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.
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.
Many nutrition-sensitive approaches were delivered in broader community-based settings and more equitably reached women across the life course. Non-facilities-based settings more equitably delivered nutrition interventions to women who were not pregnant or lactating, and who were less engaged with health clinics and schools. For instance, food fortification, which was often delivered through markets, home visits, and community centers, seemed to be more effective at reaching women of reproductive age than health center–based delivery platforms. Community-level interventions are often reported as more equitable than platforms that require access to “fixed and well-equipped health facilities” (212). This aligns with our findings, where we found that community-based platforms such as home visits, community centers, homes of community leaders, work, mass media, mobile phones, and commercial settings were effective at reaching women across the life course (Table 1). Other delivery platforms such as marketplaces, water points, tailoring shops, and agricultural points for seeds or inputs were also effective. These locations need to be context-specific in order to capture where women spend their time. For instance, in countries where many adolescent girls do not attend school, school-based delivery platforms might be less effective. Delivery platforms also need to be sensitive to the sociodemographic differences that influence where women spend their time, such as differences for women in rural and urban areas, and of different socioeconomic statuses. Additional research needs to identify and report where women and adolescent girls are, and how best to reach them.
Behavioral differences also play a role, in which women display lower risk taking including consume less tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, reducing their risk of mortality from associated diseases, including lung cancer, tuberculosis and cirrhosis. Other risk factors that are lower for women include motor vehicle accidents. Occupational differences have exposed women to less industrial injuries, although this is likely to change, as is risk of injury or death in war. Overall such injuries contributed to 3.5% of deaths in women compared to 6.2% in the United States in 2009. Suicide rates are also less in women.
Iron: Essential for healthy blood cells, iron becomes especially important when girls begin to menstruate. With each period, a woman loses small amounts of iron. “About 10% of American women are iron deficient,” says Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Maine and co-editor of Nutritional Concerns of Women (CRC Press, 2003). “About 5% have iron deficiency anemia.” Symptoms of low iron include fatigue, impaired immunity, and poor performance at school or work.
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.
A year later, a second Harvard study added to the concern. The Physicians' Health Study of 20,885 men did not evaluate diet per se, but it did measure the blood levels of ALA in 120 men who developed prostate cancer and compared them with the levels in 120 men who remained free of the disease. Men with moderately high ALA blood levels were 3.4 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels; curiously, though, men with the very highest levels were only 2 times more likely to get the disease.
Calcium: For adult women aged 19-50, the USDA recommended daily allowance is 1,000 mg/day. For women over 50, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 mg/day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, certain fish, grains, tofu, cabbage, and summer squash. Your body cannot take in more than 500 mg at any one time and there’s no benefit to exceeding the recommended daily amount.
Food fortification is one of the most cost-effective strategies to improve micronutrient status through a variety of food vehicles, including staples, condiments, and processed foods (63, 64). Common fortifiable micronutrients include iron, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and iodine, although B vitamins and vitamin C are also used as fortificants (33, 64). Food fortification reduced anemia and iron deficiency anemia, and improved vitamin A, folate, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, zinc, and iodine status of women of reproductive age and adolescents (13, 46, 61, 63–74). Vitamin D and calcium fortification were found to reduce the risk of osteoporosis among older women, especially for those exposed to inadequate sunlight (63, 64). Biofortification efforts, including those that involved breeding or genetic modification of plants to improve micronutrient content, have also shown improvements in the vitamin A and iron status of women (64, 75). Similar to micronutrient supplementation, women and girls with low micronutrient status were most likely to benefit.
A related issue is the inclusion of pregnant women in clinical studies. Since other illnesses can exist concurrently with pregnancy, information is needed on the response to and efficacy of interventions during pregnancy, but ethical issues relative to the fetus, make this more complex. This gender bias is partly offset by the iniation of large scale epidemiology studies of women, such as the Nurses' Health Study (1976), Women's Health Initiative and Black Women's Health Study.
Calories. Most times, women need fewer calories. That’s because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. Find out how many calories you need each day, based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid system (www.mypyramid.gov) provides a good start by recommending that the bulk of your diet come from the grain group—this includes bread, cereal, rice and pasta— the vegetable group; and the fruit group. Select smaller amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans group. Eat few—if any—foods that are high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients. The amount of food you should consume depends on your sex, age and level of activity.
Choline: Some studies link low choline levels to increased risk of neural tube defects. Recommended levels have been established for this nutrient, but it's easy to get enough in your diet. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, for example. “Eating a few eggs a week should give you all you need,” Frechman says. “Most people can eat the equivalent of an egg a day without worrying about cholesterol.” Other choline-rich food sources include milks, liver, and peanuts.
Schools (“condition” and delivery platform) ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ HH intake of fruits, vegetables, and ASF, ↑/NC intake of fats and sweets ↑ knowledge about health and nutrition, ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ HH intake of fruits, vegetables, and ASF, ↑/NC intake of fats and sweets, ↑ participation in social networks, ↑ self-confidence, ↑ control HH resources ↑ knowledge about health and nutrition, ↑ HH food security, ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ HH intake of fruits, vegetables, and ASF, ↑/NC intake of fats and sweets, ↑ participation in social networks, ↑ self-confidence, ↑ control over resources ↑ knowledge about health, NC hypertension, ↓ missed meals, ↑ health care utilization