Happy Monday. Hope the week is off to a good start.
I’m excited for this blog entry! For my final post for women’s week, I want to share with you a roundup of my favorite tips for women’s health. I’ve divided them into three groups (nutritional, sexual, and mind/body/soul). I hope you find them all useful, and some (perhaps) pleasantly surprising!
Five Tips for Dietary Health
Remember high school chem, when you learned about the PH scale? Our bodies also exist in a balance between acidity and alkalinity. High acidity in the body has been linked to fatiguebione loss, and a host of other symptoms that we’d all rather avoid.
What acidifies our bodies? Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and caffeine are big culprits. We also create lactic acid when we digest meat, dairy, and very high-protein foods. These foods, also known as high-PRAL foods, acidify our blood. The human body doesn’t like to be in an acidic state, and it works overtime to compensate. Our lungs, kidneys, and other organs try to “neutralize” acidity by a process called buffering; this means linking the acid to a “base” mineral. These include sodium, potassium, and calcium. There’s now substantial research to prove that high-PRAL foods (which are typically also high-protein foods) contribute directly to calcium loss and over-taxation of the kidneys. Why? Because our body is trying to neutralize blood acid by leaching calcium from bones and into the bloodstream.
The good news is that alkaline foods immediately help to stabilize and alkalize our bodies. What are alkaline foods? Well, they include vegetables, sprouts, low-sugar fruits, legumes, and certain grains (spelt, quinoa, and millet in particular). In other words, the foods that are a cornerstone of a plant-based diet! Which is all the more reason you should be eating as many veggies as possible. Dig in!
2) Eat for Your Bones
It’s no great secret that women are prone to bone density loss as we age. To prevent this, it’s important to eat as alkaline a diet as possible: again, eating too much animal protein, which is acidic, forces our bodies to deplete calcium reserves as a buffer. Ever wonder why countries with highest osteoperosis rates, ours included, are typically the countries with highest dairy consumption? This is why.
In addition, it’s important to eat calcium rich foods. Wondering about the best plant-based sources? Sesame seeds, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, blackstrap molasses, kale, and tofu are all stellar. Most non-dairy milks and soy products are also fortified with calcium, as are many commercial vegan cereals.
If you have any reason to believe that you’re not getting adequate calcium from your diet, go ahead and seek out a good vegan supplement with Vitamin D3. Right now, I’m a big fan of Vitamin Code’s Raw Calcium.
3) Pump up the Iron
We ladies, I’m sorry to say, are also rather prone to anemia. It’s very common for young women to be anemic–symptoms include sensitivity to cold, brittle nails, fatigue, thinning hair, headaches, and depression. To prevent this, it’s crucial for us to eat enough iron.
Fortunately, a plant based diet is full of iron-rich foods! Black strap molasses is a terrific source: one tablespoon daily (try stirring it into raw or cooked oats) brings you halfway to your USDA requirement. Other sources include leafy greens – chard, kale, spinach — as well as edamame, lentils, spinach, tofu, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and navy beans. Cooking with a cast iron pan imparts some iron, too.
4) Stop Fearing Fats
Women–especially women with histories of chronic dieting–tend to be pretty fat-phobic. Don’t be, ladies! I’ve written ad infinitum on the benefits of healthy fats, but just to remind you: healthy fats help our nerves, eyes, and immune systems. Our brain is composed of 60% fats, and our hearts are regulated by them. They’re known to help prevent cholesterol, and they’re especially important for fertility and fetal brain development.
The bottom line? Eat up! Be mindful of eating a sufficient amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in chia seeds, walnut, flax, and pumpkin seeds, and monounsaturated fats, found in almonds, coconut, olives, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and avocados.
5) Ditch the Fad Detoxes
I cannot tell you how frequently I’m asked about “doing a detox.” Should I do a cleanse? Should I do a fast? Should I drink lemonade and lemon juice for sixteen days? Should I eat nothing but green smoothies for a week?
In a word: no. There is no reason for a healthy, average woman to drastically lower her caloric consumption with “cleanses”. In fact, there’s a good chance that whatever cleanse you’re interested in–juices, lemonade, all raw veggies, smoothies only, and the list goes on–will only leave you feeling deprived, strip you of water weight, and lower your metabolism. Even undertaking a radically low-cal diet is likely to lower your metabolism drastically, so that when you do return to normative habits (as you eventually will have to, because you’re human), you’ll be likely to gain weight quickly, and in the form of fat.
If you need to lose a few pounds, or you aren’t feeling your best and want to tune up, simply commit to a few small changes (less processed food, no diet sodas, no sugary desserts) that will help boost energy and let you shed fluff weight. That’s a few, not all: getting healthy doesn’t mean trying to be perfect. It means doing what’s optimal as often as is reasonable. Don’t set yourself up for yo-yo diets that can permanently destroy your metabolic function and digestion: opt instead for small, sustainable changes that will boost health for good.
Five Tips for Sexual Health
1) Be Proactive About Birth Control
Deciding whether or not to go on the pill is deeply personal, and it should be based upon lifestyle, on your dialog with your sexual partner, and on your own comfort level. The pill is a major source of security and freedom for many women, but many others experience negative side effects. Therefore, be proactive: there are proactive ways to prevent pregnancy without BCP (such as copper IUDs), and we have the power to explore them.
2) If You Are on the Pill…
Remember: birth control pills do NOT prevent STDs. Many of my readers grew up in the era of AIDS awareness. That’s terrific, but statistics show that condom use and preventative measures against STDs are dropping among white heterosexuals. HIV rates have dropped marginally, but not nearly enough to justify careless behavior. (No drop, save the eradication of all STDs, would justify carelessness.)
Ladies, if you are taking the pill, remember that it’s no barrier against STDs. Herpes rates are on the rise (some statistics suggest that one in every two single heterosexuals in New York City has the herpes virus), and chlymidia and HPV are as common as ever. If you’re feeling tempted to skip the rubber, or if your partner assumes that your being on the pill is a green light for riding bareback, stop dead in your tracks, and reach for the bedside drawer.
Be sure to get a pap smear regularly. I previously thought it was necessary annually, but a few readers have mentioned that the new ones are good for 2-3 years at a time (ask your ob-gyn). These exams scan for any reproductive abnormalities, STDs, and cervical cell changes associated with HPV.
4) Get the HPV Vaccine
People in the raw and vegan communities have mixed feelings about vaccines. I fall on the pro side of the fence, though I do think it is every parent’s right to select which vaccines are administered to their children, and at what age.
Adult women, naturally, can also make up their own minds about the HPV vaccine. But it seems awfully foolhardy to forgo vaccination against a form of cancer (cervical cancer) that is essentially preventable–especially since so few forms are. And we’ll be protecting our future sexual partners in the meantime.
5) Get to Know Your Body
Do I sound like I’m hailing from the pages of Our Bodies, Ourselves? Maybe I do, but even so, this message bears repeating: a conscious sex life is a rewarding sex life. Even in this day and age, young women are afraid to explore their own bodies, and to share what they learn with partners. Don’t be! Get to know your bod: if that means the old self-examination with a mirror at home, go for it. If it means getting cozy with some erotic literature or visuals, go for it. If it means picking up a sex guide, like The Guide to Getting it On (a classic), do it. Do anything that puts you in touch with what you like, and what you don’t; what feels good, and what doesn’t. And when you figure it out, speak up! Your partner will appreciate a knowledgeable and proactive approach, and you’ll be grateful for it when he (or she) responds accordingly.
Five Tips for Mind, Body, and Soul
It’s nothing you’ve never heard before, but gentle exercise–I’m talking 35 minutes at least three times weekly–is your friend. No, this doesn’t have to mean marathon training or torture sessions at the gym. It can mean brisk walking, yoga, zumba, pilates, rebounding, or simply dancing around your apartment to the newest Gaga single. Exercise will boost your mood, strengthen your heart, strengthen your bones, and keep energy levels high. What’s not to like?
One of the most troubling habits I see among clients is the use of exercise as a means of feeling “safe” about food–to burn calories, feel less “lazy,” or ensure they won’t gain weight from eating.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about embracing our appetites. This means embracing the fact that we hunger simply because we must: hunger is part of being alive. Exercise is a beautiful thing, but it should be separate from hunger, and eating is not optional.
So move, ladies. But don’t move because you ate. Move because it makes you feel energetic, happy, or strong–not because you had a piece of cake. The more you do to dissociate fitness from food, the more you’ll be able to appreciate them both.
3) Remember Self Care
We ladies are often caretakers: we care for children, for parents, for each other. But in so doing, we also forget to take time to care for ourselves. No matter how cliched it may sound, it’s true that we cannot love or value for others until we love and value ourselves.
Carve out time for solitary walks, little beauty treatments, reading, music, catching up with friends, and other forms of self-focused activity. Be gentle and indulgent: if this means canceling a commitment once in a while, or saying no to someone, or taking break from work, do. Preserving your own sanity–which such habits help you to do–means more energy and focus when you do re-emerge to care for the people you love.
4) Don’t Feel Responsible for Other People’s Comfort
I’ve spoken before about a woman’s tendency to eat in such a way that pleases other people. Often, this is because we sense that our good food habits make other people feel insecure or ashamed, and we compensate with self-sabotage. Is there anything more backwards than this–treating our bodies poorly to make our friends or family members feel better about themselves? I don’t think so.
The habit extends beyond food: so often, we bite our tongues, soften our opinions, or shy away from conflict because we know that it will make other people more comfortable. Guess what, girls? Other people are responsible for their own happiness, security, and comfort. Be kind and generous to others, certainly, but don’t take blame for other people’s unhappiness unless you caused it through malice or poor behavior. You’ve got your own happiness to worry about: allaying other people’s private and often self-imposed unhappiness is not your job.
5) Embrace Independence
One of the more troubling tendencies I see in young women today is a feeling of discomfort with solitude–both physical (in that they fear having time alone on their hands) and existential (in that they fear a lack of male companionship). It’s normal, of course, to experience loneliness now and then, or to want to find partnership in life. But to fear one’s own company is, I think, a shame. Life is lived in the company of loved ones, but there’s also truth to the dictum that we live and die alone. At the least, the capacity to support oneself financially, to make one’s way through the world independently, and to amuse oneself in quiet moments, is crucial.
Sharing your life with wonderful people is vital. But it’s also vital to enjoy your own company. So the next time you find yourself striving to make yourself more appealing to others, stop for a moment, and think: how can I be more appealing to myself? Take some time to cultivate a sense of personhood that you enjoy and take pride in, and the pleasures of autonomy will follow.
On that note, friends, women’s week draws to a close. Of course, we’re always celebrating women here on Choosing Raw, so don’t let’s stop considering all of these important issues.
And guys, don’t think we haven’t been celebrating you in our hearts all week, too.
Next up: recipe making returns to Choosing Raw! And before I go, some announcements:
Maggie and her friend Kate have launched a new blog to celebrate food and body love. It touches on many of the themes I’ve been exploring this week, and is a worthy venture. Please check it out!
Susan is giving away a dehydrator.
March is endometriosis awareness month (speaking of sexual health). Check out Allison’s blog for more!
Have a great night.