Our review found that protein-energy supplementation was largely targeted to pregnant and lactating women (19, 86–88, 90, 91); however, there were some studies that evaluated the delivery of protein-energy supplementation to households (92, 93) and adolescents (46). The only studies we found that evaluated the impact of protein-energy supplementation in older, healthy women were hospital-based studies in high-income countries (96). Delivery platforms varied depending on the target audience. The majority of studies targeted pregnant women through antenatal care or through antenatal care–associated community-based programs. National programs targeting low-income families had broader reach, although they targeted households and not women specifically (92). Additional research is needed for how women might best be reached (94). For programs that provided provisions for women to take home, there was also limited information about how much was shared with other members of the household. School-based programs targeting adolescents could be an important venue to target interventions to adolescents in the future. However, children and adolescents not in school would be missed. Despite limited evidence of impacts of energy and protein supplementation on the health of women, supplementation might be an important complement to other interventions (e.g., nutrition education and counseling) to ensure that women have the resources needed to implement other interventions successfully. Indeed, many large-scale programs for protein-energy supplementation are often complemented with nutrition education and counseling (33).
There were also supplementation programs that targeted nonpregnant women. National supplementation programs that provided food baskets to low-income families increased maternal BMI and improved household food insecurity (92, 93). However, there were some unintended consequences. In Mexico, food transfer programs disproportionately increased weight gain in overweight women compared with underweight women (93), and 1 study in Bangladesh found that food transfers had larger impacts on men's intake than women's intake, except with less preferred foods (94). Adolescents who received protein-energy supplementation at school showed an increase in weight gain during supplementation, as well as improvements in school attendance and mathematics scores (46, 95). However, the impact of supplementation on micronutrient deficiencies and, specifically, hemoglobin concentration, was limited (46).
Poor nutrition can manifest itself in many ways. The more obvious symptoms of a nutritional deficiency include dull, dry or shedding hair; red, dry, pale or dull eyes; spoon-shaped, brittle or ridged nails; bleeding gums; swollen, red, cracked lips; flaky skin that doesn't heal quickly; swelling in your legs and feet; wasted, weak muscles; memory loss; and fatigue.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid (a B vitamin) daily to reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other neural-tube defects. Women who are actively trying to get pregnant should consume 600 mcg, and lactating women should consumer 500 mcg. Women of childbearing age should also take care to meet the daily requirements for calcium, fiber, iron, protein and vitamin D. Discuss supplements with a health care professional, however. Iron and vitamin D in particular can be dangerous in high amounts.
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.
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.