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.
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:
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.
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.
Getting enough water also is important. Many experts recommend at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily—more if you exercise frequently or are exposed to extremes of heat and cold. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize drinking more water and other calorie-free beverages, along with fat-free or low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juices, instead of calorie-packed regular sodas.
A well-balanced diet, comprised of a variety of foods, adequately meets women’s needs for vitamins, minerals and energy. For good health, women need to pay special attention to calcium, iron and folate (folic acid) intake. A healthy diet also should minimize the intake of fat and sugar. Diets high in saturated or trans fat can promote high levels of blood cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. A diet that includes high sugar provides empty calories, or calories that do not provide any nutritional value and often times replace more nutritious food selections.
Family planning and birth spacing can influence the nutrition of adolescent girls, women of reproductive age, and women with young children by reducing the number of adverse outcomes associated with pregnancy and abortion. For adolescent girls, in particular, pregnancy is associated with increased risk of birth complications, anemia, hindered linear growth, and loss of educational attainment (8, 107). Delaying early child marriages and providing access to family planning, particularly for young wives, allow girls to achieve their maximum growth potential (8, 142). However, for women with young children, there was scarce evidence from observational studies to suggest that greater birth spacing had any impact on anthropometric status (BMI, weight), micronutrient status (anemia, as well as serum zinc, copper, magnesium, and folate), and maternal mortality outcomes (13, 107, 143–147). Findings were mixed, which was attributed to sample size and other confounding factors such as maternal age, breastfeeding status, and supplementation status (146, 147). The strongest evidence of the impact of birth spacing on women's nutrition was related to increased risk of preterm delivery and maternal anemia in interpregnancy intervals <6 mo (14, 146, 147) and increased risk of pre-eclampsia in intervals >5 y (107).
Food fortification is one of the most cost-effective strategies to improve micronutrient status through a variety of food vehicles, including staples, condiments, and processed foods (63, 64). Common fortifiable micronutrients include iron, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and iodine, although B vitamins and vitamin C are also used as fortificants (33, 64). Food fortification reduced anemia and iron deficiency anemia, and improved vitamin A, folate, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, zinc, and iodine status of women of reproductive age and adolescents (13, 46, 61, 63–74). Vitamin D and calcium fortification were found to reduce the risk of osteoporosis among older women, especially for those exposed to inadequate sunlight (63, 64). Biofortification efforts, including those that involved breeding or genetic modification of plants to improve micronutrient content, have also shown improvements in the vitamin A and iron status of women (64, 75). Similar to micronutrient supplementation, women and girls with low micronutrient status were most likely to benefit.
Most Americans get far more protein than they really need. In theory, that may not be wise. Like carbohydrates, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and excess calories from any source will be stored as body fat. Excess dietary protein increases calcium loss in the urine, perhaps raising the risk for osteoporosis ("thin bones," more a worry for women) and kidney stones (a particular worry for men).