Systematically report and evaluate women's nutrition outcomes in research and program evaluation documents in low- and middle-income countries, including outcomes for adolescents, older women, and mothers (as opposed to reporting on women's nutrition as child nutrition outcomes alone). When possible, report and evaluate differences by setting (e.g., rural compared with urban) and socioeconomic status.
Integrated health care, which integrates curative and preventive interventions, can improve nutrition outcomes for women across the life course through improved access to counseling, vaccinations, and screening and treatment of illnesses (103–107). Access to primary health care positively contributed to the prevention, diagnosis, and management of both communicable and noncommunicable disease (108). Distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, condoms, screening and testing for disease, and delivery of medical treatments were often associated with integrated health initiatives and improved health and nutrition outcomes (13, 109). Access to health care was associated with the delivery of nutrition-specific interventions to manage pregnancy-induced hypertension, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and hemorrhage (106, 107, 110). However, some studies showed that integrated services increased knowledge, but did not result in changes in health or nutrition outcomes (103). In addition, in many settings, quality of care was inadequate (107) and incorrect diagnoses and treatments were common (111).
After menopause. Lower levels of estrogen after menopause raise your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects these chronic diseases. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating plans and whether you need more calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones. Read more about how very low estrogen levels affect your health in our Menopause section. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. Find out how many calories you need based on your level of activity.
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.
Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
In low- and middle-income countries, health care services often respond to acute health needs and many focus on maternal–child health (105, 106, 110, 112). The use of preventative care is limited, and there are concerns about the capacity of health systems to address noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, in low- and middle-income settings (108, 112). This has implications for the reach of integrated health care interventions across the life course. Maternal and reproductive health care is often sought by women when they are pregnant and in the early years of their children's lives (3, 113). Even so, many women visit health facilities late in their pregnancy or not at all (114–116). For adolescents and adult women, care is often not sought until they are sick (3, 117, 118). This is problematic for older women, in particular, as screening and treatment for age-related health issues, such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension, require access to preventative health care services (3).
Schools (and universities) ↓/NC anemia, ↓ Fe-deficiency anemia, ↑/NC MN status [Hgb (↑ if anemic), ferritin, zinc, retinol], ↑ MN status [folate, riboflavin, 25(OH)D, iodine], ↓ PTH, ↓ goiter prevalence, ↓ MN deficiency (vitamin A, B-12, C), ↑ bone mineral accretion, ↑/NC weight gain/BMI, ↑ MUAC, ↑ gut inflammation, ↓/NC respiratory symptoms and diarrheal morbidity, ↑ fitness (for Fe-deficient subjects), ↑/NC short-term cognitive function ↑ Hgb (↑ if anemic), ↑ serum ferritin, ↑ total body Fe, ↑ urinary iodine concentration, ↑ serum zinc, ↑ aerobic power, NC net energetic efficiency
What you eat and drink is influenced by where you live, the types of foods available in your community and in your budget, your culture and background, and your personal preferences. Often, healthy eating is affected by things that are not directly under your control, like how close the grocery store is to your house or job. Focusing on the choices you can control will help you make small changes in your daily life to eat healthier.
Community centers NC HH or individual food security, NC food expenditures, NC food consumption, ↑ social status, ↑ self-confidence ↑ health and knowledge, ↓ anemia, ↑/NC HH food security, NC individual food security, NC food expenditures, ↑/NC food consumption, ↑/NC dietary diversity, ↑ MN-rich foods (Fe, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium), ↑/NC intake of protein, ↑ ASF intake, ↑/NC BMI, ↑ weight gain, ↑ social status, ↑ self-confidence, ↑/NC decision-making ↑ health and nutrition knowledge, ↓/NC anemia, ↑/NC HH food security, ↑/NC food expenditures, ↑/NC HH food consumption, ↑/NC dietary diversity, ↑ nutrient-rich foods (Fe, vitamin A), NC intake of protein, ↑/NC intake of vegetables and ASF, ↑/NC BMI, ↓ underweight, ↑ weight gain, NC diarrheal morbidity, ↑ self-confidence, ↑/NC decision-making, ↑ control HH resources ↑ health knowledge, ↑/NC HH food security, ↑/NC HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ self-confidence, ↑/NC decision-making
A 55-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity should eat five ounces of grains; two cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and beans; five teaspoons of oils, and no more than 130 calories of additional fat and sugar. If she got 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise, she could increase her intake to six ounces of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; and up to 265 additional calories of fat and sugar.
As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet though the use of vitamins and supplements. However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.
Community centers (e.g., women's groups, community kitchens) ↓ anemia, ↑ nutrition knowledge, ↑ HH food security, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ intake of Fe-rich foods, ↑ intake of ASF, ↑ income, ↑ control over resources, ↑ decision-making ↑ nutrition knowledge, ↓/NC anemia, ↑ food expenditures, ↑ HH food security, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑/NC dietary diversity, ↑ intake of vitamin A–rich foods, ↑/NC intake of vegetables and meat, ↑ intake of fruits and ASF, NC BMI, ↓ underweight, ↑ income, ↑ control over resources, ↑ decision-making ↑ HH food security, ↑ dietary diversity
Anemia can deplete your energy, leaving you feeling weak, exhausted, and out of breath after even minimal physical activity. Iron deficiency can also impact your mood, causing depression-like symptoms such as irritability and difficulty concentrating. While a simple blood test can tell your doctor if you have an iron deficiency, if you’re feeling tired and cranky all the time, it’s a good idea to examine the amount of iron in your diet.
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.
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.
Folic acid: This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. However, some doctors recommend that women take a pregnancy supplement that includes folic acid, just to make sure they are getting the recommended 400 to 800 micrograms.
The delivery of nutrition education reached women across all life stages and through many platforms. Many nutrition education studies that targeted pregnant and lactating mothers reported on women's outcomes, but the primary focus of many of these studies was child health outcomes (13, 14, 19, 21, 24, 28); few studies focused on dietary outcomes and behaviors of pregnant and lactating women themselves (17, 20, 23). There were some studies evaluating the impact of nutrition education on the practices and outcomes of school-age children and adolescent girls (15, 18, 27, 29, 34), as well as older women (16, 22, 25, 30). Many of the nutrition education interventions were clinic-based (17–20, 23, 24). However, nutrition education was also delivered through community-based programs, including home visits (16, 21), community centers (15, 16, 20, 21), worksites (25), and schools (25, 27, 30, 34).