Trying to balance the demands of family and work or school—and coping with media pressure to look and eat a certain way—can make it difficult for any woman to maintain a healthy diet. But the right food can not only support your mood, boost your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also be a huge support through the different stages in a woman’s life. Healthy food can help reduce PMS, boost fertility, make pregnancy and nursing easier, ease symptoms of menopause, and keep your bones strong. Whatever your age or situation, committing to a healthy, nutritious diet will help you look and feel your best and get the most out of life.
Nutrition is particularly important when you are pregnant. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal—and it's not just because of the growing fetus; your body is storing fat for lactation. The National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine (NAS/IOM) has determined that a gain of 25 to 35 pounds is desirable. However, underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain at least 15 pounds. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional. Remember that pregnancy isn't the time to diet. Caloric restriction during pregnancy has been associated with reduced birth weight, which can be dangerous to the baby.
A 45-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity in addition to her normal routine should consume six ounce of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and/or beans; five teaspoons of oil; and just 195 calories of additional fat and sugar. With a higher level of daily activity (30 to 60 minutes), this woman would be able to consume a little more in certain food groups: her fruit intake could rise to two cups; meat and beans to five and a half ounces; oils to six teaspoons; and extra fat and sugar to 265 calories.
So we can applaud some of the efforts of Women’s Health. As editor Amy Keller Laird announced in that Jan/Feb issue, the magazine “will no longer be using fitness models in our monthly ‘15-Minute Workout.’ We’ll feature readers of various body types and sizes,” like the refreshingly normal-sized Morgan Gibson Kanner, hurling a weight plate around in stretchy workout clothes. As progressive as the layout is, Laird points out that “it’s logistically difficult to book nonmodels who have day jobs”; sounds like she should hook up with Willcox’s modeling service.
Women's menstrual cycles, the approximately monthly cycle of changes in the reproductive system, can pose significant challenges for women in their reproductive years (the early teens to about 50 years of age). These include the physiological changes that can effect physical and mental health, symptoms of ovulation and the regular shedding of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) accompanied by vaginal bleeding (menses or menstruation). The onset of menstruation (menarche) may be alarming to unprepared girls and mistaken for illness. Menstruation can place undue burdens on women in terms of their ability to participate in activities, and access to menstrual aids such as tampons and "sanitary pads". This is particularly acute amongst poorer socioeconomic groups where they may represent a financial burden and in developing countries where menstruation can be an impediment to a girl's education.
Frankly, looking around, it seems your choice is either a magazine that barely addresses fitness, or going straight to the hardcore muscle-building mags. I was hoping for something reasonably in-between with Women's Health, but failed to find it. If someone knows of such a magazine, I'd be interested to hear it (I tried Women's Fitness, which suffers from the same problems as Women's Health). The good news is that my subscription to Women's Health seemed to get me a good price on Men's Health, which I am switching over to because some reviewers recommended it for those disappointed with the content of WH. I'll see how that works out.
Men who choose to drink and can do so responsibly may benefit from one to two drinks a day, counting 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits as one drink. But women face an extra risk: Even low doses of alcohol can raise their risk of breast cancer. So women who choose to drink might be wise to limit themselves to half as much as men.
Adopting a plant-based diet could help tip the scales in your favor. A five-year study of 71,751 adults published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters even though both groups eat about the same number of calories daily. Researchers say it may be because carnivores consume more fatty acids and fewer weight-loss promoting nutrients, like fiber, than herbivores do. Go green to find out if it works for you.
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas, and other vegetables and fruits. At least one study suggests that women who eat high amounts of fiber (especially in cereal) may have a lower risk for heart disease. High-fiber intake is also associated with lower cholesterol, reduced cancer risk and improved bowel function. And one long-term study found that middle-aged women with a high dietary fiber intake gained less weight over time than women who ate more refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta.
Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.
Women, as we age, are also more susceptible to the breakdown of our bones, which may result in osteoporosis over time. Genetically, women have a particularly high risk of osteoporosis compared to men, so it’s recommended that women monitor their calcium intake to be sure they’re getting enough. Weight training is another great way (and my favorite!) to build bone density, which is another great reason you should hit the weights!
Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods are critical to healthy bones and can help you avoid osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that consuming calcium-rich foods as part of a healthy diet may aid weight loss in obese women while minimizing bone turnover. The National Institute of Medicine recommends the following calcium intake, for different ages:
Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth commonest cancer amongst women, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status. Women in this group have reduced access to health care, high rates of child and forced marriage, parity, polygamy and exposure to STIs from multiple sexual contacts of male partners. All of these factors place them at higher risk. In developing countries, cervical cancer accounts for 12% of cancer cases amongst women and is the second leading cause of death, where about 85% of the global burden of over 500,000 cases and 250,000 deaths from this disease occurred in 2012. The highest incidence occurs in Eastern Africa, where with Middle Africa, cervical cancer is the commonest cancer in women. The case fatality rate of 52% is also higher in developing countries than in developed countries (43%), and the mortality rate varies by 18-fold between regions of the world.
There are many well-documented challenges in disentangling empowerment interventions from other interventions with which they are delivered. Empowerment interventions are often integrated into income-generating activities and agricultural extension, and many empowerment approaches are retroactively classified as “nutrition-sensitive” despite a lack of nutrition components in the original intervention designs (5). In addition, many studies are limited in scope and their evaluation of nutrition outcomes (159), and it is difficult to evaluate which dimensions of women's empowerment matter most for nutrition (162). Notably, indicators to quantify women's empowerment are also not used consistently and vary widely between individual studies (158).
The ’90s turned toward a lot more talk about “fat-blasting” in the Snackwell’s/heroin chic era. But as the new millennium dawned, front cover messages started to sway from scolding to encouraging. Which makes sense: Why would someone want a magazine to yell at them? That’s why the current crop of women’s health magazine headlines stress taking time for yourself over how flat your abs might get. As Elizabeth Goodman, editor-in-chief of Shape magazine, explained via email: “As a women’s magazine, it’s our job to help women be their best selves—both inside and out. However, we don’t want to set the standard for normal or tell women what normal is; we want to encourage women to find and be proud of their normal… Our approach with our readers is not to judge or demand, just to inspire and support.”
You know it's easier to fall off the healthy-eating wagon when the person across the table from you is going whole-hog on mozzarella sticks, but science still felt the need to study this. And evidence presented at the 2013 Agricultural and Applied Economic Associations annual meeting backs you up: In the study, people made similar dining choices as their companions did, possibly because we simply want to fit in. Not all eating partners make a bad influence, though. The report further speculates that if you're eating with a health-conscious person, you may be more likely to order something more nutritious as well.
Women with ovaries but no uterus may be able to use a gestational carrier. This may also be an option for women who shouldn't become pregnant because of a serious health problem. In this case, a woman uses her own egg. It is fertilized by the man's sperm and the embryo is placed inside the carrier's uterus. The carrier will not be related to the baby and gives him or her to the parents at birth.
Women who have very low levels of sunlight exposure or have naturally very dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Those affected may include women who cover most of their body when outdoors, shift workers, those who are unable to regularly get out of their house or women in residential care. Women who have certain medical conditions or are on some medications may also be affected.
Calcium: Although some bone loss is inevitable with age, women can slow the process by getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Women between the ages of 50 and 70 need 1200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of Vitamin D a day. Women older than 70 require 1200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of Vitamin D a day. Because the skin becomes less efficient at converting sunlight to vitamin D as we age, older women may need more vitamin D in the form of supplements. Talk to your doctor.
WASH interventions, such as toilet facilities, access to improved and safe water supply, and hand washing are associated with improved nutrition and health of entire communities (13, 14, 125–128). For women and adolescent girls, WASH interventions were associated with improved menstrual hygiene (126), reduced diarrhea and intestinal worm infections (128–131), and reduced maternal mortality (132). Women and young girls are also more affected by the physical and time burdens of collecting water (126), and harassment and violence associated with inadequate and unsafe toilet facilities (133, 134). Closer water points and sanitation facilities eased these gendered burdens (126, 135). WASH interventions and perceived water availability were associated with less time spent on water-related chores, and improved school attendance, women's empowerment, and self-esteem (126, 135, 136).
Home visits ↑/NC knowledge about hygiene and sanitation, ↑ hand-washing, ↑ water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence ↑/NC knowledge about hygiene and sanitation, ↑ hand-washing, ↑ water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence ↓ maternal mortality, ↑/NC knowledge about hygiene and sanitation, ↑/NC hand-washing, ↑ water quality, NC waste disposal, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence ↑/NC knowledge about hygiene and sanitation, ↑ hand-washing, ↑ water quality, ↓/NC diarrheal morbidity, ↓ intestinal parasite prevalence
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).
Grains, vegetables and fruits are essential to getting the vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber) and other nutrients you need to sustain good health. Some of these nutrients may even reduce your risk of certain kinds of cancer. But experts say we rarely eat enough of these foods. To make matters worse, we also eat too much of unhealthy types of food, including fat (and cholesterol), sugar and salt.
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.
Trans fatty acids, also known as trans fats, are solid fats produced artificially by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of metal catalysts and hydrogen. They also pose a health risk, increasing LDL or "bad" cholesterol and increasing your risk of coronary heart disease. They are often found in cookies, crackers, icing and stick margarine, and in small amounts in meats and dairy products. Beginning in January 2006, all food manufacturers had to list the amount of trans fatty acids in foods, resulting in a significant reduction in the amount of these fats used in prepared foods. In its guidelines, the American Heart Association notes that trans fats increase risk of heart disease by raising "bad" LDL cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible. In addition, research has shown that trans fats can also decrease "good" HDL cholesterol, increase inflammation, disrupt normal endothelial cell function and possibly interfere with the metabolism of other important fats—even more evidence that they are very bad for overall health.
Community centers (e.g., women's groups, community kitchens) ↓ anemia, ↑ nutrition knowledge, ↑ HH food security, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ intake of Fe-rich foods, ↑ intake of ASF, ↑ income, ↑ control over resources, ↑ decision-making ↑ nutrition knowledge, ↓/NC anemia, ↑ food expenditures, ↑ HH food security, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑/NC dietary diversity, ↑ intake of vitamin A–rich foods, ↑/NC intake of vegetables and meat, ↑ intake of fruits and ASF, NC BMI, ↓ underweight, ↑ income, ↑ control over resources, ↑ decision-making ↑ HH food security, ↑ dietary diversity