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Need a nutrition makeover? Here’s help

Have you been eating mindlessly for, well, as long as you can remember? If so, you’re probably overdue for a nutrition makeover. Here’s why: Eating different types of nutritious foods—in the right quantities—can help protect mature women against heart disease and osteoporosis.

While new information on what’s good for you seems to change often, experts agree on these constants of sound nutrition:

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Focus on vegetables, fruits and grains.
  • Choose a low-cholesterol diet.
  • Monitor the saturated fat content.
  • Eat to maintain a healthy body weight.

Value in variety

A good way to ensure variety is to choose foods each day from the five major food groups listed below. Your lifestyle, genetics and other conditions, such as menopause, can also affect nutritional needs.

Ask your healthcare provider to develop a personalized eating plan, incorporating:

  • vegetables: 4 to 5 servings
  • fruits: 4 to 5 servings
  • bread, cereals, rice, pasta (at least half of them whole-grain): 5 to 10 servings
  • low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese: 2 to 3 servings
  • meat, poultry, fish, dried beans/peas, eggs, nuts: 5 to 6 ounces of animal protein or 1 to 1½ cups beans

Fill up on fiber

Women should eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains to meet the recommended daily level of 20 to 35 grams of fiber. Fruits and vegetables contain some important vitamins, such as A, C and folic acid. A fiber-rich diet ensures bowel regularity, helps reduce high cholesterol and can lower colon cancer risk. Fiber comes in two forms—insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is found mostly in whole-grain products, vegetables and fruit. Plentiful sources of soluble fiber include legumes, many vegetables and fruits, rice, corn and oat bran.

Improve your cholesterol levels

To protect against heart disease, your blood cholesterol level should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter. Levels between 200 and 239 mg/dL are considered borderline, and anything 240 or more is high.

To keep your levels in the healthy range, eat foods containing fewer than 300 mg of cholesterol a day. Cholesterol is found in animal food sources, such as egg yolks, dairy products, meat, poultry, shellfish and some processed products. Monitor your intake of foods high in saturated fat, the biggest culprit when it comes to raising cholesterol.

Choose fats wisely

Fat is a word women 40 and older fear, since it gets harder to lose weight as we age. For a healthy diet, keep total fat intake between 20 percent to 35 percent of calories and remember, the kinds of fat you eat are as important as how much.

There are three kinds of fat—saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. All have 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram for protein or carbohydrate).

Saturated fat can make blood cholesterol levels skyrocket. On the other hand, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may actually lower blood cholesterol levels.

The highest amounts of saturated fat are found in meat and dairy products, such as butter, ice cream and cheese. Coconut and palm kernel oils are also loaded with saturated fat.

The best sources for polyunsaturated fats are plant-based oils, such as sunflower, corn, soybean and safflower. Monounsaturated fats are most prevalent in olive, canola and peanut oils.

Watch your waist

Have your clothes become snug over the years? If you’ve put on weight, don’t rush to slash your calorie intake. It’s not always the best way to shed unwanted pounds. Women who eat fewer than 1,500 calories a day may find it harder to meet all their daily requirements.

Instead of eating less food, look for better alternatives. For example, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese provide all the calcium and fewer calories than their full-fat counterparts. Soybeans are also an excellent source of calcium, and thanks to phytoestrogens, substances similar to estrogen, they may offer relief from hot flashes and depression.