Current understanding of biologic processes indicates that women's nutritional status before and during early pregnancy may play an important role in determining early developmental processes and ensuring successful pregnancy outcomes. We conducted a systematic review of the evidence for the impact of maternal nutrition before and during early pregnancy (<12 weeks gestation) on maternal, neonatal and child health outcomes and included 45 articles (nine intervention trials and 32 observational studies) that were identified through PubMed and EMBASE database searches and examining review articles. Intervention trials and observational studies show that periconceptional (<12 weeks gestation) folic acid supplementation significantly reduced the risk of neural tube defects. Observational studies suggest that preconceptional and periconceptional intake of vitamin and mineral supplements is associated with a reduced risk of delivering offspring who are low birthweight and/or small-for-gestational age (SGA) and preterm deliveries (PTD). Some studies report that indicators of maternal prepregnancy size, low stature, underweight and overweight are associated with increased risks of PTD and SGA. The available data indicate the importance of women's nutrition prior to and during the first trimester of pregnancy, but there is a need for well-designed prospective studies and controlled trials in developing country settings that examine relationships with low birthweight, SGA, PTD, stillbirth and maternal and neonatal mortality. The knowledge gaps that need to be addressed include the evaluation of periconceptional interventions such as food supplements, multivitamin-mineral supplements and/or specific micronutrients (iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin B-6 and B-12) as well as the relationship between measures of prepregnancy body size and composition and maternal, neonatal and child health outcomes.
Women’s health magazines have always highlighted female celebrities at the peak of fitness: workout guru Jane Fonda next to a headline shouting “Perfect Your Body” on a 1987 Shape cover is a classic example. Peering at the local magazine counter this month, I noticed a lot of women’s health magazine still had life- and body-empowering messages, but they stressed the mental gains over the physical: “Your Best You!” next to Brooke Shields on the cover of Health; “Hot & Happy!” aside E!’s Maria Menounos. Shape magazine now even has an online section called #LoveMyShape, in which Orange Is The New Black star Danielle Brooks discusses how she learned to embrace her curves through her Lane Bryant ads, and model Katie Willcox wants you to know that you’re so much more than you see in the mirror.
Popular belief says if you really want to make a big change, focus on one new healthy habit at a time. But Stanford University School of Medicine researchers say working on your diet and fitness simultaneously may put the odds of reaching both goals more in your favor. They followed four groups of people: The first zoned in on their diets before adding exercise months later, the second did the opposite, the third focused on both at once, and the last made no changes. Those who doubled up were most likely to work out 150 minutes a week and get up to nine servings of fruits and veggies daily while keeping their calories from saturated fat at 10 percent or less of their total intake.
“The more colorful the vegetables — and fruits — the more nutrients you’re going to get in your diet,” says Hincman. And green leafy veggies, like turnip, collard and mustard greens, kale, Chinese cabbage, and spinach, all rich sources of vitamins and minerals, are a great place to start. Many are also a good source of iron, important for women’s health, especially after menopause. One serving of cooked leafy greens — a half a cup — is not a lot, considering that just around two and one half cups of veggies, or five servings in total, is all you need each day.
Fortunately, this trend is not across the board; on the cover of the January issue of Shape, Mandy Moore is in a black leather jacket so that her ensemble kind of resembles Wahlberg’s. This is not to say that Shape always covers up its cover women: Kate Walsh (right) was famously naked on her Shape cover (“How She Stays This Hot At 44!”), while The Biggest Loser’s Alison Sweeney also favored a red bikini.
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.
Notice that alcohol isn't included in a food group. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Alcohol offers little nutritional value, and when used in excess, can cause short-term health damage, such as distorted vision, judgment, hearing and coordination; emotional changes; bad breath; and hangovers. Long-term effects may include liver and stomach damage, vitamin deficiencies, impotence, heart and central nervous system damage and memory loss. Abuse can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma and death. Pregnant women should not drink at all because alcohol can harm the developing fetus and infant. According to the March of Dimes, more than 40,000 babies are born each year with alcohol-related damage. Even light and moderate drinking during pregnancy can hurt your baby. If you are breastfeeding, discuss drinking alcohol with your health care professional. After clearing it with your doctor, you may be able to have an occasional celebratory single, small alcoholic drink, but you should abstain from breastfeeding for two hours after that drink.
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.
“Whole grains help with digestion and are excellent for your heart, regularity [because of the fiber content], and maintaining a steady level of blood sugar,” says Hincman. “They are also a great source of energy to power you throughout the day.” Whole grains, such as oats, also help improve cholesterol levels. While food manufacturers are adding fiber to all sorts of products, whole grains, like whole wheat, rye, and bran, need to be the first ingredient on the food label of packaged foods, she stresses. Watch your serving sizes, however. Current guidelines are for six one-ounce equivalent servings per day (five if you’re over 50). One ounce of whole-wheat pasta (weighed before cooking) is only one-half cup cooked.
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).
Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods are critical to healthy bones and can help you avoid osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that consuming calcium-rich foods as part of a healthy diet may aid weight loss in obese women while minimizing bone turnover. The National Institute of Medicine recommends the following calcium intake, for different ages:
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.
Grains, vegetables and fruits are essential to getting the vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber) and other nutrients you need to sustain good health. Some of these nutrients may even reduce your risk of certain kinds of cancer. But experts say we rarely eat enough of these foods. To make matters worse, we also eat too much of unhealthy types of food, including fat (and cholesterol), sugar and salt.
If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
Social protection interventions are intended to support vulnerable households by providing them with in-kind (e.g., food) or cash transfers. The impact of social protection on women's nutrition was nuanced, as such interventions were associated with protecting against adverse nutrition outcomes, but were also associated with excess weight gain in some settings. In-kind transfers, including food baskets, fortified foods, and school lunches, improved women's and adolescent girls’ energy and micronutrient intakes, as described in the preceding sections. Both CCTs and unconditional cash transfers were common around the world and were associated with improvements in health care utilization and increased food expenditures (5, 14, 195, 196). CCTs were dependent on “conditions” such as school attendance and health care utilization. For children in Burkina Faso, CCTs were associated with greater numbers of preventative health visits compared with unconditional cash transfers (197), and this could be relevant to adult women's health care utilization as well. Unconditional cash transfers, such as old-age pensions, were also common, including in low- and middle-income countries (5, 198). Older women who received pensions had fewer missed meals (199), although evidence was mixed (200). In South Africa, granddaughters who cohabitated with women who received pensions had improved anthropometric measures and fewer missed meals, indicating spillover effects of pension transfers (199, 201).
Some fat is an important part of your diet; fat is part of every cell. It maintains skin and hair; stores and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; keeps you warm; and protects your internal organs. It even helps your mental processes—not surprising given that fat comprises about 60 percent of your brain. But many women consume too much fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories.