What is a good balanced diet for women?

Everyone needs to consume three major sources of energy, in their diet, daily: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Of these, carbohydrates should form the main source of total energy (45-65%), then fat (15-30%) and lastly protein (10-35%). Don’t forget about vitamins and minerals – they are also necessary for a healthy body. The required amounts are scientifically set out by the daily reference intake (DRI) standards. The nutritional information on food packaging will show how much of each nutrient it contains compared to the DRIs.

Why women need less energy in their diets

We know that women are generally smaller than men and, therefore, will need less energy per day. The amount will vary depending on age and lifestyle, and whether she is pregnant or breastfeeding.

The average energy for sedentary women is approximately 8 000kJ, and 11 100kJ for active women. When a woman is pregnant or, alternatively is breastfeeding, she will need about an additional 1 000 to 1 600kJ per day. However, regardless of a woman’s condition, if she consumes more energy than her body needs, she will gain weight and vice versa.

What women should focus on eating

Women should focus on good sources of calcium daily to prevent osteoporosis in later life. Good sources of calcium are dairy products and sardines with the bones included. Calcium in vegetables is not easily absorbed. If you cannot obtain enough calcium from your diet, consider taking a calcium carbonate supplement that provides 1 000-1 300 mg/day.

Try to eat three fruits and one cup of cooked vegetables daily. Eat them with skins as far as possible to meet your requirement of 25g of fibre a day. If you are planning to fall pregnant or are breastfeeding take extra folic acid (400-600μg) daily.

Iron is important for women during childbearing age. Menstruation contributes to a substantial amount of iron loss through bleeding and during pregnancy, it fills up a foetus’s iron stores needed for the first six months of life. If you can’t eat enough iron-rich sources (meats), take a chelated supplement containing 18-27μg.

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Why omega 3s are important

Omega 3 fatty acids are also important. Good food sources are fish and olive oil or supplements.

A good guideline to follow when you are dishing up a cooked meal is to dish a hand palm-sized amount of protein, two handfuls of vegetables, and a fist-sized amount of starch or starchy vegetables. Also refrain from using more than a thumb-tip amount of oil or fat during food preparation, No deep fat frying.

Take off all visible fat and skin from meats before cooking. Refrain from adding sugar or butter to already sweet starchy vegetables (e.g. pumpkin). Keep in mind that you need to run for half an hour or walk for an hour to burn off the amount of energy in a chocolate bar! Alcohol also contributes to energy. Limit your intake to one alcoholic beverage a day (1 glass of wine or 1 beer/cider or 1 tot of hard liquor).

So, yes, we can have a slice of cake, in one hand only, occasionally as a treat, and as long as it stays part of a balanced diet.

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