● Take It Outside
“Vitamin D, which your skin produces when you’re exposed to sunlight, plays a pivotal role in bone health, just like calcium,” Warren says. According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, both men and women are deficient in the vitamin, but since women face a higher risk of osteoporosis, it’s more essential for them to count their daily IU intake; 600 is recommended. Dining alfresco to soak in the rays is a good start. For foods, go for salmon (a 4 oz salmon fillet exceeds nearly twice the recommended daily amount), sardines (3 oz deliver 175 IUs), or fortified beverages like almond and soy milk. Plus, research from the University of California, San Diego, suggests that the vitamin may help ward off breast and ovarian cancers.
● “Does This Cholesterol Make Me Look Fat?”
“You can have high cholesterol when you’re only 20 years old,” warns Sass, who says the average woman should eat far less saturated fat (linked to cholesterol and heart disease) than her male counterpart. “A maximum of 10% of your daily calories should be from this,” she says, “so for the average woman that’s only 17g a day, which tallies up fast. A man could be allowed almost 10 more grams.” When choosing ground meat, reach for the 99% lean option (turkey has just 1g saturated fat per ounce) and always sauté vegetables with extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter, which saves you 5g per tablespoon.
● Fixate on Folate
Contrary to what most women think, you don’t have to be trying to get pregnant for it to be a good idea to monitor folate intake; it’s smart for females to consume plentiful amounts of the B vitamin on a regular basis. “Folate prevents pregnancy complications that can occur early, like before most women even know they’re carrying,” Warren says. “But it also plays a role in creating new red blood and skin cells.” Research from the University of Ulster in Ireland also hints that foods rich in folic acid could protect against heart disease—the number one killer of women—and strokes. Beans are your best bet: One cup of cooked lentils provides 7mg, almost 40% of the recommended daily value, and pintos and chickpeas follow suit. Beyond legumes, spinach and collard greens also deliver hefty amounts.
● Fill Up on Fiber
This nutrient helps you to stay full and slash calories, and a recent study that examined the eating habits of 20,000 Swedish residents reveals that it also protects against heart disease, particularly in women. Eating more high-fiber foods also makes women less likely to be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder that affects more women—typically those below age 35—than men. Ditch refined grains (such as white pasta and bread) for whole ones, like brown rice, bulgur, or— your best bet—farro, an ancient grain that packs the most fiber into one serving: 3.5g per half-cup cooked.
● Don’t Split It and Quit It
Women store more body fat than men, so they require fewer daily calories. “Even if a man and a woman were the same height, the man would still be able to take in more calories because he has more muscle mass,” Sass explains, “and muscle mass requires more calories.” If you’re cooking a whole-grain pasta dish, a woman’s portion should be only half a cup—maybe one cup if she’s really active—while a man can afford up to two cups; for protein, three ounces (about the size of an iPhone) is sufficient for her, while you need at least double that.