Women's nutrition is often eclipsed by maternal nutrition. There are important linkages between maternal nutrition and the health, cognitive development, and earning potential of future generations (1). However, with reduced childbearing and longer life spans, women's experiences extend beyond motherhood (2). Interventions and policies that target women solely as mothers fail to account for women before they conceive, after they no longer engage with programs targeting maternal–child health, as well as those who never have children (3, 4). A woman's nutrition should matter not (only) because of her reproductive potential, but because it is fundamental to her rights as a person and to her well-being and ability to thrive (5–7). With increasing attention to the nutritional needs of adolescent girls (8, 9), in addition to the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease affecting women later in life (10), it is becoming more imperative that interventions reach women at all life stages.
Women's empowerment relates to women's ability to make life choices (158). Higher levels of empowerment were associated with increased income, household decision-making, control over resources, and utilization of health resources (5, 158–160). For nutrition outcomes, empowerment was associated with increased income allocated to food expenditures and improved household food security (160, 161). It was also associated with increased dietary diversity, but had no impact on women's BMI (5, 161, 162). For example, mothers’ participation in empowerment activities through Helen Keller International's Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program in Burkina Faso was associated with increased fruit intake (difference-in-differences = 15.8 percentage points, P = 0.02) and nearly statistically significant increases in meat intake and dietary diversity (163). Participation was also associated with decreased prevalence of underweight (difference-in-differences = −8.7 percentage points, P < 0.01) but not overall mean BMI (163). In addition, the EHFP program in Bangladesh and Nepal was associated with decreasing trends in maternal anemia (anemia prevalence decreased by a magnitude of 12%, P = 0.075 in Bangladesh, and 26%, P = 0.009 in Nepal) (160). However, this was not consistent with findings from Cambodia (160).
To help you learn how to eat healthfully, start with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) dietary guidelines system, which you can find at http://www.mypyramid.gov. The MyPyramid system, which looks somewhat like the familiar food pyramid of old, offers guidance based on individual needs and replaces "serving" recommendations with actual amounts of food. It also emphasizes the importance of balancing nutritious (and tasty!) food choices from all food groups every day with daily physical activity.
The best training tool you're not using: a jump rope. “It may seem a little juvenile until you think of all the hot-bodied boxing pros who jump rope every single day,” says Landon LaRue, a CrossFit level-one trainer at Reebok CrossFit LAB in L.A. Not only is it inexpensive, portable, and easy to use almost anywhere, you’ll burn about 200 calories in 20 minutes and boost your cardiovascular health while toning, he adds.
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The new guidelines encourage eating more nutrient-dense food and beverages. Many of us consume too many calories from solid fats, added sugar and refined grains. The guidelines promote a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.
The delivery platforms of birth spacing and family planning interventions were often associated with health clinics and community health posts (148–150). Many interventions targeted lactating women during the follow-up with their young children (148, 151–153). Home visits by community health workers and service provision at community health posts and mobile clinics were also used to target women and adolescents who were married, and were found to be effective at increasing use of contraception (150, 154). School-based programs were also effective at reaching adolescent girls and increased their knowledge about contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections, use of contraception, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (155). In high-income settings, school-based interventions were most effective at reducing pregnancies and repeated pregnancies among adolescents when contraception was also available on-site (107). This might have implications for their effectiveness in low- and middle-income countries, as well. In addition, formative work of 2 ongoing studies suggested that mass media, mobile devices, texting, and community mobilization could also be used as platforms to reach adolescent girls and women of reproductive age (156, 157). Community-based programs that target men, families, and communities, beyond those that reach married and postpartum women alone, have potential to change cultural norms and enhance women's health outcomes; however, these are not well captured in the literature.
Focus on the long term. Diets fail when people fall back into poor eating habits; maintaining weight loss over the long term is exceedingly difficult. Most people regain the weight they've lost. In fact, some studies indicate that 90 to 95 percent of all dieters regain some or all of the weight originally lost within five years. Your program should include plans for ongoing weight maintenance, involving diet, exercise and a behavioral component. While there are some physical reasons for obesity, there are also behavioral reasons for excessive eating. For example, many women use food as a source of comfort (perhaps to deal with stress). For these women, a weight loss program with a behavioral component will offer alternatives to replace food in this role.
A number of implementation challenges exist for micronutrient supplementation. Access to care is often associated with socioeconomic status and may influence women's access to and use of supplementation programs. For instance, in one study, the highest wealth quintile of pregnant women had the highest use of iron and folic acid supplementation during antenatal care (33). However, even for women who have access to micronutrient supplements, the coverage and quality of micronutrient supplementation programs were limited (39). Incorrect doses, inadequate supplies, and incomplete adherence were major limitations (33), and poorly performing programs had limited impact on nutrition outcomes (59). Integration of supplementation programs with behavior change interventions improved knowledge, adherence, and coverage of supplementation interventions (32, 33, 60). The use of local micronutrient-rich foods can also help overcome limitations associated with supplement provision. In Nepal, improvements in the dark adaptation of night-blind pregnant women did not differ significantly between food and synthetic sources of vitamin A (61). When available, consumption of micronutrient-rich foods can be as effective as micronutrient supplements.
Osteoporosis ranks sixth amongst chronic diseases of women in the United States, with an overall prevalence of 18%, and a much higher rate involving the femur, neck or lumbar spine amongst women (16%) than men (4%), over the age of 50 (Gronowski and Schindler, Table IV). Osteoporosis is a risk factor for bone fracture and about 20% of senior citizens who sustain a hip fracture die within a year.  The gender gap is largely the result of the reduction of estrogen levels in women following the menopause. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been shown to reduce this risk by 25–30%, and was a common reason for prescribing it during the 1980s and 1990s. However the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study that demonstrated that the risks of HRT outweighed the benefits has since led to a decline in HRT usage.
Fats contain both saturated and unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fatty acids. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than unsaturated fat, which may even help lower harmful cholesterol. Reducing saturated fat (most comes from meat, dairy and bakery products) to less than seven percent of total daily calories may help you reduce your cholesterol level. Whenever possible, replace saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
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Income-generation interventions largely target adult women (women of reproductive age, women with young children, and older women). Many microfinance and loan programs are targeted to women because of their likelihood to pay back the loans, although women with lower education levels and smaller businesses do not benefit to the same degree as women who are educated or who have bigger businesses (165). There was limited evidence of such interventions targeting adolescent girls (169). In order to understand the potential impact of income-generating activities on adolescents, more information is needed about the pathways by which adolescents contribute to their own food security, the degree to which they rely on their caregivers to meet their nutritional needs, and how those dynamics change with the age of adolescents (169). Training, workshops, and extension activities were often delivered through community centers, community groups, and financial institutions (165). Other affiliated interventions, such as agricultural extension and nutrition education, were provided at the community level and at home visits (160, 173). These delivery platforms were effective at reaching women, including low-income women, particularly when they engaged with existing community groups (e.g., self-help, farmers’, and women's groups) (160, 161, 167, 169, 172, 173).
Everyone seems to have food allergies these days, but in fact, such allergies are rare. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, while one in three adults think they have a food allergy or modify their family's diet, only about four percent do. A food allergy is an abnormal immune-system response to certain foods (most commonly, fish, shellfish, peanuts, other nuts and eggs). Symptoms can include hives, rashes, nasal congestion, nausea, diarrhea and gas. However, symptoms of food intolerance—such as intestinal distress—may mimic those of a food allergy. You may want to talk to an allergist about diagnosis and treatment. Whether you have food allergies or intolerance, you will need to develop a diet that fits your needs and avoids foods that trigger a reaction.