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.
As the science of nutrition continually evolves, researchers recognize that nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle must be tailored to the individual for maximum effectiveness. Recognizing that people are not all alike and that one size does not fit all when it comes to planning and achieving a healthful diet, the Institute of Medicine's dietary guidelines, titled "Dietary Reference Intakes for Macronutrients," stress the importance of balancing diet with exercise and recommends total calories based on an individual's height, weight and gender for each of four different levels of physical activity.
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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).
Iron: Iron, too, remains a critical nutrient. Adult women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 mg a day. Pregnant women should shoot for 27 mg a day. “The volume of blood almost doubles when women are pregnant, which dramatically increases the demand for iron,” Schwartz tells WebMD. After delivery, lactating women need far less iron, only about 9 mg, because they are no longer menstruating. But as soon as women stop breast-feeding, they should return to 18 mg a day.
Fiber is an important part of an overall healthy eating plan. Good sources of fiber include fortified cereal, many whole-grain breads, beans, fruits (especially berries), dark green leafy vegetables, all types of squash, and nuts. Look on the Nutrition Facts label for fiber content in processed foods like cereals and breads. Use the search tool on this USDA page to find the amount of fiber in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
During adolescence and early adulthood, women need to consume foods rich in calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass. This will reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, a progressive condition where there is a loss of bone that leaves those affected more susceptible to fractures. Women also need an adequate iron intake because they lose iron through menstruation. Women also need an adequate intake of calories to support energy and nutritional needs in order for the body to function properly. The amount of calories that an individual needs varies for each person and is based on age, gender and activity level. As a general recommendation, women between 23 and 50 years of age generally need between 1,700 and 2,200 calories per day to maintain their current energy needs and body weight. Older women generally require fewer calories to support and sustain energy needs. Consuming fewer than 1,500 calories per day, even in attempts to lose weight, can put women at nutritional risk and can result in malnutrition and poor health. For more information on how to calculate one’s nutritional needs, go to www.choosemyplate.gov and insert your personal information. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is another reference or guide to assist you in learning to eat a balanced and nutritious diet for good health.
Interventions resulting in public infrastructure changes were found to be less effective than household-based interventions; however, both are important aspects of improved health outcomes for women (128, 130). Public water infrastructure requires regular maintenance and periodic replacement and water from these sources is often contaminated (130). However, even public water points that provide good-quality water have had minimal impacts on health outcomes (136). One review estimated that water-source interventions were associated with a 27% reduction in diarrhea risk at all ages, whereas household-based interventions were associated with a 43% reduction (128). This could be associated with bias and confounding, as measuring WASH outcomes is not a blinded process (128). The differential impact could also be related to practice. As compared with public water sources, home water connections were associated with greater odds of handwashing and fecal waste disposal (136). As a significant portion of diarrheal disease is a result of person-to-person transmission and poor hygiene, interventions that improve domestic hygiene behaviors can have a significant impact (136). Behavior change communication and resource provision, e.g., soap and point-of-use water treatment resources, were also important and sustainable aspects of WASH interventions (131, 137).
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.
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.
Energy and protein supplementation was most often associated with weight gain of women, and often targeted pregnant women with suboptimal weight. For pregnant women, energy and protein supplementation modestly increased maternal weight (86–90). Other maternal outcomes were not frequently reported, and were often secondary objectives of protein-energy supplementation interventions (33, 88). Many studies reported on infant health outcomes, including reductions in low birth weight and preterm births (19, 89–91). Adequate energy and protein intake was also relevant for interventions targeting the prevention of excessive gestational weight gain of overweight and obese pregnant women. These interventions restricted dietary energy intake of overweight women during pregnancy and resulted in reduced excess weight gain during pregnancy but had no impact on pregnancy-related hypertension and pre-eclampsia (19, 88).
World Health Organization. Salt reduction and iodine fortification strategies in public health: report of a joint technical meeting convened by the World Health Organization and The George Institute for Global Health in collaboration with the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders Global Network, Sydney, Australia, March 2013 . Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014.
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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.
Protein should provide about 15% of a healthy person's daily calories. As a rule of thumb, people of both sexes and any size will do fine with about 60 grams of protein a day. Athletes who have large muscles and work out hard may need 20% more. But even that's not very much; 8 ounces of chicken or 6 ounces of canned tuna, for example, will fit the bill.