Aviva’s Top 10 Super Food Picks for Women


Ask Dr Aviva: What do you think are the top ten most important foods for women? Thanks! MR.

Food is an important part of pleasure. And getting — and staying — healthy can often be as simple as optimizing what we eat. But how do you know what to pick in a sea of endless grocery stores choices? How do we eat healthy and delicious?

Here are 10 of my personal staple foods to include daily, or regularly, in your diet. This is not an exhaustive list: there are literally hundreds of amazing fruits and vegetables to choose from, many different nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, and other foods that comprise an optimal diet. But these are the food “must haves” for maintaining vitality — at any age.

Enjoy these versatile and scrumptious foods on their own — a bowl of fresh berries, a handful of nuts, or a ripe avocado. Or transformed into a simple, delectable meal, for example, broiled salmon and sautéed kale with toasted walnuts. And of course, there’s one of my best food pals — dark chocolate!

1. Dark Leafy Greens

The richest dark green leafy vegetables are kale, collard greens, and broccoli. They are a low-calorie source of phytoestrogens — plant steroids that help us to maintain hormonal balance. They are rich in numerous important nutrients including iron, calcium, folate, vitamins K, C, E, and B vitamins. Folate is especially important during pregnancy for ensuring proper neural tube development of the embryo, and has been shown to be important for heart health. Leafy greens are antioxidant-rich, protecting our cells, including our skin and eyes, from environmental and age-related damage. They can be eaten steamed, sautéed, in soups, or raw in salads (collards are best eaten cooked).

2. Avocados

Avocados are lean green power machines! Yes, they are high in fat, but girls, we’ve gotta’ separate the good oils from the bad. The oils in avocados are the good kind: the monounsaturated fats. Avocados are heart healthy, help keep your weight in control, and contain plant sterols, which help lower cholesterol. They are loaded with nutrients including potassium, magnesium, folate, protein, and vitamins B6, E, and K, as well as fiber. Eating 1/2 an avocado daily is a reasonable amount; if you are concerned about your weight, keep it to 1/4 avocado daily.

3. Nuts

Nuts are filling and satisfying. They can be eaten alone as an energy boosting, blood sugar stabilizing snack, as a condiment on salads, grains, or in yogurt or whole grain cereals such as granola and oatmeal. They are nutrient dense, loaded with protein, good quality fats, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, selenium, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin A. They are also delicious. Walnuts and almonds are amongst the healthiest, both known to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, and fight cancer. Almonds may actually help you lose weight, including belly fat. In one study folks who added almonds to a low calorie diet were better able to keep weight off. Nuts are an important part of the Portfolio Diet, an alternative to using cholesterol-lowering medications to control serum cholesterol levels. Keep a small bag of nuts in your pocket to munch if your blood sugar gets low during a busy workday. How many? A recommended daily portion is about 12 walnut halves or 28 almonds.

4. Berries and Apples

Berries, including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, bilberries, and others, are some of the healthiest — and most beautiful — foods in our gardens and markets. They are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and numerous other health promoting vitamins and trace minerals. More importantly, many are rich in anthrocyanidins, a chemical that not only gives berries their vibrant colors, but provides us with powerful antioxidant effects that protect our blood vessels, helping to protect our hearts, protect us from vascular damage, prevent varicose veins (which includes hemorrhoids), protect and improve our eyesight, reduce inflammation, and prevent cancer. Berries are delicious alone or in salads, yogurt, or oatmeal. And frozen berries are practically as nutritious as fresh, when they are not available in season. How many to eat? 1-2 cups daily.

5. Whole Grains

Carbs are considered villains in the dieting world, but they shouldn’t. In reality, whole grains such as oats, brown rice, millet, barley, quinoa, and buckwheat should be a central part of our daily diet. There are numerous different whole grains. All are delicious and provide complex carbohydrates, which are filling and provide long-lasting energy, especially when combined with a high quality protein and good quality fat such as olive oil. Additionally, they provide B-vitamins, minerals, fiber, and are low in fat. Fiber is essential not only for preventing constipation, but for the health of the gut bacteria and appropriate processing and elimination of excess hormones.

6. Beans and Soy

There is a huge variety of delicious beans and legumes including kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas), and lentils, to name a few. Soybeans can be eaten as tofu (silken, soft, firm), edamame, tempeh, and soymilk. All are dense sources of high quality protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients including iron and calcium, both of which are especially important for women’s health. Beans are high in fiber and low in fat, and are rich in phytoestrogens. Beans also contain something called “resistant starch” which helps us to burn fat and control blood sugar. Beans take a long time to cook, which is not always convenient; canned beans are a good alternative to cooking them yourself. Cooking your beans with cumin can prevent you from getting gas. They can also be eaten as spreads and dips (hummus is perhaps the most famous of these). Portion size? Beans can be eaten daily — about ½ cup cooked beans. Soymilk, tofu, and other soy products are best eaten 2-3 times weekly, except for in menopause when women can benefit from daily intake of 1-3 cups of soymilk, or several ounces of tofu. Edamame can generally be eaten freely, even daily.

7. Fish

Fatty fish, particularly Wild Alaskan Salmon and sardines, provide high quality protein along with a healthy dose of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are important for your health literally right down to your cell walls! The fatty acids are heart healthy, may protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease, and are important in pregnancy, while fish is low in calories and high in energy-sustaining protein. Canned Wild Alaskan Salmon and sardines are quick and easy protein sources to serve up with a meal when you don’t have time to cook. How often? Eat about 6 oz. of these fish up to twice weekly, also an acceptable amount for pregnant women.

8. Olive oil (cold pressed, extra virgin)

Olive oil is a staple in Greece and Italy where people are amongst the healthiest – and happiest – in the world! It can be used in salad dressings, on fish, whole grains, pasta, and in fresh vegetable dips. My daughter Mima, a natural foods chef, even makes a Lemon-Olive Oil Cake and a knock-your-socks-off Olive Oil and Cocoa Granola. (I know, sounds so weird, right? But it’s oh so delicious and includes 4 of the top 10 faves on this list: whole grains, chocolate, olive oil, and nuts! Stay tuned for an upcoming blog with the recipe…). Olive oil is a key food in the heart healthy Mediterranean style diet, which is known to lower cholesterol and prevent stroke, diabetes, and cancer. How much daily? 2 tablespoons. To learn more about eating a Mediterranean diet read Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter Willett.

9. Yogurt

Yogurt and fermented dairy products (i.e., kefir) are traditional foods in many cultures. Yogurt provides probiotics that promote digestion, prevent gas and bloating, can prevent and treat irritable bowel syndrome, and may even help treat ulcerative colitis. Healthy bowel flora is also important in helping the body eliminate extra hormones. Greek yogurt is especially flavorful and light, and because of its lower fat content, is actually higher in calcium and protein than regular yogurt, but all types are healthy as long as they contain live active cultures. Amount? A 6-8 oz. serving provides about ¼ of your daily calcium needs; up to 3 servings daily is appropriate for those who eat dairy. Avoid sugar-sweetened yogurt and instead opt for fruit-sweetened, and always opt for an organic choice to avoid potential hormones and environmental chemicals in conventional dairy products.

10. Dark Chocolate

Ok, yeah, I know you think I’m yankin’ your chain here, or making some excuse for my almost daily chocolate indulgence, but it’s true! Dark chocolate is super rich in antioxidants that help keep your blood vessels, cells, and nerves in prime condition by protecting against damage from free radicals. It’s also chock-full o’ magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, and phosphorus, minerals important for bone strength. Recent studies have shown that healthy people who eat small amount of chocolate daily (any kind, in fact, not just dark!) tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who eat chocolate less often. It can also help control blood pressure. Giving yourself permission to eat about an ounce of dark chocolate each day might also stave off your cravings for less healthy sweets. And it’s a daily pleasure most of us are happy to indulge in!

Some additional basics to keep in mind: When possible, go organic. This should be a priority for meats, dairy, and the most heavily pesticided fruits and vegetables (this includes apples and strawberries). Get your calories from healthy foods; avoid high calorie beverages including fruit juice, sodas, and sweetened coffee and tea products. Drink water, water with lemon, carbonated water (flavored is fine, just no sugar or sugar substitutes), and green tea. Purchase foods in as little packaging and as close to their natural states as possible. Eat a wide variety of colors in your diet and avoid white carbs and white sugar.

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Judy

Hi Aviva, Love your posts. I just have one question regarding soy...do you have any writings or posts regarding soy and hypothyroidism? I'm looking for any reliable info and needless to say, I consider you to be "very reliable" :-)

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    Rachelle Price

    This is great info Aviva! Thank you. I too would like to see any specific soy research you base your opinions on since soy is so controversial.

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      Mireille Webb

      Soy is great as long as it's fermented. Think tamari, tempeh and miso.

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Sherry

Really like the looks of the new site!

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Beth

Hi, Aviva. I noticed you included soy and fish on your list. I've read some conflcting information about these foods. First, some have said that soy is not good and interferes with hormone production (in men and women). Second, I've read that mercury is a huge issue in our waters and most fish should, therefore, be avoided. What are your thoughts about all of this? It's so confusing. Thanks!

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    Meghan Gervais

    Thanks for including Wild Alaskan Salmon in your list. My husband and I are commercial fishermen in AK. In the summer when we're fishing we eat sockeye salmon 2-3 times a day, It gives us phenomenal energy and is truly one of nature's finest foods. These fish are harvested from sustainably managed runs by small scale fishing operations (many operated by families like mine). I ate salmon regularly when pregnant and nursing both of my children. They both eat it often now that they have teeth. I hope that their grandchildren get to harvest and eat this beautiful food as well. In response to Beth who is concerned about mercury... Salmon have a short lifespan ranging from (2-3 years for pinks up to 8 for chinook) so there is less time than longer lived species for them to accumulate toxins in their flesh. Sockeye, chum and pinks eat mostly zooplankton so if you're concerned about toxicity, eating these species that are lower on the food chain is an option. Chinook and silver salmon prey more on small fish so they potentially can bio-accumulate more heavy metals than their vegetarian friends. When considering what fish to eat, I like to weigh the risks and benefits. For our family, the benefits of eating Wild AK Salmon far outweigh the risks of potential contamination. The research I have seen says that AK salmon is relatively low in contaminants. Canned sardines are another great low-on-the-food-chain but highly nutritious snack. My daughter and I actually shared a can for breakfast this morning! Mmmm...sardines for breakfast! One fish that we steer clear of is pollock. Although Wild Alaska Pollock is labeled as sustainable, it is not. The pollock industry is massive and the big corporations have so much influence that they have corrupted the management of the fish stocks. Corporate rape of mother ocean. There is an unacceptably high rate of salmon and halibut by-catch in the pollock industry. I get excited when I see Wild Alaskan Salmon mentioned anywhere. My family's whole year hinges around the salmon harvest and these fish are central to our diet and lifestyle. Thanks for supporting our fishing family by buying AK salmon!

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      Beth

      Meghan, thank you so much for your response. I appreciate you taking the time to share all of this information - it's so interesting to hear about your family's business. I love to eat salmon so I will think of you the next time I purchase Wild AK Salmon. :-) Beth

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Maureen Fayle

Dear Aiva - your new site is beautiful and I'm so happy you're back! I was wondering why the blogs had stopped and was truly missing all the helpful information you provide. Not only as a health enthusiast, but as a mama, I love and appreciate what you do and how you help to empower women. So, thank you, thank you! In love & light Maureen

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Wendy Good

I am very interested in your reply to Judy regarding hypothyroidism. Looking forward to your reply!

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Tara Hensley

You recommend all sorts of soy products, but I have read that Soy affects the endocrine system of women quite negatively.

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Tiffany

I am new to your webstie....and it looks fabulous. I am so excited! I love the ten super foods, however, I find soy to be a particularly dangerous food. And for people with hypothyroid problems, so can green leafy veggies be, particularly not cooked as they are goitrogen (thyroid inhibiting) foods. I was diagnosed with with a hypothyroid problem a year ago and have managed to 'correct' my thyroid and TSH through an avocado a day, tblsp of centrifuge coconut oil a day, avoiding ALL soy (yes, that's hard as its in everything!) and also eating all other goitrogen foods cooked (broccoli, kale, cabbage, strawberries...there are alot of other goitrogen foods). You can cook the goitrogenic effect out of all goitrogen foods EXCEPT soy. Personally, I think soy is responsible for alot more thyroid problems than we think and also thyroid medication flucuations. What is interesting also is that cultures that consume a great deal of soy also consume quite a bit of seaweed, seafood, etc, so their iodine intake is significantly higher as well...

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Wendy

I am also interested to hear what you have to say about soy. It seems like it may need a blog post of its own, it has become a rather controversial topic. Please consider writing more about your findings on this. I recently came across this article, which references an article by Dr. Kaayla Daniel on the subject. http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/170-scientific-reasons-to-lose-the-soy-in-your-diet/

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Victoria Floyd

Aviva, I am saddened to see that you are still recommending soy to your clients and to women at large. The evidence against soy is so compelling! Please dig deeper into the research. See what our mutual friend Susun Weed has to say on the subject. Or Sally Fallon. The only safe soy for daily consumption is fermented in the form of tamari or miso. Respectfully, Victoria Floyd

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    aviva

    Hi. Victoria, I've dug deep. I've raised 4 vegetarian kids. I've seen thousands of patients. And I read all of the literature I can. Soy is not the devil food. I love Susun but don't agree with everything she says. And remember, I see patients every day so have really clinical experience -- so I use research and real people data. Soy has issues -- but it has been overly demonized. There's a lot of dogma and selective interpretation of the literature out there. I'll stick with my practices for now -- and wish you well with yours as well! Peace. Aviva

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Anne

Hello, I am looking for a good yogurt with probiotics that I can buy at a grocery store. Is Activia o.k. or is yoplait better. Thank You.

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    aviva

    Hi Anne, Any good quality organic yogurt will contain live active cultures that are good for your digestion! If you prefer to avoid dairy, foods like sauerkraut and kimchee are also great. I'd also recommend kombucha -- my girls love it! :) Aviva

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      Anne

      Thanks, I will try. Which is better mastic gum or l glutamine to heal the gut. I take dgl at the moment, with probiotics, digestive enzymes and betaine with protein meals. Have no gallbladder. Thanks. And starting to feel alot better.

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        aviva

        mastic and l-glutmine have different properties and purposes, and so are not mutually exclusive. i use the former more for H pylori and the latter more for leaky gut.

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Lexi

Hi Aviva! Thanks for this great general list of nutritious foods for pregnancy! I was hoping to know your perspective on fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut (natural, not vinegar). I have been drinking kombucha for years and am now pregnant. it feels right to drink it, but i just want to be sure (: Thanks so much for taking the time to consdier my questions. Warmly, Lexi

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    aviva

    Hi Lexi, Kraut is great if lactofermented; kombucha is yeast fermented so I don't recommend it during pregnancy. Best, AR

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