Nature expects a lot of women. We endure fluctuating hormones, produce babies, make money, bake brownies, and shuttle children (and ourselves) to endless activities. With all these superhuman demands, we can certainly use a few nutrition heroes on our side. Here are six of the best, with great-tasting recipes to match. To reap their benefits, include two to three servings of each of these foods in your weekly meal plan.
These sweet treats, whether fresh or frozen, burst with antioxidants that are especially important for focus and brain function; research indicates that the polyphenols in blueberries guard against Alzheimer’s, which strikes one in every six women. Blueberries’ anti-inflammatory properties also protect against cancer and heart disease.
Wild Blueberry and Pear Crisp
Serves 6–8 / A delicious dessert (or breakfast) filled with antioxidants from wild blueberries and seasonal fruit. Increase the flaxseed in the topping if you wish, or add more walnuts for extra omega-3s. View recipe.
Buckwheat-Flaxseed Blueberry Pancakes
Next page: Flaxseed
Rich in lignans, compounds that naturally modulate estrogen levels, flaxseeds help to protect against breast cancer and promote regular ovulation, says Joel Evans, MD, author of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook (Gotham, 2005). They’re also full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein for lasting energy, plus fiber to help prevent constipation. Grind, or look for ground flaxseed.
Flaxseed-Chile Corn Bread with Asiago Cheese
Serves 12 / Nutty, dense, and packed with flavor and healthy flaxseeds. Serve warm alongside a Southern-style meal of fiber-rich red beans and braised greens. Or toast and top with poached eggs for a hearty breakfast. View recipe.
Next page: Leafy greens
3. Leafy greens
Kale, chard, spinach, and their cousins offer calcium to build bones and reduce osteoporosis risk, says Evans. They’re also high in folic acid, which is key for pregnant women and which also may help thwart cervical cancer. Crucifers in particular (including kale, collards, mustard greens, and turnips) contain a precursor to diindolylmethane, a compound that helps the body metabolize estrogen into a safer, more usable form, boosting protection against breast and hormone-related cancers.
Braised Greens and Butternut Squash
Serves 6 / Kale and chard help balance hormones and promote bone health, while butternut squash adds brilliant color, fiber, and antioxidants. Mix it up by using other greens and winter squash. Sprinkle with finely chopped almonds before serving for an appealing crunch and extra dose of healthy fats. View recipe.
Next page: Green tea
4. Green tea
Well-studied epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) seems to be especially powerful in reducing breast cancer risk. Too much sun exposure over the years? EGCG may also reverse the effects of ultraviolet damage and fight skin cancer. In addition, research indicates that green tea increases alertness, fends off fatigue, and aids weight loss by boosting metabolism.
Green Tea Smoothie
Serves 2 / A calcium-packed, energizing breakfast to go. Customize this creamy, sweet smoothie with additional boosts; try a few spoonfuls of raw almond butter, green foods powder, matcha green tea powder, whey protein, or ground flaxseed. To freeze bananas, peel and slice; place in a plastic bag and freeze overnight. Freeze several to keep on hand for future smoothies. View recipe.
Next page: Pomegranates
These sweet-tart fruits and their juice help protect the heart by lowering blood pressure, increasing blood flow to the heart, and preventing hardening of the arteries, Evans says. Because of its powerful anti-inflammatory effect, pomegranate juice also may help ward off osteoarthritis.
Pomegranate, Fennel, and Blood Orange Salad
Serves 6 / Serving tip: Serve with a simple entrée of roast chicken and sautéed broccoli, brussels sprouts, or other cruciferous vegetables. View recipe.
Next page: Sardines
These little fishes are a superb and eco-friendly source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help prevent menopause-related depression and mood changes, Evans says. Omega-3s also reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and protect the arteries from damage, so they’re heart-healthy as well.
Sardine and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad
Serves 4 / Sardines contain the same healthy fats as salmon, at a fraction of the cost. Pairing them with tuna tones down their concentrated flavor; adjust the ratio if you like a pronounced taste. For a flavorful twist on tuna melt, spread this salad on sliced French bread, sprinkle with chopped tomatoes and grated Asiago cheese, and broil until bubbly. View recipe.
Grilled Fresh Sardines