"Women have special nutritional needs throughout life," notes the National Women's Health Information Center. As part of an overall healthy eating plan, getting the right amount of calories and carbs can help women maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of certain chronic diseases. Pregnant women also need adequate calories and carbs to make sure their babies stay healthy and happy in the womb.
The amount of calories a woman needs per day depends on her age as well as her activity level. For most adult women, this number falls somewhere around 2000 calories a day, according to the Federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Sedentary women need fewer calories per day since they burn fewer calories through activity, whereas active women should consume more calories. Females age 19 to 30 need about 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day, depending on activity level. Those who are 31 to 50 years old need about 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day. Women over age 51 need 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day.
Percentage of Carbohydrates
Approximately 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. If you're following a regular 2,000-calorie diet, this means you should aim to eat about 225 to 325 grams of carbs a day. Avoid bad carbs, which come from added sugar in candy, sweets and soft drinks, and instead pack your diet with healthy complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Pregnant women eating for two must increase their calorie intake, which means carbohydrate consumption must also increase slightly. The National Women's Health Information Center notes that while the calorie needs of pregnant women vary, most pregnant women need about 300 extra calories a day during the last six months of their pregnancy. Eating right during pregnancy gives developing babies the nutrients they need to grow and thrive, and depriving babies of proper nutrition can cause serious problems. The National Women's Health Information Center further warns that low-calorie, restrictive diets can cause pregnant women's bodies to produce substances called ketones, which can lead to mental deficiencies in children.
While low-carb diets may promise weight loss, some nutrition professionals worry about the health risks. Clinical nutritionist JoAnn Hattner from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center says high levels of fat and protein as well as the lack of fiber in low-carb diets may cause serious complications. Removing fiber, says Hattner, causes fluid dehydration, constipation, weakness and nausea. It's also "a great strain on the kidneys," warns Hattner.
Women lowering their daily calorie intake to lose weight should still adhere to certain guidelines for their own safety. According to the National Institutes of Health, women should never consume fewer than 1,200 calories a day, unless under direct medical supervision. Avoid fasting and crash diets, and instead sensibly scale back calories and increase exercise. See a registered dietitian to learn more about healthy eating and making smart use of your daily calories.