuts, cilantro, and flax, support the liver and intestines.

Following these suggestions to nourish our bodies is a great prescription for soothing our daily stress and ability to best serve our families and communities.

Beth Machnica MPH, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Director of Health and Community Well-Being for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.