As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
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.
Women often received micronutrient supplements during antenatal and postnatal care (13, 35–42, 51, 60), and, as such, supplementation was often targeted to pregnant and lactating women. The delivery of micronutrient supplementation commonly occurred in health care settings for at-home consumption. Community-based antenatal care that involved home visits by community health workers was also a common delivery platform for supplementation delivery. There were some studies that reported micronutrient supplementation to adolescents, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and women with young children outside of the antenatal care setting. These included primary health care clinics, home visits, community centers, pharmacies, and workplaces (32, 38–43, 45, 52, 53). Adolescent girls were also reached by community- and school-based programs (26, 41, 46). School-based programs were more efficacious in reducing rates of anemia among adolescent girls, compared with the community-based interventions (26, 46). However, many of the reported studies to date involved small samples of adolescents in controlled settings, and additional research is needed on the effectiveness of these programs (59, 62).
Iron: Iron, too, remains a critical nutrient. Adult women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 mg a day. Pregnant women should shoot for 27 mg a day. “The volume of blood almost doubles when women are pregnant, which dramatically increases the demand for iron,” Schwartz tells WebMD. After delivery, lactating women need far less iron, only about 9 mg, because they are no longer menstruating. But as soon as women stop breast-feeding, they should return to 18 mg a day.
Eat healthy fats. According to the American Heart Association, women should get at least five to 10 percent of total daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids (equal to 12 to 20 grams), and between 0.5 and 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, depending on individual risk for heart disease. Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids include sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed and soybean oils. And good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnuts, flaxseed, and their oils. Talk with your health care professional about how much of these beneficial oils you should be getting, how you can best incorporate them into your diet and whether or not you should be taking them in supplement form.
Downloading that new weight-loss app may not be as beneficial as you think. A study published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine rated the top 30 weight-loss apps using criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Diabetes Prevention Plan, which consists of 20 behavior-based strategies, including willpower control, problem solving, stress reduction, motivation, and relapse prevention. Twenty-eight of the programs offered 25 percent or fewer of these essential tummy-trimming tactics. If you’re into tech, use your apps to log food and share your progress on social networks, but don't rely on either too heavily to make lasting lifestyle changes.
The major differences in life expectancy for women between developed and developing countries lie in the childbearing years. If a woman survives this period, the differences between the two regions become less marked, since in later life non-communicable diseases (NCDs) become the major causes of death in women throughout the world, with cardiovascular deaths accounting for 45% of deaths in older women, followed by cancer (15%) and lung disease (10%). These create additional burdens on the resources of developing countries. Changing lifestyles, including diet, physical activity and cultural factors that favour larger body size in women, are contributing to an increasing problem with obesity and diabetes amongst women in these countries and increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease and other NCDs.
Vinyasa and power may not be the only forms of yoga that will get you closer to that long, lean, limber look. Research presented at the 73rd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association found that restorative yoga—which focuses more on relaxing and stress-reducing movements rather than a challenging flow or balancing poses—burns more subcutaneous fat (the kind directly under your skin) than stretching does. By the end of the yearlong study, yogis who practiced at least once a month lost an average of about three pounds, nearly double the amount lost by those who only stretched. So if you don’t feel up for a more athletic yoga class, ease your way into a practice with a gentle one.
If you’re not lifting weights already… what are you waiting for? Let me start by answering a question I get all the time — no, lifting weights isn’t just for men, everyone can reap the benefits of muscle growth. Lifting weights stimulates your lean body mass (i.e. muscle) to strengthen you from within and helps maintain healthy bone density (as mentioned earlier). Having more lean body mass – versus more fat mass – provides us with the strength we need to carry out our daily tasks, supports our core and spine, supports hormonal and bone health, AND allows our bodies to burn more calories and burn fat even while sitting. Resistance training can help decrease risks for osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity, aches and pains, and lastly arthritis. It also helps us mentally since weight training and working out, in general, makes us feel good thanks to all those endorphins that are released when your workout. You also get the added benefit of helping our metabolism, getting stronger, building muscle, and decreasing body fat when paired with well-balanced nutrition!
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.