Poor nutrition may be one of the easiest conditions to self-diagnose. Look at the food pyramid and the suggested servings. Look at your diet. Are you getting the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables? Enough calcium? Read the labels and compare what you eat to what you need. You may discover that even if your weight is ideal, you are not getting enough nutrition.
The best evidence that ALA can protect the heart comes from the Lyon Diet Heart Study, a randomized clinical trial in Europe. It tested the effects of an ALA-enriched Mediterranean diet in 605 patients with coronary artery disease. Over a four-year period, the high-ALA diet produced a 72% reduction in heart attacks and cardiac deaths and a 56% lower risk of dying from any cause (including cancer). The Mediterranean diet differed from the standard Western diet in many respects, but because it contained a special canola oil margarine, the greatest difference was in its ALA content, which was nearly eight times higher in the protective diet.
During adolescence and early adulthood, women need to consume foods rich in calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass. This will reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, a progressive condition where there is a loss of bone that leaves those affected more susceptible to fractures. Women also need an adequate iron intake because they lose iron through menstruation. Women also need an adequate intake of calories to support energy and nutritional needs in order for the body to function properly. The amount of calories that an individual needs varies for each person and is based on age, gender and activity level. As a general recommendation, women between 23 and 50 years of age generally need between 1,700 and 2,200 calories per day to maintain their current energy needs and body weight. Older women generally require fewer calories to support and sustain energy needs. Consuming fewer than 1,500 calories per day, even in attempts to lose weight, can put women at nutritional risk and can result in malnutrition and poor health. For more information on how to calculate one’s nutritional needs, go to www.choosemyplate.gov and insert your personal information. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is another reference or guide to assist you in learning to eat a balanced and nutritious diet for good health.
B12: Like folic acid, B12 is essential for healthy nervous system development and function. Pregnant women who are vegans or vegetarians may fall short on B12, since it is present in animal protein and to a lesser extent in dairy. Teenage and adult women need 2.4 mcg. Recommended levels rise to 2.6 mcg for pregnant women and 2.8 mcg for lactating women.
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.
“Nuts are a great source of protein and monounsaturated fatty acids,” says Hincman, as well as much needed vitamin E. Examples of great choices include walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. Nuts are also very calorie-dense, however, so you need only a palmful for good nutrition and to feel satisfied — just one-half ounce of nuts is considered equivalent to one ounce of a typical protein choices, like chicken or beef. Hincman suggests extending the volume in a serving of nuts by adding in raisins or dried cranberries.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin E is 15 mg. Don't take more than 1,000 mg of alpha-tocopherol per day. This amount is equivalent to approximately 1,500 IU of "d-alpha-tocopherol," sometimes labeled as "natural source" vitamin E, or 1,100 IU of "dl-alpha-tocopherol," a synthetic form of vitamin E. Consuming more than this could increase your risk of bleeding because vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant (blood thinner).
Energy and protein supplementation was most often associated with weight gain of women, and often targeted pregnant women with suboptimal weight. For pregnant women, energy and protein supplementation modestly increased maternal weight (86–90). Other maternal outcomes were not frequently reported, and were often secondary objectives of protein-energy supplementation interventions (33, 88). Many studies reported on infant health outcomes, including reductions in low birth weight and preterm births (19, 89–91). Adequate energy and protein intake was also relevant for interventions targeting the prevention of excessive gestational weight gain of overweight and obese pregnant women. These interventions restricted dietary energy intake of overweight women during pregnancy and resulted in reduced excess weight gain during pregnancy but had no impact on pregnancy-related hypertension and pre-eclampsia (19, 88).
Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include fatigue and headaches. After menopause, body iron generally increases. Therefore, iron deficiency in women older than 50 years of age may indicate blood loss from another source and should be checked by a physician.
It sounds counterintuitive, but fatty fish are actually good for you because they deliver omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fats with cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. While fish oil capsules will help you meet your PUFA needs, studies have found that fish itself offers even more nutritional benefits, including vitamin D, selenium, and antioxidants. Among the best choices are salmon, albacore tuna, herring, and trout. Recommendations are for 1 gram of PUFAs daily for people with coronary heart disease and at least 250 to 500 mg daily for those who want to prevent it.
Nutritionists recommend choosing a rainbow of fruits and vegetables because each one provides a unique blend of nutrients. Within the color spectrum, yellow or orange veggies are great sources of vitamin A for skin and eye health and better immunity against infection. At the top of the list are carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and the many types of squash. While it takes just one whole carrot or six baby carrots to make one serving (one-half cup), you’ll need only half a starchy sweet potato.
Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
Not surprisingly, many integrated health services were delivered in health clinics and facilities. Many women faced barriers to health facility–based care for nutrition, such as distance, time, quality of care, stocking of supplies, and the capacity and nutrition knowledge of healthcare professionals (105, 119). These barriers need to be taken into consideration to enhance the coverage of integrated health care services. Universal health care mitigated cost barriers to seeking health care, but did not address all of the barriers noted here (105, 109, 114, 120–123).
Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy levels in women prior to menopause. Foods that provide iron include red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Plant-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. So eat fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with mandarin orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.
If you count calories, count fat calories, too. Food labels indicate how many calories come from fat, both in actual grams and in percentages. This helps you assess the percentage of fat in your diet. If the total number of fat calories is 30 percent or more of the total calories you consume in a day, you probably need to cut back. But don't be misled by terms like "lower fat." Ask yourself "lower than what?" and look at the overall percentage of fat calories in the food.
Our review found that protein-energy supplementation was largely targeted to pregnant and lactating women (19, 86–88, 90, 91); however, there were some studies that evaluated the delivery of protein-energy supplementation to households (92, 93) and adolescents (46). The only studies we found that evaluated the impact of protein-energy supplementation in older, healthy women were hospital-based studies in high-income countries (96). Delivery platforms varied depending on the target audience. The majority of studies targeted pregnant women through antenatal care or through antenatal care–associated community-based programs. National programs targeting low-income families had broader reach, although they targeted households and not women specifically (92). Additional research is needed for how women might best be reached (94). For programs that provided provisions for women to take home, there was also limited information about how much was shared with other members of the household. School-based programs targeting adolescents could be an important venue to target interventions to adolescents in the future. However, children and adolescents not in school would be missed. Despite limited evidence of impacts of energy and protein supplementation on the health of women, supplementation might be an important complement to other interventions (e.g., nutrition education and counseling) to ensure that women have the resources needed to implement other interventions successfully. Indeed, many large-scale programs for protein-energy supplementation are often complemented with nutrition education and counseling (33).
What you eat is even more important as you enter your 40s. Women need protein (meat, fish, dairy, beans, and nuts), carbohydrates (whole grains), fats (healthy oils), vitamins, minerals, and water. These foods have been linked to some disease prevention, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the development of healthy food supply chains in supplemental nutrition programs so as to broaden the availability of healthy food.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important piece of the puzzle to achieve good health. A healthy weight can be determined using the body mass index charts (see web source below). If you find you are overweight or obese, weight loss may be beneficial for you. Before you begin any weight loss efforts, consult with your medical provider and/or consult a registered dietitian to create a weight loss plan. If you are underweight, consult a medical provider to assess your weight status.
For girls and adult women, educational interventions are considered a powerful means of improving their health and nutritional status throughout their lives. Education level is often associated with maternal caregiving practices and the nutritional outcomes of their children (174, 175). Few studies, however, evaluated the impact of education as an intervention on women's nutrition outcomes. Instead, many studies used survey data and reported on associations between education and nutrition. For instance, in low- and middle-income countries, higher levels of education were associated with lower prevalence of underweight and higher prevalence of overweight among women (176, 177). However, this depended on the type of employment in which women participated (178, 179). In addition, in many high-income settings, the converse was true (177). Level of literacy was also associated with improved anthropometric measures. In southern Ethiopia, literate mothers were 25% less likely to be undernourished than were illiterate women (180). One econometric analysis suggested that doubling primary school attendance in settings with low school attendance was associated with a 20–25% decrease in food insecurity (181). Overall, though, these associations were limited in their ability to draw conclusions about causality and the effect of education interventions on nutrition outcomes.