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Last month I did a blog post on super foods for men. I also threw in some basic (and not so basic) differences in male and female brain function. This time I’ll focus on us girls.

Is there a better place to start than hormones and chocolate? Maybe fashion, hats, and shiny things. I’ll see if I can weave them all together, but the launching pad has to be hormones. A brain sloshing around in a pool of estrogen looks and behaves quite different from a brain infused with testosterone. I touched on a few cognitive gender differences in my last post, but since I find this so fascinating, I think I’ll keep this neuro-thread going.

I’m a research nerd and guess what I’ve discovered after logging zillions of hours reading scientific papers (plus, years of field study)?

Men really are from Mars.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I might be gender-biased in my observations, I’ve also discovered that women are from BabbleOn. See – if I was going to fudge my findings, I’d pick something far more flattering.

Here’s the deal. Women do better than men on tasks that require verbal communication and memory of personal experiences. Men excel in the manipulation of complex spatial information.

What does that mean?

Women talk a lot and remember everything. Men can park 2 cars, 1 motorcycle, 3 mountain bikes, a fishing boat, a side-winder circular saw, 6 pairs of skis and 300 pounds of camping gear in a 2 car garage.

Like I said before, we’re different.

Back to the hormone part. Scientifically speaking, aside from all the other stuff estrogen does, it also provides females with the ability to outperform males in associating stimuli across time. It even shows up in more adult-generated neurons in our hippocampus.

What’s a hippocampus, you ask?

It’s a little doo-hickey in the brain that just so happens to be a long-term memory consolidation station and an emotional storage bin. It’s like a jewelry box for stuff you can dig up and throw into a heated conversation years later.

So think about that one for a minute.

Estrogen, emotions, new neurons, and memory storage? It’s no wonder we never forget things men do (or, don’t do). Sorry, but I have to take this one step further (female trait, babbling on). Gender differences in memory and learning are facilitated by differences in hormones and brain anatomy. But it doesn’t stop there. That also gives us the ability to further change our brain anatomy by forming new neurons. The actual structure of the brain changes allowing us to remember more stuff you guys did for longer periods of time.

Like f o r e v e r.

Oh my gosh, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Although I took a rather convoluted, gender-driven journey to get here, I want to stress the importance of balancing blood sugar (glucose) and hormones when it comes to women’s health. Those two things form the foundation for radiant energy, stable emotions, and better stuff in your jewelry box – both pleasant memories and shiny things.

To function optimally, the body must maintain blood sugar levels within the proper ranges. Extreme fluctuations cause roller-coaster hormones, which can lead to hissy fits, dish tossing, and crying jags. It also leads to all kinds of health problems down the road. We can avoid the drama by keeping glucose and hormones in balance. That starts with nutrition and exercise. Yoga is my preferred form of movement-induced, hormone balancing (pun intended). Here are my food favorites.

Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for women (in no particular order)

1. Cinnamon
Cinnamon has a long history as a functional food. Not only does this sweet spice smell and taste wonderful, it also helps control blood sugar and makes you feel full longer. It’s anti-microbial, helps fight candida and is a good source of fiber, calcium and iron. I add about a teaspoon of cinnamon to all my smoothies. I also sprinkle it over yogurt, add it to homemade granola, power bars and whatever else I can think of. I try to eat at least a teaspoon of cinnamon a day.

2. Broccoli
According to cancer researchers at the University of Michigan, a natural compound in broccoli inhibits breast cancer stem cells and helps block their self-renewal pathway. There are all kinds of studies regarding cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and similar green leafy vegetables) and their positive role in cancer prevention. Good stuff!

3. Fiber
Although not a food per se, fiber is so important for blood sugar balance, weight loss, and overall health. I’m a huge fan and eat way more than the recommended amount. For a detailed post I did on fiber several years ago, check here. You’ll find all the information you need to boost your fiber intake. Make sure you do it slowly and drink lots of water.

4. Avocados
Avocados are high in fat, but it’s a healthy fat and worth adding to your arsenal of super foods. Plus, if you add avocado to a big green salad or a fresh salsa mix, you greatly increase the absorption of the other nutrients. Carotenoids (in tomatoes, peppers, carrots, greens, etc.) are fat-soluble nutrients that need to tag along with high-grade fat to be adequately absorbed and assimilated. Avocados are also a low-carb, high-fiber food source, which is great for balancing blood sugar and hormones (once again, so important).

5. Coconut
Another high fat food, but again, this is good stuff, so don’t be fat-aphobic. The key is to be very picky about your fats. Please check here for a detailed post I wrote a couple of years ago on the health benefits of coconut. I love the stuff! Eat it, cook with it, put it on your skin, slather it on your hair.

6. Dark chocolate and red wine
Hey, what can I say? Girls are programmed to lust after chocolate. Resveratrol, a substance in cacao and red wine, is the “it” supplement right now. But, in most cases, I believe we’re better off eating the whole food rather than taking supplements. Treat yourself on occasion (moderation, moderation) and eat a small chunk of high-grade dark chocolate. You might even pair it with 4 ounces of a nice Pinot Noir.
Past resveratrol posts: dark chocolate as health food, enlightened hot chocolate, carnival of love (red wine)

7. Beets and berries
Those of you who have following this blog for the past 4 years know I’m passionate about beets. Ridiculously so. I’ve been a beet girl my entire life. My mom says I ate them as a baby and grew up thinking they were dessert. I was lucky. I had a mom who fed me beets, spinach, and broccoli during the explosion of processed foods. I can’t remember ever having a Twinkie, sugary cereal, or Hamburger Helper. We ate real food, made from scratch. There are so many studies linking the nutrients in beets to good health that I won’t even try to list them all. Just trust me, they’re amazing. I have a lot of beet blog posts in my archives, but since summer is around the corner, here’s an ice cream recipe.

8. Apples
Apples are high in fiber, help balance blood sugar in several different ways (they’re magic), are anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, support healthy gut bacteria and are packed with goodness. Studies show positive results with age-related health problems as well (macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, etc.). I’m taking this “apple a day” thing seriously. Apples are sprayed with some seriously nasty stuff, so choose organic.

9. Swiss chard and leafy greens
Greens are true super foods. All greens are great sources of beneficial plant nutrients, but I’ll focus on Swiss chard since I’m on my “balance your blood sugar” rant. There’s a substance in chard (syringic acid if you must know) that has warrior princess power when it comes to blood sugar regulation. Chard (like beets) also contains a group of phytochemicals called betalains, which are high in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and promote detoxification.

10. Chick peas
How could I not include chick peas?  Lucky for us, these little nutrient-dense namesakes help regulate blood sugar and are packed with fiber. I know, this blood sugar/fiber thing is getting tiresome, but it’s so important for long-term health, artful aging and hormone balance. Chick peas are also super high in the mineral manganese, which is an antioxidant involved with energy production. Who doesn’t want more energy? Check here for one of my favorite roasted chick pea recipes from Shirley at GFE.

Just as important is what you don’t eat. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, soda pop, too much caffeine or alcohol, and junk food. Stick to whole foods with an emphasis on veggies and fruit.

Peace, love, and real food!
Melissa
Image of Robert Lewis Reid painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

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51 Responses to “(for girls only) nutrition for women”

  1. OMG did my mom give you that photo? I thought I had gotten rid of that.

    I LOVE this post because I actually love the foods you listed and eat them on a regular basis. OK this weekend was a little heavy on the wine, but I typically don’t indulge that much because it’s usually me cleaning the wine glasses.

    I really liked the info on memory and how we are so different than the ones with guy parts. That explains so much!

    OK off to plan the rest of my meals today to get in more of these foods!

    • Melissa says:

      Diane,

      I know, the wine and chocolate part are sometimes hard to keep at moderately low levels. And yes, your mom did give me that photo of you!

      =)

  2. Elese says:

    Melissa, your blog is so fun! Great info. and always makes me smile. You have a gift for finding the best photos! :)

    Thanks for linking to your previous posts about fiber and coconut–I missed those ones, so I’ll have to go back and check them out.

    About Swiss Chard–I grew it once (bright lights variety), thought it was so beautiful! It wasn’t a huge hit with the family at that time, but it’s probably the way I prepared it. I’ll give it another try though, since it sounds very beneficial. What’s your favorite way to eat it?

    Thanks as always for another great post!

    • Melissa says:

      Elese,

      Thanks so much for your kind comments. I really appreciate it! As for chard, I like it sauteed in a small amount of broth and then mixed in with brown rice. Or, saute onions and garlic in a little coconut oil and then add the chard just until slightly wilted. That makes for a good side dish. You can also use it in veggie lasagna. Yum!

  3. Awesome post Melissa! And that list at the end reads like my who’s who of favorite foods … but I would add nuts :)

    And seriously, why isn’t that thing melting?!

    • Melissa says:

      Alisa,

      I agree with your nut comment! And yeah, it is weird that there’s no melting going on. Unless she’s in a walk-in refrigerator!

      =)

  4. OMG, you are the best, Melissa! Loved the example of what guys can pack into a garage and how they excel at that while we’re talking and remembering everything. LOL It’s so true! I’m taking a break to eat my organic Pink Lady apple with a few walnuts, but thanks so much for this post and the link love, too. :-) Gotta have my chickpeas! I need to stock up on some of the other foods, but cannot fit a single extra thing in my fridge until AFTER my support group meeting tonight. Oh, and awesome photo of you at the royal wedding! You can’t tell from the pic, but I bet you’re wearing trail shoes. ;-)

    xoxo,
    Shirley

    • Melissa says:

      Shirley,

      Chick peas are awesome and your roasted version is one of my favorites. I just had to add that one for a variety of reasons! And thanks for the kind comments.

      xo

  5. Kay says:

    Great info! My Swiss chard is over a foot tall. Must be time to eat some. Think I’ll try a Swiss chard lasagna. No noodles, just leafy goodness between the layers.

    • Melissa says:

      Kay,

      You and your farm-girl expertise just blows me away. I seriously wish you were my neighbor! I’d LOVE that. =)

  6. Maggie says:

    You are so funny. That pic and caption made me laugh out loud after some intense focusing! Perfect timing. Thanks for the GREAT info (again). I sometimes add cinnamon to our smoothies but will do it every day now!

  7. Sonja says:

    I love you!! This is great and I will be forwarding to all my girlie friends! Thanks for being such an inspiration and nutritional Goddess!

    • Melissa says:

      Sonja,

      Thank you! I love you too (don’t you just love being a girl)! Men would never talk like this.

      =)

  8. patricia says:

    you’re awesome. i thoroughly enjoy your blog and love that it (you) make me laugh out loud while i’m learning something. well done!

    • Melissa says:

      Patricia,

      Thank you SO much! Learning and laughing are good things mixed together. It helps us remember what we learn.

  9. Lexie says:

    GREAT post! I’ve been feeling the effects of aging lately so this is timely and helpful. All those foods are among my favorites so this should be easy, ha! : )

    • Melissa says:

      Lexie,

      I noted a touch of sarcasm in your “easy” comment. I know what you mean. I often tell my clients that eating healthy food is simple. Very simple. It’s just not always EASY!

      =)

  10. Martha Russell says:

    Melissa,

    Loved this post! You had me laughing! Had a problem with the link to your post on fiber. It didn’t take there so I could read it.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Melissa says:

      Martha,

      Thanks for tipping me off to the link on fiber. I’m a little late getting around to responding, but I’ll take care of that. Nice to hear from you! Hope all is well.

      xo

  11. WholesomeGal says:

    I don’t even miss gluten products! They foods you listed are apart of everyday meals as well…especially avocados!! Can’t get enough of them:)

    • Melissa says:

      Wholesome Gal!

      Avocados are favorites of mine as well. Good, healthy fat is a wonderful thing. =) I don’t miss gluten either. In fact, eliminating it brings a whole new world of awesome alternatives into view! And that’s a good thing.

  12. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    I think my hippopotamus has been eating too much sugar :) and yes it does affect my mood swings, plus my memory could be better.

    Loved this article Melissa, fabulous reading as usual and very thought provoking. As for women being a world away from the male of the species… are we not reminded of this every day? How I wish we could all be contented with our different qualities and perhaps with age we eventually get around to celebrating this fact rather than fighting it.

    Wonder where the hippypotamus stands on the subject of menopause? :)

    Cid

    • Melissa says:

      Cid,

      Thank you for stopping by! I miss you and have been thinking of you quite often lately. You’re so right about the sugar thing. It can impact so many aspects of good health. As for menopause and hippopotamuses — I’ll have to do some research and write a blog post on that. You always offer such good humor and inspiration!

      Hope all is well. I’ll reconnect via email.
      xo

  13. This is my FAVORITE topic. It was one of my favorite classes as well, when I was working on my degree!! You are amazing and always so full of the best information!
    I totally notice when I am not focusing on the right foods for my hormones. I start to feel off! Thanks for reminding me of all of the best foods to keep us women sane!!
    And, Diane, you look amazing in that photo! ;)
    xo
    k

    • Melissa says:

      Kim,

      It’s one of my favorite topics as well. I took a semester of men and women’s nutrition and thoroughly enjoyed it. We’re different! Thank goodness. =)

      Yes, balancing blood sugar and hormones is key to radiant health. Hard to do, but so important.

      Thanks for your “smart girl” comments! I always love hearing your opinion.

  14. God I love being a woman! Chocolate and red wine! So glad you said not too much caffeine instead of no caffeine cuz then I would have had to just jump off a brige or something.

    Happy Birthday to you, you beautiful lady!

    Wish YOU peace and love!

    xo,
    c

    • Melissa says:

      Carol,

      It’s a good thing because you are definitely a girlie-girl! Did I say something about caffeine? Can’t remember now, but I’m not an anti-coffee person. I don’t think coffee is evil, but it must be high-grade and in small doses. Just like wine and dark chocolate. No need to jump off a bridge. =)

      Peace and love to you!

  15. What a terrific article on brain construction and hormones, and how food affects our health! This is funny and engaging, as well as educational. Most people don’t think nearly enough about how food affects their brain chemistry, which in turn affects their mood, functionality, and overall quality of life. Keep up the good work! http://cprfordepressives.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/it-aint-neat-to-eat-wheat/

    • Melissa says:

      Thank you for stopping by! I appreciate your comment and yes, food totally impacts brain function. You’re right, people don’t often make that connection. What you eat makes a huge difference. Good food, good mood!

  16. Great post, Melissa. Love, love, love all your favorite foods. I’m passing this one on to my sister and niece. Hugs, Nancy

  17. Melissa says:

    Thank you for the “head’s up” on the faulty fiber link, Martha. I got it fixed!

    Melissa

  18. Alta says:

    Love this post. Lots of my favorite foods! I’m all about someone telling me I can have lots of avocado, coconut, chocolate, and beets. :) Off to check out that beet ice cream now…I think I must have missed that before.

    • Melissa says:

      Alta,

      Thanks! As for the beet ice cream, just make sure you don’t smile while eating it. Your teeth turn pink. =)

  19. love the post as always! So glad you posted on twitter again, I missed it when it originally came out.
    I’d add in salmon and other sources of omega 3s. Not only are they good for us and our hearts, brains, joints, etc, but good for babies, too.

    • Melissa says:

      Cheryl,

      I’m with you on the wild-caught salmon and omega 3 benefits. Good stuff, indeed!

      Thanks for connecting via Twitter.

  20. Lisa says:

    Love this post just for the fact that you mentioned chocolate.

  21. lo says:

    I’m marking this post for reference. For one, I love that list of foods :)

    • Melissa says:

      Lo,

      Thanks! The great thing about making your own lists is you get to choose the foods you love. =)

      Luckily these are also healthy!

  22. Stephanie says:

    Just wanted to toss out the importance of iron– women (especially those who were recently diagnosised with celiac disease) of childbearing age are more likely to be iron deficient. Dark green leafy veg (except chard, and spinach) are a good source of iron, so I’d be inclinded to vote for kale, chinese broccoli, or collards. You even absorb a sbustantial amount of calcium from them, and folate, and vitamin K, and lutein… pair them with an egg for the best absoprtion of nutrients.

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks, Stephanie! I appreciate you weighing in on this. Great comment!

      I love poached eggs on sautéed greens, even have a couple of those recipes on my blog. That’s a favorite of mine.

      Melissa

  23. Daniela says:

    Wow! I really love your blog, Melissa. Just discovered it today and I’m hooked! So much great information and confirmation of what I already knew. Very grateful for you! And on top you are soooo funny….I’m cracking up here….reading while standing up…lol
    Much Love and Peace to you and all your readers
    Daniela

    • Melissa says:

      Daneila,

      Thank you so much for your good energy and kind comments! I really appreciate it. And hey, if we can’t laugh at life’s oddities, we’re in big trouble. Don’t you think? =)

      Peace, love and laughter.
      Melissa

  24. Melissa says:

    Melissa-
    So very glad I found your blog! Funny, Witty, & full of great info!!

    Thanks!!

    • Melissa says:

      Melissa,

      Love your name! =) What’s your middle name?

      Welcome! And, thanks for visiting and thanks for the kind comments. I really do appreciate it!

      Melissa Renée

  25. Where did this image come from? Nice artlce, but no credit was given to an equally wonderful artist.

    • Melissa says:

      David,

      You are so right. The artist who came up with the design, the models wearing the designs and the photographer all deserve a ton of credit. It’s delightful. I ran across this image quite some time ago on a random website somewhere. Now, I can’t tell you where and I recall no credit given on the site and no way to contact the artist. I just now did a quick search and I have no idea where it came from. I’ve had it saved for some time, thinking it was a fun food shot. I normally take my own photos or purchase them from Fotolia, but this one I simply ran across somewhere on the internet. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll do something about it — not sure what yet, but I’ll come up with something. I appreciate your comment!

  26. Alyssa says:

    This is a great post. I love your site; the information is thorough yet presented in quite an entertaining manner.

    I look forward to reading more!

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