Yes, it takes curves and feminity to keep a woman healthy. The hourglass figure that helps a woman dress stylishly also keeps her healthy and looking young—all a boon from the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, responsible for everything from energy to cholesterol levels and bone health. Sure, those curves can be achieved through healthier lifestyles. But a lot also depends on how efficiently a woman’s hormones function.
Apples can be unhealthy
Take, for instance, a young woman who is apple-shaped, with a heavy torso and belly fat. She may also have facial hair, acne, receding hair, dandruff, dry and blotchy skin, achey joints and an irregular menstrual cycle. Her good cholesterol levels (high density lipids, or HDL) might be low, around 30 instead of 50. She may have a large appetite and feel sluggish. It might be difficult for her to conceive.
What could cause this? Several years of inappropriate eating and lifestyle irregularities that lead to imbalances in oestrogen and progesterone levels, which in turn push up levels of testosterone. A woman needs small amounts of this “male hormone” for optimal health (just as men need small amounts of “female hormones”), but excess upsets the feminine hormone balance. Female hormones control cholesterol levels, bone health, skin texture, ageing, appetite, hair and nail health, and a lot more. Oestrogen plays a protective role in heart health, which is why a woman past menopause (when oestrogen levels drop) becomes more prone to heart attacks and abdominal obesity. Her bones may also get brittle, joints arthritic, and she could become more prone to some cancers.
Throw a curve at life
Shape up: Losing the apple shape is good for health.
It makes sense, then, that the way for a woman to be healthy is to remain curvaceous, making the most of female hormones. And that boils down to eating right, staying active and reducing stress levels. Stress is a huge culprit. It interferes with important bodily processes, such as the ability of the adrenal glands to produce small amounts of oestrogen, especially handy after menopause, when the reproductive system stops producing oestrogen.
Here are some tips for staying healthy the feminine way:
• Eat six-eight servings of colourful vegetables every day, with two portions raw, as salad. Colourful veggies contain phytonutrients that improve immunity and repair cells. Have leafy greens such as spinach and methi (fenugreek leaves) five times a week. Rich in folate and vitamin K, they reduce the risk of diabetes and arthritis, and improve skin and hair. Cauliflower and cabbage can reduce the risk of cancer, because they regulate female hormones too.
• Enjoy legumes such as rajma (red kidney beans), chana (chickpeas) and lobia (black-eyed peas). They contain soluble fibre, which traps bad cholesterol and takes it out of circulation.
• Choose fruits such as papaya, oranges, apples, pears and strawberries for vitamin C and soluble fibre. Watermelon lowers water retention, common in premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
• Flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are rich in omega-3 oils that help trim waistlines by converting white fat (long-term storage) to metabolically active brown fat. For menopausal women, a handful of these seeds can lower blood pressure and protect the heart. Most seeds are also a good source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.
• Go for five-six servings (but not more) of wholegrains such as bajra (pearl millet), jowar (sorghum), nachni (or ragi, finger millet) and brown rice. Many who experience bloating, severe PMS, flatulence and difficulty in losing weight are intolerant of wheat, so avoid chapatis, biscuits and savouries (namkeen).
• Seafood, eggs and low-fat poultry (such as lean chicken) give you complete protein and enrich iron levels to improve overall structure, preserve organ health, and feed your hair, skin and nails.
• Dairy is a rich source of calcium and B vitamins. If you are lactose intolerant or experience flatulence with milk, try soy milk or almond milk—it is a good idea to have 200ml a day. Be sure that you have at least 1% fat milk. Without any fat, the calcium in milk will not be absorbed.
• Finally, engage in active exercise. Intensity is important to balance hormone levels. In addition, try Pilates for posture, and tai chi or yoga for staying calm and flexible.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at firstname.lastname@example.org