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With the majority of major women’s health publications marketing “healthy” processed food products and downplaying the importance of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, it is no wonder that women are growing more overweight and sicker year after year. 64 percent of American women are overweight or obese, according to the Weight-control Information Network, and 8.6 million women die of heart disease each year. Cardiovascular illness, becoming overweight, obesity, and even some problems associated with menstruation and reproductive organs can be caused or aggravated by a poor diet. With a few special considerations, the Paleolithic diet proves to be a healthy and nutritionally complete diet for women.
Many women pursue the paleo diet as a means to optimal physical performance and as a way to lose excess body fat. Through stabilizing blood sugar through the overall decrease in carbohydrates, the female body is able to quickly shed pounds. Eating lean meats, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding processed and refined grains or sugars and dairy, can even reduce their risk of chronic illness. It is important, though, especially for those concerned with losing weight, to consider your fruit and fat intakes. On the paleo diet, many women will need to decrease fruit intake and limit fats. Consuming healthy fats, such as those from nuts or olive oil, is absolutely necessary for health, but eating too much can contribute to unwanted weight gain.
In addition to women looking to lose weight and boost their physical performance, pregnant women may be interested in the nutritional value and healthfulness of the paleo diet. Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA are hard to come by in the Standard American Diet. But, they are absolutely essential to healthy brain development for the growing baby. The paleo diet, rich in fatty fish and free-range eggs includes omega-3s in abundance. Furthermore, a diet high in fruits and vegetables provides the pregnant woman adequate doses of folate, the mineral necessary to prevent neural tube defects.
Women with unique health conditions related to reproductive organs or the menstrual cycle and menopause, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), can also benefit from eating a Paleolithic diet. PCOS is a hormonal condition that can cause an array of symptoms such as long periods or no periods, elevated androgens and facial hair, acne, baldness, and ovaries that become enlarged and covered in cysts. High levels of insulin can boost androgen creation in the ovaries, which is thought to cause or exacerbate PCOS. The paleo diet can combat this problem by eliminating grains from the diet.
Carbohydrates, especially those derived from refined grains and processed foods, increase insulin production in the body and decrease the body’s sensitivity to that insulin. Eventually, with more carbohydrate consumption, more insulin is produced on a regular basis by the body. Women with PCOS can benefit from a paleo diet that is naturally low in simple carbohydrates. Furthermore, a recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers LA Frassetto, et. al., found that eating paleo for even short periods can decrease insulin resistance and increase the body’s sensitivity to the release of insulin.
While women targeting PCOS may be hoping to ensure a healthy body for fertility and childbearing in their younger years, other women may be worried that the Paleolithic diet contributes to osteoporosis later in life. The concern is that a diet that excludes dairy must not provide adequate dietary calcium. However, plant-based foods provide plenty of essential calcium and the body better absorbs plant-based calcium than dairy-based calcium. According to Patrick Baker, author of web resource ThePaleoDiet, women need only eat a strict paleo diet rich in dark leafy greens (specifically kale) for adequate calcium and vitamin D. This type of diet will increase health and promote healthy bones for a strong body throughout menopause and beyond.
With the majority of paleo diet research coming from men, little concern is given to women and women’s health issues such as PCOS or pregnancy. The paleo diet, however, is still extremely healthy for women. Consuming plenty of dark leafy greens, more vegetables than fruit, and lean meats while avoiding grains and dairy can correct or help many female-specific conditions.