Micronutrient supplementation programs for vitamin A, iron and folic acid, calcium, zinc, and multiple micronutrients effectively impacted the micronutrient status of pregnant and lactating women, as well as women of reproductive age and adolescent girls (13, 14, 33, 35–48). Interventions making use of multiple micronutrients were more effective at changing plasma micronutrient concentrations than interventions focused solely on 1 nutrient alone (38, 42). In countries with comprehensive programs for iron supplementation during pregnancy, anemia prevalence dropped (1, 49). Positive health impacts of supplementation were most notable among pregnant women who were deficient and at risk of low intake (43, 50). However, there were some studies that showed inconsistent or limited evidence for the effectiveness of supplementation on other maternal health outcomes (31, 51–58).
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid (a B vitamin) daily to reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other neural-tube defects. Women who are actively trying to get pregnant should consume 600 mcg, and lactating women should consumer 500 mcg. Women of childbearing age should also take care to meet the daily requirements for calcium, fiber, iron, protein and vitamin D. Discuss supplements with a health care professional, however. Iron and vitamin D in particular can be dangerous in high amounts.
A person's caloric requirement depends on his body size and exercise level. Sedentary people of both genders will keep their weight stable by taking in about 13 calories per pound of body weight each day. Moderate physical activity boosts this requirement to 16 calories a pound, and vigorous exercise calls for about 18 calories a pound. On average, a moderately active 125-pound woman needs 2,000 calories a day; a 175-pound guy with a similar exercise pattern needs 2,800 calories. And like women, men will lose weight only if they burn more calories than they take in.
Calcium is extremely important after menopause when your osteoporosis risk increases. But it’s actually vital to women’s health at every age, particularly while the body is still making bone. For optimal bone health, you need three daily servings of dairy products (for example, eight ounces of milk or yogurt, or one and a half ounces of cheese per serving), which also provide other nutrients, like protein, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. “If you can tolerate dairy, low-fat sources are extremely important,” says Hincman. Besides low-fat or skim milk, try calcium-rich Greek-style yogurt, which supplies twice the protein with less or none of the sugar of traditional yogurt varieties, she says.
Calcium may even be harmful for men, at least in large amounts. The worry is prostate cancer, and two Harvard studies have raised the alarm. In 1998, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study found that a high consumption of calcium from food or supplements was linked to an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer. The risk was greatest in men who got more than 2,000 mg a day. More recently, the U.S. Physicians' Health Study reported that a high consumption of calcium from dairy products appeared to increase a man's risk of prostate cancer by up to 37%. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle also found a link between calcium and advanced prostate cancer.
A year later, a second Harvard study added to the concern. The Physicians' Health Study of 20,885 men did not evaluate diet per se, but it did measure the blood levels of ALA in 120 men who developed prostate cancer and compared them with the levels in 120 men who remained free of the disease. Men with moderately high ALA blood levels were 3.4 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels; curiously, though, men with the very highest levels were only 2 times more likely to get the disease.
It's still an open question, but there is no question that ALA represents a dietary difference between the sexes. For women, it's a healthful fat. For men with heart disease or major cardiac risk factors, it may also be a good choice — but men with more reason to worry about prostate cancer should probably get their omega-3s from fish and their vegetable fats largely from olive oil.
Calories. Most times, women need fewer calories. That’s because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. Find out how many calories you need each day, based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
Dairy. Women should get 3 cups of dairy each day, but most women get only half that amount.6 If you can’t drink milk, try to eat low-fat plain yogurt or low-fat cheese. Dairy products are among the best food sources of the mineral calcium, but some vegetables such as kale and broccoli also have calcium, as do some fortified foods such as fortified soymilk, fortified cereals, and many fruit juices. Most girls ages 9 to 18 and women older than 50 need more calcium for good bone health.
WASH interventions, such as toilet facilities, access to improved and safe water supply, and hand washing are associated with improved nutrition and health of entire communities (13, 14, 125–128). For women and adolescent girls, WASH interventions were associated with improved menstrual hygiene (126), reduced diarrhea and intestinal worm infections (128–131), and reduced maternal mortality (132). Women and young girls are also more affected by the physical and time burdens of collecting water (126), and harassment and violence associated with inadequate and unsafe toilet facilities (133, 134). Closer water points and sanitation facilities eased these gendered burdens (126, 135). WASH interventions and perceived water availability were associated with less time spent on water-related chores, and improved school attendance, women's empowerment, and self-esteem (126, 135, 136).
Our findings identified gaps and limitations in the evaluation, scope, targeting, and delivery platforms of nutrition interventions in low- and middle-income countries. First, the monitoring and evaluation of nutrition programs that reported on women's nutrition outcomes was generally inadequate. Many of the studies we identified included small-scale efficacy trials. Although there were many large-scale programs that targeted women and adolescent girls with nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches, they lacked rigorous evaluation. Whether the evidence about women's outcomes was limited because they are not systematically measured or because they are not well reported is not clear. Negative results are often not published, and many evaluations of nutrition interventions that are conducted by the same groups responsible for implementing them are typically presented positively. This may have also skewed our findings. More intentional research-quality program evaluation, including of large-scale programs, would provide a stronger evidence base. Of the studies identified in this review, many reported on short-term findings such as changes in knowledge, dietary behaviors, and program coverage. They were limited in their ability to report clinical and anthropometric outcomes for women, the duration of those outcomes, and the feasibility of scaling up programs. There is also a need for systematic, long-term evaluations of interventions whose effects on nutrition outcomes are more distal (e.g., nutrition education compared with micronutrient supplementation). The effects of multisectoral interventions are even more complex to measure. However, frameworks exist to evaluate complex interventions (102) and could be utilized to evaluate the impact of interventions across the life course.
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.
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).
Infrastructure ↓ water point distance, ↑ time savings, ↑/NC women's hygiene, ↑/NC water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence, ↑ school attendance, NC wage employment ↓ water point distance, ↑ time savings, ↑/NC women's hygiene, ↑/NC water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence, NC wage employment, ↑ participation in income-generating activities ↓ maternal mortality, ↓ water point distance, ↑ time savings, ↑/NC women's hygiene, ↑/NC water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence, NC wage employment, ↑ participation in income-generating activities ↓ water point distance, ↑ time savings, ↑/NC women's hygiene, ↑/NC water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence, NC wage employment, ↑ participation in income-generating activities
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.
Trying to balance the demands of family and work or school—and coping with media pressure to look and eat a certain way—can make it difficult for any woman to maintain a healthy diet. But the right food can not only support your mood, boost your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also be a huge support through the different stages in a woman’s life. Healthy food can help reduce PMS, boost fertility, make pregnancy and nursing easier, ease symptoms of menopause, and keep your bones strong. Whatever your age or situation, committing to a healthy, nutritious diet will help you look and feel your best and get the most out of life.
Long-term goals are imperative, but they can make you feel overwhelmed or discouraged at times. Instead of thinking about how many dress sizes smaller you want to be in four months, focus on small everyday victories, suggests Michael Snader, BodyAware specialist and nutritionist at The BodyHoliday, a health and wellness resort in St. Lucia. “For example, today you are going to eat breakfast, fit in a workout, and drink more water,” he says. Stay focused on the present, and your future will be successful.
The effect of education programs on nutrition outcomes is difficult to assess because programs often have poor baseline data or nutrition outcomes are not evaluated (174, 182). Studies that used longitudinal analyses and “natural” experiments (e.g., before and after a national education policy) found that education was associated with reduced fertility (183, 184), and delayed early marriages and pregnancies (184–187). The impact was more significant for higher levels of education (185). However, 1 study in Malawi identified negative associations between education and timing of first birth, although these findings were largely not statistically significant (188). Secondary education for adolescents and women of reproductive age also showed no impact on women's empowerment (184), although it did show an impact on improved literacy and leadership (174). Educational interventions that provided conditional cash transfers (CCTs) and school feeding, as well as other forms of social protection to families of enrolled girls, were associated with greater school enrollment and attendance (189–191), improved test scores (189, 190), reduced gender gaps (192), and reduced hunger (190, 191).
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).