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.
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.
For healthy bones and teeth, women need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps to reduce the risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily. Some calcium-rich foods include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, sardines, tofu (if made with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified foods including juices and cereals. Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods and beverages, such as some yogurts and juices.
Nutrition interventions that target mothers alone inadequately address women's needs across their lives: during adolescence, preconception, and in later years of life. They also fail to capture nulliparous women. The extent to which nutrition interventions effectively reach women throughout the life course is not well documented. In this comprehensive narrative review, we summarized the impact and delivery platforms of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions targeting adolescent girls, women of reproductive age (nonpregnant, nonlactating), pregnant and lactating women, women with young children <5 y, and older women, with a focus on nutrition interventions delivered in low- and middle-income countries. We found that although there were many effective interventions that targeted women's nutrition, they largely targeted women who were pregnant and lactating or with young children. There were major gaps in the targeting of interventions to older women. For the delivery platforms, community-based settings, compared with facility-based settings, more equitably reached women across the life course, including adolescents, women of reproductive age, and older women. Nutrition-sensitive approaches were more often delivered in community-based settings; however, the evidence of their impact on women's nutritional outcomes was less clear. We also found major research and programming gaps relative to targeting overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease. We conclude that focused efforts on women during pregnancy and in the first couple of years postpartum fail to address the interrelation and compounding nature of nutritional disadvantages that are perpetuated across many women's lives. In order for policies and interventions to more effectively address inequities faced by women, and not only women as mothers, it is essential that they reflect on how, when, and where to engage with women across the life course.
We conducted a comprehensive narrative review to synthesize the existing literature on interventions targeting women's nutrition (11). We searched the PubMed database and Google Scholar from 1990 to December 2017 for peer-reviewed articles, systematic reviews, and grey literature that reported on a set of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, outlined in what follows. We also reviewed the cited sources of key articles. When available, we used existing reviews to identify studies. Some of the review articles that emerged from our search included both high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries. When possible, we specified the delivery platforms for low- and middle-income countries. For review articles that did not explicitly describe the intervention delivery platforms, we reviewed the cited primary sources to identify the delivery platform for the discussed interventions.
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.