It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.
SOURCES: Elaine Turner, PhD, RD, associate professor, department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida, Gainesville. Sharon B. Spalding, MEd, CSCS, professor, physical education and health; and associate director, Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, Mary Baldwin College Staunton, Va. American Dietetic Association web site. Institute of Medicine at the National Academies web site.
Family planning and birth spacing can influence the nutrition of adolescent girls, women of reproductive age, and women with young children by reducing the number of adverse outcomes associated with pregnancy and abortion. For adolescent girls, in particular, pregnancy is associated with increased risk of birth complications, anemia, hindered linear growth, and loss of educational attainment (8, 107). Delaying early child marriages and providing access to family planning, particularly for young wives, allow girls to achieve their maximum growth potential (8, 142). However, for women with young children, there was scarce evidence from observational studies to suggest that greater birth spacing had any impact on anthropometric status (BMI, weight), micronutrient status (anemia, as well as serum zinc, copper, magnesium, and folate), and maternal mortality outcomes (13, 107, 143–147). Findings were mixed, which was attributed to sample size and other confounding factors such as maternal age, breastfeeding status, and supplementation status (146, 147). The strongest evidence of the impact of birth spacing on women's nutrition was related to increased risk of preterm delivery and maternal anemia in interpregnancy intervals <6 mo (14, 146, 147) and increased risk of pre-eclampsia in intervals >5 y (107).
If you thought texting changed your love life, imagine what it could do for your waistline. When people received motivational text messages promoting exercise and healthy behaviors twice a week (i.e., “Keep in the fridge a Ziploc with washed and precut vegetables 4 quick snack. Add 1 string cheese 4 proteins”), they lost an average of about 3 percent of their body weight in 12 weeks. Participants in the Virginia Commonwealth University study also showed an improvement in eating behaviors, exercise, and nutrition self-efficacy, and reported that the texts helped them adopt these new habits. Find health-minded friends and message each other reminders, or program your phone to send yourself healthy eating tips.
Globally, women's access to health care remains a challenge, both in developing and developed countries. In the United States, before the Affordable Health Care Act came into effect, 25% of women of child-bearing age lacked health insurance. In the absence of adequate insurance, women are likely to avoid important steps to self care such as routine physical examination, screening and prevention testing, and prenatal care. The situation is aggravated by the fact that women living below the poverty line are at greater risk of unplanned pregnancy, unplanned delivery and elective abortion. Added to the financial burden in this group are poor educational achievement, lack of transportation, inflexible work schedules and difficulty obtaining child care, all of which function to create barriers to accessing health care. These problems are much worse in developing countries. Under 50% of childbirths in these countries are assisted by healthcare providers (e.g. midwives, nurses, doctors) which accounts for higher rates of maternal death, up to 1:1,000 live births. This is despite the WHO setting standards, such as a minimum of four antenatal visits. A lack of healthcare providers, facilities, and resources such as formularies all contribute to high levels of morbidity amongst women from avoidable conditions such as obstetrical fistulae, sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer.
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 55-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity should eat five ounces of grains; two cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and beans; five teaspoons of oils, and no more than 130 calories of additional fat and sugar. If she got 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise, she could increase her intake to six ounces of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; and up to 265 additional calories of fat and sugar.