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.
Women's empowerment relates to women's ability to make life choices (158). Higher levels of empowerment were associated with increased income, household decision-making, control over resources, and utilization of health resources (5, 158–160). For nutrition outcomes, empowerment was associated with increased income allocated to food expenditures and improved household food security (160, 161). It was also associated with increased dietary diversity, but had no impact on women's BMI (5, 161, 162). For example, mothers’ participation in empowerment activities through Helen Keller International's Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program in Burkina Faso was associated with increased fruit intake (difference-in-differences = 15.8 percentage points, P = 0.02) and nearly statistically significant increases in meat intake and dietary diversity (163). Participation was also associated with decreased prevalence of underweight (difference-in-differences = −8.7 percentage points, P < 0.01) but not overall mean BMI (163). In addition, the EHFP program in Bangladesh and Nepal was associated with decreasing trends in maternal anemia (anemia prevalence decreased by a magnitude of 12%, P = 0.075 in Bangladesh, and 26%, P = 0.009 in Nepal) (160). However, this was not consistent with findings from Cambodia (160).
Third, of the interventions that were evaluated, many interventions targeted women who were pregnant, lactating, or with young children <5 y of age. We do not refute the important focus on mothers and their children as a group deserving of special attention, given women's increased nutrient needs during pregnancy and lactation and the intergenerational consequences during this period. However, even the interventions that focused on maternal nutrition often only reported on birth and nutrition outcomes of the child, and not those of the mother. In addition, although there were interventions that targeted adolescent girls and women of reproductive age, they were fewer and less well evaluated than interventions that targeted women as mothers. This aligns with findings from other research which illustrated a higher proportion of programs targeting pregnant and lactating women and women with young children (209). We also found major gaps in the targeting of interventions for older women. With growing rates of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable diseases, in addition to undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, it is essential to think outside of the maternal-focused paradigm to reach women at all life stages.
Studies link high sodium intake to higher blood pressure, and evidence suggests that many people at risk for high blood pressure can reduce their risk by consuming less salt or sodium, as well as following a healthy diet. Most Americans consume more sodium than they need. The recommended amount is less than 2,300 mg per day for children and adults to age 50. The limit drops to 1,500 mg per day for those 51 and older or those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. You get 2,300 mg in just one teaspoon of salt. One good way to reduce your sodium intake is to eat fewer prepared and packaged foods.
Social protection programs typically target the most marginalized members of communities and typically families with children (5, 196). Cash transfers are often targeted to women in these households because they more often invest the transfers in household and food expenditures than men do (192, 202, 204, 205). Cash transfer programs were also targeted to older adults through government-coordinated programs (196, 198, 206). The delivery of transfers involved community centers (town halls, post offices) and banks, as well as locations associated with other services, e.g., schools or health centers (192, 206, 207). These latter platforms were relevant not only for the distribution of social protection programs (i.e., the receipt of transfers), but also for enrollment in and “conditions” of those programs. Conditional transfers required that recipients had access to certain delivery platforms (e.g., schools and health centers) in order to meet the “conditions” of their transfer, and this was a limitation in very rural areas. Although social protection programs are intended for the most vulnerable populations, their delivery platforms can serve as barriers to individuals’ receipt of services, particularly if they require engagement with health care, school, or work-related systems.
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.
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.
Not everyone who is underweight suffers from an eating disorder, but anorexia and bulimia are serious health problems in this country; an estimated 500,000 women suffer from anorexia, and 1 to 2 million women struggle with bulimia. Women with anorexia nervosa starve themselves and/or exercise excessively, losing anywhere from 15 percent to 60 percent of their normal body weight. Some die. Women with bulimia nervosa binge on large quantities of food—up to 20,000 calories at one time—and then try to get rid of the excess calories. Some purge by inducing vomiting, abusing laxatives and diuretics or by taking enemas. Others fast or exercise to extremes.
Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation and can raise your risk for other health problems. Part of healthy eating is choosing fiber-rich foods, including beans, berries, and dark green leafy vegetables, every day. Fiber helps lower your risk for diseases that affect many women, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer. Fiber also helps you feel full, so it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
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.