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Women & Health: It's Your Choice

By Michele Cyr, MD - Internist and Women's Health Specialist

When it comes to health, I tell my patients that it can all be summed up in a single word: "choice." Healthy living and eating right is not an accident or privilege, but a choice to make it a priority.

Whether women realize it or not, most of them also play an influential role in the health and dietary decisions of those close to them. By taking care of themselves and actively choosing healthy habits, women will automatically serve as role models for their families' life-long dietary habits.

That's why it's so important for all women, and especially mothers, to remember that by reclaiming time to nurture and take care of themselves, they will not only reap the rewards of better health later in life, they will also inspire their families and friends to adopt healthy lifestyles.

As women's bodies go through different stages, lifestyle and diet adjustments must follow accordingly. Basic needs, like good nutrition, often suffer due to the demands of maintaining a satisfying career, taking care of a family, and juggling a hectic schedule. In spite of the pressures of today's busy world, women need to take steps to follow a sound nutritional plan.

The earlier a woman begins eating healthily, the sooner she can help her body adjust to changes and help prevent illnesses that may affect her later in life. As women's life expectancy increases, the goal is not simply to extend years of life, but to improve the quality of living throughout an entire lifespan.

One condition that can seriously threaten the quality of a woman's life is osteoporosis, which causes the thinning and loss of bone mass that often leads to disabling, painful bone fractures. Of the 25 million Americans affected by this illness as they age, the majority of sufferers are women. An effective way to reduce the risk of osteoporosis is through proper nutrition, exercise, and an adequate calcium intake. Calcium is critical for bone growth, development and maintenance at every age and stage in life.

For women under the age of 25, adequate calcium intake is especially important because their bones are still increasing in density. However, the average American woman only consumes 500 mg of calcium per day - a far cry from the recommended 1000 mg for pre-menopausal women and 1500 mg for menopausal women. So what is a quick, easy way to increase calcium intake?

For years, many physicians have been recommending that women eat yogurt containing live and active cultures. Live and active cultures yogurt is an excellent source of calcium; an 8-ounce serving of yogurt contains 450 mg of calcium, as well as other important nutrients that supplements may lack.

Studies show that regular yogurt as part of an overall healthful diet may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in susceptible populations. Yogurt is a great dairy food choice for women who limit their intake of milk and cheese, and has many advantages over supplements. Incorporate calcium-rich foods such as milk, live and active cultures yogurt, Swiss and cheddar cheese, salmon, calcium-fortified orange juice and cooked broccoli into your diet on a daily basis.

During pregnancy, calcium intake is crucial, as it can help regulate maternal blood pressure and help reduce the incidence of hypertension by as much as 70 percent. Hypertension occurs in approximately 20 per cent of pregnancies.

Finally, research suggests that eating yogurt that contains L. acidophilus cultures on a daily basis may decrease yeast growth and infection in certain individuals. Vaginal yeast infections affect nearly 12 million women each year. You can take steps to help prevent infection by eating live and active cultures yogurt.

Remember, no matter how old you are it's never too late to start reaping the benefits of healthful eating for yourself and your family.