Evaluations of protein-energy supplementation were limited to specific situations and contexts, and few studies evaluated national-scale programs (14, 33). National-level protein-energy supplementation programs for women and adolescent girls are expensive and challenging to implement compared with other efficacious interventions (33). Procuring, preparing, and distributing food and appropriately targeting women most in need (e.g., women below the poverty line, women who have or are at high risk of malnutrition, etc.) present challenges to protein-energy supplementation interventions (33).
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.
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.
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).
Sweet chili peppers may not be a winter food, but continue eating them in your burritos, stir-fries, and soups, and you may burn more fat during your outdoor cold-weather runs. These not-hot veggies contain chemicals called capsinoids, which are similar to the capsaicin found in hot peppers. Combine capsinoids with 63-degree or cooler temps, and you increase the amount and activity of brown fat cells—those that burn energy—and give your metabolism an extra boost, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Social protection programs typically target the most marginalized members of communities and typically families with children (5, 196). Cash transfers are often targeted to women in these households because they more often invest the transfers in household and food expenditures than men do (192, 202, 204, 205). Cash transfer programs were also targeted to older adults through government-coordinated programs (196, 198, 206). The delivery of transfers involved community centers (town halls, post offices) and banks, as well as locations associated with other services, e.g., schools or health centers (192, 206, 207). These latter platforms were relevant not only for the distribution of social protection programs (i.e., the receipt of transfers), but also for enrollment in and “conditions” of those programs. Conditional transfers required that recipients had access to certain delivery platforms (e.g., schools and health centers) in order to meet the “conditions” of their transfer, and this was a limitation in very rural areas. Although social protection programs are intended for the most vulnerable populations, their delivery platforms can serve as barriers to individuals’ receipt of services, particularly if they require engagement with health care, school, or work-related systems.
However, many fortification programs in low- and middle-income countries are regional or voluntary and, thus, might have a limited nutritional impact at the national level (76). Although many efficacy trials show benefits of fortification interventions, scaling up fortification is limited by inadequate coverage and resources (13, 77, 78). Evidence for impact is also affected by suboptimal programming, low-bioavailability fortificants (e.g., reduced iron powder), poor consumption rates, weak enforcement mechanisms, and inadequate monitoring (76, 79, 80). More research is needed to evaluate the long-term impact of fortification and biofortification programs (75). In addition, there is also growing concern about fortifying and promoting food vehicles that have adverse health consequences when consumed in excess, such as salt and sugar, given the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease (81–83).
In addition, more research is needed to evaluate the impact of targeting women alone compared with targeting women alongside other members of their families and communities (e.g., with groups of other women, men, husbands, children, parents, in-laws, other family members, other community members, etc.). Interventions that targeted women with their children during child health visits or alongside other members of their communities through community mobilization and mass media campaigns showed improvements in knowledge and some health and nutrition behaviors of women. The inclusion of boys and men, for instance, as well as the inclusion of other family and community members, could enhance the impact and delivery of nutrition interventions for women through support of certain practices, reminders, time-savings, and normalization of nutrition behaviors. However, more research is needed to identify effective targeting mechanisms (i.e., alone or alongside other members of households and communities) and we expect that these will likely need to be context- and content-specific.
Foods that contain natural folic acid include orange juice, green leafy vegetables, peas, peanuts and beans. (One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 230 mcg of folic acid.) Fortified foods, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, also contain a synthetic form of folic acid, which is more easily absorbed by your body than the natural form. Folic acid is now added to all enriched grain products (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron have been added to enriched grains for many years).
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).
There's not much doubt about this one: Women need more iron than men, because they lose iron with each menstrual period. After menopause, of course, the gap closes. The RDA of iron for premenopausal women is 18 mg a day, for men 8 mg. Men should avoid excess iron. In the presence of an abnormal gene, it can lead to harmful deposits in various organs (hemochromatosis). Since red meat is the richest dietary source of iron, it's just as well that men don't need to wolf down lots of saturated fat to get a lot of iron.
Even if you are the most independent exerciser around, give a group fitness class a shot at least once a week—you may find that you enjoy it more than sweating solo. “Happiness and health are shared through social connectedness and closeness,” says Greg Chertok, director of sport psychology at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. “Geography and proximity are predictors of how contagious emotions can be, and this may translate into an athletic environment too.” Sign up for Bikram, CrossFit, spin, or Zumba, and you could find yourself—gasp!—smiling at the gym thanks to your classmates.
The new guidelines encourage eating more nutrient-dense food and beverages. Many of us consume too many calories from solid fats, added sugar and refined grains. The guidelines promote a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.