You know how to fuel your own body. You prowl the grocery store and restaurant menus like a predator, stalking a herd of nutrients that will keep your muscles growing, your metabolism revving, your energy in high gear. You’re the python of protein, the mountain lion of minerals, the, uh, anteater of antioxidants. You know everything you need to stock your kitchen cupboard with the perfect foods that a man needs to be a man. Then she comes home with you. And suddenly, whey protein shakes and a bean burrito won’t cut it. Any man who’s loved a woman knows that satisfying her cravings in the kitchen takes the same degree of skill, the same level of selflessness as satisfying her cravings in the bedroom. And if she’s even half as interested in health and fitness as you are, you’ll score extra points for knowing what her body needs, and making sure those needs are met.
Fortunately, you don't need a degree in nutrition or a certificate from the French Culinary Institute to do it. All you need is an understanding of the female body, and a few go-to recipes that perfectly fuel it. Bonus: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Exploring new foods on her behalf will only expand your own body’s consumption of premium nutrients.
● Cue the Calcium
"Whatever calcium a woman has in her bone bank when she hits her early 30s is for life, so it’s really important for young women to get enough,” says Cynthia Sass, R.D., author of S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim. To reach the recommended 1,000mg per day, choose the dairy items most dense with the mineral, such as plain yogurt (a mere half-cup delivers 415mg), part-skim mozzarella (1.5 oz delivers 333mg), and cheddar (1.5 oz for 307mg). But don’t stop at dairy: Other top sources include tofu and kale. And, of course, calcium plays a major role in building muscle and keeping body fat in check.
● Go Mega With OMEGA-3s
What aren’t these fatty acids good for? Research shows they play a crucial role in boosting brain health, reducing inflammation, and preventing chronic diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, says Rachel Meltzer Warren, R.D., owner of RMW Nutrition in New York City. Not getting an ample supply from fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and halibut—which the body absorbs more easily than plant-based sources—can increase a woman’s chances of depression. While men and women process serotonin similarly, one 2007 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry revealed that when women experience a reduction in the neurotransmitter, their mood dramatically drops in comparison with men. (Need we point out the consequences for you?) Wild salmon, in particular, also contains the fatty acid DHA, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy (if you’re ready for that step).
● Pass the Salt
Turns out 20- and 30-something women take in the lowest levels of iodine, a trace mineral necessary for producing thyroid hormones, which help regulate metabolism. But this doesn’t mean you should dial up the salty snacks: “Interestingly, a lot of the iodine we get comes from salt, but most of the salt we get comes from processed foods, which aren’t even made with iodized salt,” Warren says. Beyond seasoning meals with table salt in moderation, also go for yogurt (it packs in the most, with 87mcg per cup) eggs, shellfish (scallops and shrimp), and strawberries.
● Iron Out Your Differences
In general, women lack iron—which wears many hats in cell function, from carrying oxygen in the blood to helping our muscles store and use oxygen—because, well, they lose it in their blood during that time of the month. With a low iron reserve, the most common nutritional deficiency in the country, you’re at risk for anemia. “If you’re not cooking for a vegetarian, your best bet is animal foods, like red meat, poultry, and fish,” Warren recommends. “It’s absorbed up to three times more efficiently than plant-based sources like spinach and black beans. If you do prep a non-animal source, pairing it with a vitamin C-rich food will enhance iron absorption.