Nutrition-sensitive approaches are difficult to link to women's nutritional status (5, 102). This is due to limited measurement of benefits to program beneficiaries, families, households, and communities, limited timeframes to evaluate long-term impact, logistical and political realities that make implementation difficult, and different priorities of different stakeholders in multisectoral programs (102). Many nutrition-sensitive approaches, as will be described, thus focus on more distal measures of impact (e.g., coverage, knowledge) and not more proximal measures of women's nutritional status (e.g., BMI, anemia status, etc.).
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up any of these, but when I did, the messages weren’t nearly as body-positive. In fact, a quick perusal of other Shape magazine covers from the 1980s (I was probably still reading Seventeen then, but still) shows a bunch of celebrity cover models who would like you to get off the couch immediately, with demands like “Get Strong!” and “Push For Fitness!” Also suspect: “How To Think And Eat Like A Thin Person” and “Is Food Your Lover? How To End The Affair.”
Low-fat diets also can help you lose weight.16 But the amount of weight lost is usually small. You can lose weight and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke if you follow an overall healthy pattern of eating that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans that are high in fiber, nuts, low-fat dairy and fish, in addition to staying away from trans fat and saturated fat.
WASH interventions were typically community-based. WASH interventions were delivered to households and communities through community mobilization, mass media, home visits, and infrastructural development (126, 130, 136–138). There were some examples of facility-based delivery of WASH interventions, such as in health clinics and schools (139, 140); however, this was not representative of the majority of delivery platform coverage. Health clinic delivery platforms had limited reach, often targeting pregnant women and women with young children. In an evaluation of WASH interventions delivered in India (141), more demanding behavioral practices, such as handwashing and consistent use of latrines, required more intense contact (e.g., multiple home visits) than less intense interventions, such as sweeping of courtyards, that could be effectively delivered in small group meetings such as those in health clinics and community centers. More research is needed to evaluate the benefits and barriers of different delivery platforms for women across the life course.
The authors’ contributions were as follows—ELF and CD: were involved in the acquisition of the data; ELF, CD, SMD, and JF: were responsible for the interpretation of the data; ELF: wrote the paper and had primary responsibility for the content; CD, SMD, WS, and JF: were involved in providing detailed comments and revising the manuscript for important intellectual content; and all authors: were involved in the conception of this review and read and approved the final manuscript.
Educational interventions most often targeted school-age children and adolescent girls, and there were few examples of programs targeting women of reproductive age (174). The majority of education interventions were delivered in formal school-based settings (174). However, this is a “selective” delivery platform given that not all adolescents attend schools (193). School fees and distance to school are major barriers to school enrollment (174, 194). Educational interventions need to be sensitive to the reasons why girls are not in school, e.g., work, and to the hours and locations that might make education interventions more accessible (193). Nonformal education, alternative education, mobile schools, and literacy programs can target women and girls not in school, although these approaches were less common and not as well evaluated (174). Interventions that target girls who are no longer in school provide valuable examples about how such interventions could be delivered to hard-to-reach groups (182).
Weighing yourself too often can cause you to obsess over every pound. Penner recommends stepping on the scale or putting on a pair of well-fitting (i.e. not a size too small) pants once a week. “Both can be used as an early warning system for preventing weight gain, and the pants may be a better way to gauge if those workouts are helping you tone up and slim down.” [Tweet this tip!]
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).
Lipid-based nutrient supplement (LNS) programs are intended to enrich diets with micronutrients and essential fatty acids (97), and are often used in emergency settings to meet nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women (98). Of the studies that report on women's health outcomes, LNSs provided to pregnant and lactating women increased body weight and midupper arm circumference, particularly of multiparous women and women >25 y of age (99). They were associated with increased plasma α-linoleic acid, although not plasma lipids and other fatty acids (100). LNSs did not affect women's immune responses, particularly pregnant women's anti-malarial antibody responses (101). There was limited evidence connecting LNS supplementation to unhealthy weight gain and retention, and this is being explored in ongoing studies in Ghana (97).
After menopause. Lower levels of estrogen after menopause raise your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects these chronic diseases. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating plans and whether you need more calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones. Read more about how very low estrogen levels affect your health in our Menopause section. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. Find out how many calories you need based on your level of activity.
Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy levels in women prior to menopause. Foods that provide iron include red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Plant-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. So eat fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with mandarin orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.
Low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of calcium. Other good sources of calcium include salmon, tofu (soybean curd), certain vegetables (broccoli), legumes (peas and beans), calcium-enriched grain products, lime-processed tortillas, seeds and nuts. If you do not regularly consume adequate food sources of calcium, a calcium supplement can be considered to reach the recommended amount. The current recommendations for women for calcium are for a minimum of 1,200 mg per day.
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.
Research from Tufts University nutrition scientists shows that Americans are drinking so much soda and sweet drinks that they provide more daily calories than any other food. Obesity rates are higher for people consuming sweet drinks. Also watch for hidden sugar in the foods you eat. Sugar may appear as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate or malt syrup, among other forms, on package labels.
Obviously, the best treatment plan for poor nutrition is to change your diet. Most Americans eat too little of what they need and too much of that they don't. For many women, decreasing fat and sugar consumption and increasing fruit, vegetables and grains in your diet can make a big difference. Many women also need to boost consumption of foods containing fiber, calcium and folic acid. Compare your diet to that suggested by the food pyramid and compare your nutrient intake to the suggested daily levels. Adjust accordingly, and you may be able to dramatically improve your health.
A number of implementation challenges exist for micronutrient supplementation. Access to care is often associated with socioeconomic status and may influence women's access to and use of supplementation programs. For instance, in one study, the highest wealth quintile of pregnant women had the highest use of iron and folic acid supplementation during antenatal care (33). However, even for women who have access to micronutrient supplements, the coverage and quality of micronutrient supplementation programs were limited (39). Incorrect doses, inadequate supplies, and incomplete adherence were major limitations (33), and poorly performing programs had limited impact on nutrition outcomes (59). Integration of supplementation programs with behavior change interventions improved knowledge, adherence, and coverage of supplementation interventions (32, 33, 60). The use of local micronutrient-rich foods can also help overcome limitations associated with supplement provision. In Nepal, improvements in the dark adaptation of night-blind pregnant women did not differ significantly between food and synthetic sources of vitamin A (61). When available, consumption of micronutrient-rich foods can be as effective as micronutrient supplements.
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.
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).
Women often received micronutrient supplements during antenatal and postnatal care (13, 35–42, 51, 60), and, as such, supplementation was often targeted to pregnant and lactating women. The delivery of micronutrient supplementation commonly occurred in health care settings for at-home consumption. Community-based antenatal care that involved home visits by community health workers was also a common delivery platform for supplementation delivery. There were some studies that reported micronutrient supplementation to adolescents, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and women with young children outside of the antenatal care setting. These included primary health care clinics, home visits, community centers, pharmacies, and workplaces (32, 38–43, 45, 52, 53). Adolescent girls were also reached by community- and school-based programs (26, 41, 46). School-based programs were more efficacious in reducing rates of anemia among adolescent girls, compared with the community-based interventions (26, 46). However, many of the reported studies to date involved small samples of adolescents in controlled settings, and additional research is needed on the effectiveness of these programs (59, 62).
For this comprehensive narrative review, we evaluated both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. Nutrition-specific approaches are those that address the immediate determinants of nutrition (e.g., food and nutrient intake, diet-related practices and behaviors, disease, etc.), whereas nutrition-sensitive approaches are those that address the underlying determinants of nutrition (e.g., food security, access to resources, safe and hygienic environments, adequate health services, etc.) (5, 12). We evaluated the following nutrition-specific interventions described by Bhutta et al. (13, 14): nutrition counseling and education, micronutrient supplementation and fortification, protein and energy supplementation, and lipid-based supplementation. We also included the following nutrition-sensitive approaches described by Ruel and Alderman (5) and Bhutta et al. (14): health care; family planning; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); empowerment; income-generation; education; and social protection. For each intervention, we 1) described the scale and coverage of the intervention, when available; 2) summarized the evidence of effectiveness for women's health and nutrition outcomes; and 3) described and evaluated the target population and delivery platforms, as described in the published articles and as summarized in Table 1. The delivery of interventions included the physical platforms, as well as the adherence and the implementation challenges of the different interventions.
B12: Like folic acid, B12 is essential for healthy nervous system development and function. Pregnant women who are vegans or vegetarians may fall short on B12, since it is present in animal protein and to a lesser extent in dairy. Teenage and adult women need 2.4 mcg. Recommended levels rise to 2.6 mcg for pregnant women and 2.8 mcg for lactating women.
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CCTs have been more thoroughly evaluated for nutrition outcomes, particularly in Latin American countries. They were associated with improvements in women's knowledge of health and nutrition, as well as their self-esteem, participation in social networks, control over resources, and decision-making power (5, 202). Although intrahousehold allocation for women is not clear, CCTs increased household food expenditure and were associated with improved household dietary diversity, including increased household consumption of animal protein, fruits, and vegetables, and reduced consumption of staples and grains (14, 192, 202). There was also some evidence that household expenditure on fats and sweets also increased significantly (202). However, these findings were not consistent and some evaluations showed no significant increase (14, 202, 203). Despite this, in Mexico, there was evidence that in-kind and cash transfer programs resulted in excess weight gain in women who were not underweight (5, 93). This warrants future research given the burden of overweight and obesity among women.
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).