Women’s bodies are capable of so many incredible, wonderful things and keeping those bodies functioning at their best requires a little bit of extra care. While the following foods are good for everyone to eat, they are especially good for woman.

Heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer are among the top killers of women in the United States. While there are many factors that play into the development of these conditions, the risks can be reduced by eating certain foods. Women also face unique challenges to their health based on hormone fluctuations and reproductive cycle. And, of course, we can’t forget the changing nutritional needs during pregnancy! The good news is that all of these needs can be addressed through diet!

Here are 21 foods every woman should eat (and 5 to avoid!), to stay strong, healthy, and fierce:

original-greeyogGreek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, a mineral women need to maintain strength in their bones as they age. It is also full of healthy probiotics that can not only help you maintain digestive health, it can promote vaginal and urinary health. When bad bacteria gets out of hand in our digestive tract, it can easily be passed, through elimination, to these other sensitive areas of the body.

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Fatty Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring are high in omega 3 fatty acids which work as an anti-inflammatory, protecting your body from many ailments including heart disease and arthritis. Salmon is also a great source of vitamin D which helps the body to absorb calcium, an important mineral for women and bone health.

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Beans: Not just an excellent source of protein and fiber, beans also contain dozens of nutrients that women are often lacking in their bodies. These nutrients include, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Scientific studies have linked eating beans to a decreased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast and colon cancers.

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Tomatoes: Tomatoes are one of best sources of lycopene in the human diet. This powerful antioxidant can help to protect your cells and DNA from damage caused by harmful free radicals which research has found may decrease the chances of getting breast, endometrial, lung, stomach,  and renal cell carcinoma cancers. Heating your tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene available for absorption so for best results, try some sauteed or roasted tomatoes as a side dish or in your morning omelet.

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Berries: Berries, like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, offer cancer protection by way of antioxidants but their benefits don’t stop there! They also contain high amounts of vitamin C and the B vitamin, folate. Vitamin C is essential for helping your body absorb iron. Folate is good for the heart, can reduce the risk of stroke, promotes normal cholesterol levels and is essential for fetal health in early pregnancy. As an added bonus, the antioxidants in blueberries, in particular, also help promote youthful skin, prevent urinary tract infections, relieve eyestrain and help with memory loss.

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Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are a delicious source of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Both of these things help to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.  Studies  have found that eating 2 ounces a day of walnuts can significantly improve blood flow to, and from, the heart in just 2 months. Walnuts are also packed full of  phytosterols, a known cancer fighting antioxidant. When it comes to nuts, just remember to keep your portions in check. They are high in calories and may throw off other elements of your diet.

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Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a heart-healthy food option. A study done at Harvard of over 68,000 women found that those who ate the most fiber were 23% less likely to develop heart disease than those who consumed the least. And because they are full of soluble fiber, which expands in water, they are digested more slowly and keep you feeling fuller, longer, reducing your blood sugar spikes and helping to prevent type 2 diabetes.

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Flaxseed: Adding flax to your diet can reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing red blood cells from clumping together and blocking your arteries. And if you ever experience vaginal dryness, flaxseed contains phytoetrogens that can boost estrogen levels and increase lubrication.

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Olive Oil: When it comes to protecting your heart and helping your cholesterol levels, few things are better than the monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) found in olive oil. These MUFAs lower your LDL cholesterol levels while increasing your HDL cholesterol. Olive oil is also packed with antioxidants that can reduce your risk for certain cancers and chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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Broccoli: Rich in vitamin C, broccoli can help your body absorb iron. This is particularly important for women as iron levels often go down during menstruation. Iron provides energy by delivering oxygen to the body’s cells. Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the development of collagen, an important protein that helps to  build  bones, cartilage, and tendons, while maintaining  your skin’s elasticity.

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Spinach: Spinach and other leafy greens like kale, provide your body with iron. Spinach also contains lutein which may help to guard against heart attacks by keeping the artery walls free of cholesterol. This salad go-to is full of  sulfoquinovose which acts as prebiotic, feeding your healthy gut bacteria and preventing the growth and colonization of the bad bacteria. And if you are pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, spinach gives a healthy dose of folate, helping to protect against birth defects.

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Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes are full of beta-carotene. Your body converts that into vitamin A which is a key player in protecting eye health. Women are more likely than men to develop cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration and eating food rich in beta-carotene may help protect against this.

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Garlic: Garlic does more than make your food taste incredible, it can reduce the risk of ovarian and colorectal cancers. It also contains a phytochemical called allicin which can reduce blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke. Garlic also reduces plaque build up in the arteries and prevents new plaque from forming.

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Apples: Apples might one of the healthiest foods there is. In several large studies, apples have been found to be one of the most effective foods on the planet for reducing heart disease in postmenopausal women. They have also been found to reduce the risk of lung cancer and type 2 diabetes.

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Dark Chocolate: If you love chocolate, you’re in luck. Dark chocolate and cocoa have been found to reduce inflammation in the body and protect against heart disease! One 9 year study found that women who ate 1 to 2 servings of high quality dark chocolate a week had a 32% lower risk of developing heart failure than women who didn’t eat dark chocolate. It is believed that the polyphenol and flavanol compounds in dark chocolate protect the heart. For the greatest benefit, make sure your chocolate contains at least 70% cocoa.

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Turmeric: Inflammation is never a good thing in the body and can lean to many conditions, including cancer. Earthy flavored turmeric fights inflammation in the body and contains the antioxidant curcumin. One study found that curcumin has  chemopreventive properties and may reduce the formation of breast cancer.

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Green tea: Green tea contains antioxidants that have been tied to slower growth in cancer cells, improved blood flow, weight loss, improved liver function, and  lower  rates of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. And because green tea contains polyphenols, it may also reduce the risk of breast cancer.

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Quinoa: Quinoa is known as a super food for good reason. It is a nutrient-packed complete protein that can be used as a long lasting energy source for all women. It’s high protein content, along with folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese make this a particularly healthy food for pregnant women. Protein needs are high during pregnancy as it is an essential for proper fetal development.

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Pumpkin: Like sweet potato, pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A or retinol. If you want to keep your skin glowing, your eyes healthy and your immune system firing, pumpkin is a great place to start!

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Cranberries: It is believed that upwards of 60% of women will experience a urinary tract infection in their lifetime. The fructose and A-type proanthocyanidins found in cranberries prevent the harmful bacteria from attaching to the wall of the bladder and reproducing. In other words, cranberries help to flush infection causing bacteria from your system. It won’t do anything for you once you have an infection (antibiotics is the only answer there!) but regular consumption of cranberries can help prevent an infection from starting in the first place!

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Chickpeas: Many of the complicated and tough to live with symptoms that come with peri- and postmenopause are caused by a drop off of estrogen levels. Chickpeas contain isoflavone which acts as a phytoestrogen. It takes on the structure of estrogen and can function in the same pathways helping to make these symptoms more bearable.

Some of these foods may already be in your diet, others may not. If you are looking for simple and creative ways to prepare and enjoy these foods, check out the BodyRock Meal Plan. Full of healthy and tasty recipes, eating well has never been so easy! Take the guesswork out of everything and let us help! Check it out.

It is important to remember that there are two sides to everything. We’ve given you the foods that will help to keep you healthy, now it is time to look at the ones that can potentially do some serious damage. For optimal health, it is best to significantly reduce, or completely eliminate the following foods:

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Licorice: Licorice and “licorice like foods”, such as fennel and anise, have strong estrogenic properties which can disrupt natural hormones levels, increasing the risk for certain types of cancers. And eating too much while pregnant can impair fetal brain development.

Soy: Soy contains phytoestrogens which can cause estrogen dominance in women which has been linked to infertility, menstrual troubles and cancer. It can also inhibit the body’s ability to absorb zinc, calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium.

Low-Fat Dairy: Studies have found that women who eat high amounts of low-fat dairy are more likely to experience ovulatory infertility than women who consume little to no low-fat dairy products.

Microwave Popcorn: Microwave popcorn bags are lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which can dramatically increase infertility rates. PFOA has also been linked to irregular periods and breast cancer.

Canned Tomatoes: The resin lining of tin cans is made with  bisphenol-A (BPA) which has been linked to everything from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The acid in tomatoes breaks down the BPA, allowing it to enter your system more easily.

Tell us, BodyRockers? How many of these health boosting foods are you eating on the regular?

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