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. View recipe.
Serves 6–8 / A delicious dessert (or breakfast) filled with antioxidants from wild blueberries and seasonal fruit. Prep tips: Increase the flaxseed in the topping if you wish, or add more walnuts for extra omega-3s. View recipe.
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.
Serves 12 / Nutty, dense, and packed with flavor and healthy flaxseeds. Serving tips: 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.
Grilled Broccoli with Tomato-Basil Flaxseed Oil Dressing
Fresh Ricotta with Arugula and Flaxseed Pizza
Flax Medley Breakfast
Salmon-Spinach Salad with Honey Mustard Flax Dressing
Buckwheat-Flaxseed Blueberry Pancakes
Next page: 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.
Serves 6 / Kale and chard help balance hormones and promote bone health, while butternut squash adds brilliant color, fiber, and antioxidants. Prep tips: 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
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, says Evans. In addition, research indicates that green tea increases alertness, fends off fatigue, and aids weight loss by boosting metabolism.
Serves 2 / A calcium-packed, energizing breakfast to go. Prep tips: 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.
Green Tea and Goji Berry Smoothie
Green Tea Granita with Ginger and Citrus
Green Tea Stir-Fry with Garlic and Ginger
Poached Pears with Green Tea and Lime
Grape Leaf-wrapped Tofu With Green Tea
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.
Serves 6 / Serving tip: Serve with a simple entrée of roast chicken and sautéed broccoli, brussels sprouts, or other cruciferous vegetables. View recipe.
Pomegranate and Maple-Glazed Beets
Pomegranate, Fennel, and Blood Orange Salad
Turkey, Pear, and Pomegranate Salad with Cranberry-Chipotle Dressing
Sautéed Greens with Pomegranate Seeds
Squash Tart With Fresh Pomegranate Juice
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.
Serves 4 / Sardines contain the same healthy fats as salmon, at a fraction of the cost. Prep tip: Pairing them with tuna tones down their concentrated flavor; adjust the ratio if you like a pronounced taste. Serving tip: 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.