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.
Women have many unique health concerns — menstrual cycles, pregnancy, birth control, menopause — and that's just the beginning. A number of health issues affect only women and others are more common in women. What's more, men and women may have the same condition, but different symptoms. Many diseases affect women differently and may even require distinct treatment.
Community health posts and home visits provided a platform to make health care services more accessible (109, 110, 124). Community-based platforms for the delivery of health services included community center and home visits from community health workers, mobile clinics, community support groups, mobile phones, and mass media campaigns (105, 110). Community-based services were effective in reducing maternal mortality and managing HIV (106). However, 1 review found that community-based interventions were only effective in reducing maternal morbidity and not mortality (107, 110). In high-income settings, community-based services were associated with hypertension and diabetes management, and cervical and breast cancer screening (106). We found no references for the use of community-based integrated care to address women's nutrition in low- and middle-income settings. It could be an effective way to reach older women and women of reproductive age who do not regularly engage with health centers. For children, community-based services were effective in improving health outcomes, particularly among the poorest wealth quintiles (13, 110). More research is needed on the potential of community-based services to reduce inequities in delivery of care to women in different settings and across different socioeconomic statuses.
Omega-3s: These essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, play many roles in the body, including building healthy brain and nerve cells. Some studies show that omega-3s, especially DHA, can help prevent preterm births. Even women who don't plan to have children should be sure to get plenty of omega-3s. These healthy oils have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, the number one killer of women.
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.
Interventions resulting in public infrastructure changes were found to be less effective than household-based interventions; however, both are important aspects of improved health outcomes for women (128, 130). Public water infrastructure requires regular maintenance and periodic replacement and water from these sources is often contaminated (130). However, even public water points that provide good-quality water have had minimal impacts on health outcomes (136). One review estimated that water-source interventions were associated with a 27% reduction in diarrhea risk at all ages, whereas household-based interventions were associated with a 43% reduction (128). This could be associated with bias and confounding, as measuring WASH outcomes is not a blinded process (128). The differential impact could also be related to practice. As compared with public water sources, home water connections were associated with greater odds of handwashing and fecal waste disposal (136). As a significant portion of diarrheal disease is a result of person-to-person transmission and poor hygiene, interventions that improve domestic hygiene behaviors can have a significant impact (136). Behavior change communication and resource provision, e.g., soap and point-of-use water treatment resources, were also important and sustainable aspects of WASH interventions (131, 137).
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).
Salt, caffeine and alcohol intake may interfere with the balance of calcium in the body by affecting the absorption of calcium and increasing the amount lost in the urine. Moderate alcohol intake (one to two standard drinks per day) and moderate tea, coffee and caffeine-containing drinks (no more than six cups per day) are recommended. Avoid adding salt at the table and in cooking
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 tiny gender differences in minerals other than calcium and iron depend on body size. But while the dietary requirements for selenium fit this rule, men may benefit from supplements of about 200 micrograms a day, a level about four times above the RDA. That's because both a clinical trial and an observational study suggest that selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. It's far from proven, but it's something for men to consider.
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
Good sources of iron include liver, kidneys, red meat, poultry, eggs, peas, legumes, dried fruits and dark, green leafy vegetables. Three ounces of cooked chicken liver contains 7.2 mg of iron; a cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg. Your health care professional will probably recommend iron supplements during pregnancy (probably starting at 30 mg per day).
Second, the scope of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches was largely focused on undernutrition. There were major research and programming gaps in studies targeting overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease. In our review, the interventions addressing overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease were limited to nutrition education and integrated healthcare. However, overweight and obesity were identified as potential concerns for interventions targeting undernutrition, including food supplementation, and in-kind and cash transfers. This might be a result of the types of interventions that were evaluated, but also speaks to the need to broaden the scope of nutrition interventions that are commonly assessed (5, 13, 14) to explicitly address overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease as nutrition outcomes, and not just as unintended consequences. Globally, there is limited evidence of large-scale interventions that effectively prevent, treat, or correctly classify adiposity-related noncommunicable diseases, and this is a growing area of concern around the world (208). Future evaluations of nutrition interventions might also include interventions that influence women's time and physical environment, and that encourage physical activity or change in access to and affordability of certain foods, as these might also influence overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease outcomes for women.
Vitamin D: Over the past decade, dozens of studies have revealed many important roles for vitamin D, the nutrient that skin cells produce when they are exposed to sunlight. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 600 IU per day, although recommended levels are under review. If you avoid the sun or live in the northern half of the U.S., ask your doctor whether your vitamin D level should be tested.
Health care experts haven't reached a consensus on the issue of vitamin and mineral supplements. Many say that if you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, you don't need any. But not all of us eat a well-balanced diet. And sometimes, you may follow a nutritious diet and still be deficient. Many women fail to get the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Stress increases your need for vitamins and minerals, especially C, B-complex and zinc.
According to the American Heart Association, it's better to eat more complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits and whole grains) than simple carbohydrates found in sugars. Complex carbohydrates add more fiber, vitamins and minerals to the diet than foods high in refined sugars and flour. Foods high in complex carbohydrates are usually low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.
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).
Trimming some fat may eliminate some guilt, but be warned: Buying foods labeled “low-fat,” “non-fat,” or “fat-free” may encourage you to eat up to 50 percent more calories, according to three studies by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. Fat’s not the issue when it comes your weight since most of these foods only have about 15 percent fewer calories than their regular counterparts. Go for the full-fat version and eat less—you probably will naturally since they taste better.
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.
The impact of income-generation interventions on women's nutrition has not been sufficiently evaluated. Income-generating interventions were associated with increases in women's income, empowerment, and household decision-making (161, 164–166). However, these gains were often at the expense of more work for women (5). Income-generation interventions have been associated with increased food-related expenditures, improved household food security, and greater household dietary diversity (160, 161, 165–168). Income-generating interventions targeting adolescents improved their social status; however, these showed no impact on their access to food, nor on individual and household food security (169). There was also limited evidence of impacts of income-generating interventions on women's anthropometric and biochemical nutrition outcomes (5, 169, 170). Increased income was associated with reductions in maternal underweight and anemia, but the reductions were modest (171). Studies suggested that the limited impact was related to continued poor access to health services (167), poor measurement, and the need for longer evaluation periods (164, 165, 167, 169).