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.[113]
In addition, more research is needed to evaluate the impact of targeting women alone compared with targeting women alongside other members of their families and communities (e.g., with groups of other women, men, husbands, children, parents, in-laws, other family members, other community members, etc.). Interventions that targeted women with their children during child health visits or alongside other members of their communities through community mobilization and mass media campaigns showed improvements in knowledge and some health and nutrition behaviors of women. The inclusion of boys and men, for instance, as well as the inclusion of other family and community members, could enhance the impact and delivery of nutrition interventions for women through support of certain practices, reminders, time-savings, and normalization of nutrition behaviors. However, more research is needed to identify effective targeting mechanisms (i.e., alone or alongside other members of households and communities) and we expect that these will likely need to be context- and content-specific.

Although there is evidence that interventions can address widespread malnutrition among women, there is a lack of operational research and programs to tackle the issue. There is an imperative for the nutrition community to look beyond maternal nutrition and to address women's nutrition across their lives (3). How we reach women matters, and different delivery platforms are more appropriate for some women than others. Delivery platforms for reaching young mothers are different from those for adolescents and postmenopausal women. There is a need to intentionally consider strategies that appropriately target and deliver interventions to all women. This means that nutrition researchers and practitioners need to further adapt existing strategies and modes of delivery to adequately engage women who might not be in clinic settings (78). This also requires that researchers and practitioners explore how to deliver nutrition interventions to women and at different stages of life in order to reduce inequities in the delivery of nutrition services and to reach women missed by programs focusing on maternal nutrition alone.
“Whole grains help with digestion and are excellent for your heart, regularity [because of the fiber content], and maintaining a steady level of blood sugar,” says Hincman. “They are also a great source of energy to power you throughout the day.” Whole grains, such as oats, also help improve cholesterol levels. While food manufacturers are adding fiber to all sorts of products, whole grains, like whole wheat, rye, and bran, need to be the first ingredient on the food label of packaged foods, she stresses. Watch your serving sizes, however. Current guidelines are for six one-ounce equivalent servings per day (five if you’re over 50). One ounce of whole-wheat pasta (weighed before cooking) is only one-half cup cooked.
Osteoporosis ranks sixth amongst chronic diseases of women in the United States, with an overall prevalence of 18%, and a much higher rate involving the femur, neck or lumbar spine amongst women (16%) than men (4%), over the age of 50 (Gronowski and Schindler, Table IV).[6][7][128] Osteoporosis is a risk factor for bone fracture and about 20% of senior citizens who sustain a hip fracture die within a year.[6] [129] The gender gap is largely the result of the reduction of estrogen levels in women following the menopause. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been shown to reduce this risk by 25–30%,[130] and was a common reason for prescribing it during the 1980s and 1990s. However the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study that demonstrated that the risks of HRT outweighed the benefits[131] has since led to a decline in HRT usage.

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.[113]

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death (30%) amongst women in the United States, and the leading cause of chronic disease amongst them, affecting nearly 40% (Gronowski and Schindler, Tables I and IV).[6][7][119] The onset occurs at a later age in women than in men. For instance the incidence of stroke in women under the age of 80 is less than that in men, but higher in those aged over 80. Overall the lifetime risk of stroke in women exceeds that in men.[27][28] The risk of cardiovascular disease amongst those with diabetes and amongst smokers is also higher in women than in men.[6] Many aspects of cardiovascular disease vary between women and men, including risk factors, prevalence, physiology, symptoms, response to intervention and outcome.[119]

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).


Women who are socially marginalized are more likely to die at younger ages than women who are not.[21] Women who have substance abuse disorders, who are homeless, who are sex workers, and/or who are imprisoned have significantly shorter lives than other women.[21] At any given age, women in these overlapping, stigmatized groups are approximately 10 to 13 times more likely to die than typical women of the same age.[21]
Among other things, you need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly. Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis. Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium, in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, to support your bone health.
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Nutrition-sensitive approaches are difficult to link to women's nutritional status (5, 102). This is due to limited measurement of benefits to program beneficiaries, families, households, and communities, limited timeframes to evaluate long-term impact, logistical and political realities that make implementation difficult, and different priorities of different stakeholders in multisectoral programs (102). Many nutrition-sensitive approaches, as will be described, thus focus on more distal measures of impact (e.g., coverage, knowledge) and not more proximal measures of women's nutritional status (e.g., BMI, anemia status, etc.).
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.
In our review, we found that fortification interventions that provided fortified foods reached women of all life stages through home visits, community distribution centers, local markets, and retail stores. Delivery of fortified foods in school-based programs, at work, and in maternal–child health centers were also used to target school-age children, women of reproductive age, and pregnant and lactating women that were engaged with those facilities (37, 72–74, 84). There was mixed evidence that consumption of fortified foods reached all socioeconomic groups. Some studies showed differences in consumption between nonpoor and extremely poor, and between urban and rural stakeholders (33, 64, 85). Women who have restricted access to markets, depend largely on locally grown foods, are in areas with underdeveloped distribution channels, or have limited purchasing power, might have limited access to fortified foods (64). Additional research is needed to address implementation gaps and to determine the best platforms for reaching high-risk populations.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin E is 15 mg. Don't take more than 1,000 mg of alpha-tocopherol per day. This amount is equivalent to approximately 1,500 IU of "d-alpha-tocopherol," sometimes labeled as "natural source" vitamin E, or 1,100 IU of "dl-alpha-tocopherol," a synthetic form of vitamin E. Consuming more than this could increase your risk of bleeding because vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant (blood thinner).
Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
One of the challenges in assessing progress in this area is the number of clinical studies that either do not report the gender of the subjects or lack the statistical power to detect gender differences.[156][159] These were still issues in 2014, and further compounded by the fact that the majority of animal studies also exclude females or fail to account for differences in sex and gender. for instance despite the higher incidence of depression amongst women, less than half of the animal studies use female animals.[119] Consequently, a number of funding agencies and scientific journals are asking researchers to explicitly address issues of sex and gender in their research.[160][161]
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Omega-3s: These essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, play many roles in the body, including building healthy brain and nerve cells. Some studies show that omega-3s, especially DHA, can help prevent preterm births. Even women who don't plan to have children should be sure to get plenty of omega-3s. These healthy oils have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, the number one killer of women.
Three related targets of MDG5 were adolescent birth rate, contraceptive prevalence and unmet need for family planning (where prevalence+unmet need = total need), which were monitored by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.[64] Contraceptive use was part of Goal 5B (universal access to reproductive health), as Indicator 5.3.[65] The evaluation of MDG5 in 2015 showed that amongst couples usage had increased worldwide from 55% to 64%. with one of the largest increases in Subsaharan Africa (13 to 28%). The corollary, unmet need, declined slightly worldwide (15 to 12%).[37] In 2015 these targets became part of SDG5 (gender equality and empowerment) under Target 5.6: Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, where Indicator 5.6.1 is the proportion of women aged 15–49 years who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care (p. 31).[66]
Nutrition is particularly important during pregnancy to ensure your health and the health of the baby. It's normal to gain weight during pregnancy—not just because of the growing fetus, but because you'll need stored fat for breast-feeding. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a gain of 25 to 35 pounds in women of normal weight when they get pregnant; 28 to 40 pounds in underweight women; and at least 15 pounds in women who are overweight when they get pregnant. 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.

Women and men differ in their chromosomal makeup, protein gene products, genomic imprinting, gene expression, signaling pathways, and hormonal environment. All of these necessitate caution in extrapolating information derived from biomarkers from one sex to the other.[6] Women are particularly vulnerable at the two extremes of life. Young women and adolescents are at risk from STIs, pregnancy and unsafe abortion, while older women often have few resources and are disadvantaged with respect to men, and also are at risk of dementia and abuse, and generally poor health.[17]


As the science of nutrition continually evolves, researchers recognize that nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle must be tailored to the individual for maximum effectiveness. Recognizing that people are not all alike and that one size does not fit all when it comes to planning and achieving a healthful diet, the Institute of Medicine's dietary guidelines, titled "Dietary Reference Intakes for Macronutrients," stress the importance of balancing diet with exercise and recommends total calories based on an individual's height, weight and gender for each of four different levels of physical activity.

Income-generation interventions largely target adult women (women of reproductive age, women with young children, and older women). Many microfinance and loan programs are targeted to women because of their likelihood to pay back the loans, although women with lower education levels and smaller businesses do not benefit to the same degree as women who are educated or who have bigger businesses (165). There was limited evidence of such interventions targeting adolescent girls (169). In order to understand the potential impact of income-generating activities on adolescents, more information is needed about the pathways by which adolescents contribute to their own food security, the degree to which they rely on their caregivers to meet their nutritional needs, and how those dynamics change with the age of adolescents (169). Training, workshops, and extension activities were often delivered through community centers, community groups, and financial institutions (165). Other affiliated interventions, such as agricultural extension and nutrition education, were provided at the community level and at home visits (160, 173). These delivery platforms were effective at reaching women, including low-income women, particularly when they engaged with existing community groups (e.g., self-help, farmers’, and women's groups) (160, 161, 167, 169, 172, 173).
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