1 Papaya – This fruit packs about twice the vitamin C of an orange. Add it to your arsenal against gallbladder disease, which afflicts twice as many women as men. After analysing the blood of over 13,000 people, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who had lower levels of vitamin C were more likely to have gallbladder illnesses. One medium papaya (about 280 grams), with 188 milligrams of C and a mere 500 kilo-joules, is a refreshing source of the vitamin. Best of all it’s probably growing in your garden.
2 Flaxseed – Bakers use this nutty-flavoured seed mainly to add flavour and fibre. But scientists see the tiny reddish-brown seed, rich in oestrogen-like compounds called lignans, as a potential weapon against breast cancer. An exciting report at last year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium showed that adding flaxseed to the diet of women with breast cancer effectively slowed tumour growth. You can flavour your muffins with flaxseed, but the easiest way to get the beneficial lignans is to sprinkle a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your morning cereal. Look for the seeds in health food shops. They’re easy to grind in a blender or coffee grinder. But get seeds – there are no lignans in the oil.
3 Tofu – Foods high in soya protein can lower cholesterol and may minimise menopausal hot flushes and strengthen bone. Isoflavones, plant chemicals in soyabeans that have a structure similar to oestrogen, may be the reason. Though animal studies form the bulk of evidence, a human study found that 90 milligrams of isoflavones was beneficial to bone (specifically the spine). And two other studies suggest that 50 to 76 milligrams of isoflavones a day may offer some relief from hot flushes. Half a cup of tofu contains about 25 to 35 milligrams of isoflavones.
4 Pork – Due largely to menstruation, women tend to be more anaemic than men. And low iron levels in blood can cause severe fatigue. To get a good dose of iron, try pork. It has what every diet-conscious women wants – lots of iron and fat that can be easily removed, compared to most cuts of meat. According to the Asian Food Information Centre in Singapore, a palm-sized pork steak has about 1.4 milligrams of iron. Best of all, says Dr Mark Wahlqvist, president of the International Union of Nutrition Sciences, eating a small amount of pork with a meal increases the absorption of iron from accompanying vegetables and cereals.
5 Cabbage – This humble vegetable may help fight osteoporosis, which affects many women late in life. In addition to getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, some studies suggest that vitamin K may have a bone-protective effect as well. Based on data from one of the largest studies of women, the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers discovered that women who ate enough vitamin K-rich foods (at least 109 micrograms of the vitamin daily) were 30 per cent less likely to suffer a hip fracture during ten years of follow-up than women who ate less. Researchers point out that dark-green leafy vegetables – brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli – are all good sources of the vitamin. But cabbage is among the best.
There you have it: five great foods for women that can keep both of you well fed and healthy at the same time.