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.
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.
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.
While women tend to need fewer calories than men, our requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are much higher. Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, child-bearing, and menopause mean that women have a higher risk of anemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis, requiring a higher intake of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B9 (folate).
Calcium: “Getting enough calcium is important for all ages, but it's particularly important during adolescence and early adulthood, when bones are absorbing calcium,” says Heather Schwartz, MS, RD, a medical nutrition therapist at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics. Calcium and vitamin D are often paired in fortified foods such as milk. The reason: The body needs D in order to absorb calcium.
Second, the scope of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches was largely focused on undernutrition. There were major research and programming gaps in studies targeting overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease. In our review, the interventions addressing overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease were limited to nutrition education and integrated healthcare. However, overweight and obesity were identified as potential concerns for interventions targeting undernutrition, including food supplementation, and in-kind and cash transfers. This might be a result of the types of interventions that were evaluated, but also speaks to the need to broaden the scope of nutrition interventions that are commonly assessed (5, 13, 14) to explicitly address overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease as nutrition outcomes, and not just as unintended consequences. Globally, there is limited evidence of large-scale interventions that effectively prevent, treat, or correctly classify adiposity-related noncommunicable diseases, and this is a growing area of concern around the world (208). Future evaluations of nutrition interventions might also include interventions that influence women's time and physical environment, and that encourage physical activity or change in access to and affordability of certain foods, as these might also influence overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease outcomes for women.
Improvements in maternal health, in addition to professional assistance at delivery, will require routine antenatal care, basic emergency obstetric care, including the availability of antibiotics, oxytocics, anticonvulsants, the ability to manually remove a retained placenta, perform instrumented deliveries, and postpartum care. Research has shown the most effective programmes are those focussing on patient and community education, prenatal care, emergency obstetrics (including access to cesarean sections) and transportation. As with women's health in general, solutions to maternal health require a broad view encompassing many of the other MDG goals, such as poverty and status, and given that most deaths occur in the immediate intrapartum period, it has been recommended that intrapartum care (delivery) be a core strategy. New guidelines on antenatal care were issued by WHO in November 2016.
There were also supplementation programs that targeted nonpregnant women. National supplementation programs that provided food baskets to low-income families increased maternal BMI and improved household food insecurity (92, 93). However, there were some unintended consequences. In Mexico, food transfer programs disproportionately increased weight gain in overweight women compared with underweight women (93), and 1 study in Bangladesh found that food transfers had larger impacts on men's intake than women's intake, except with less preferred foods (94). Adolescents who received protein-energy supplementation at school showed an increase in weight gain during supplementation, as well as improvements in school attendance and mathematics scores (46, 95). However, the impact of supplementation on micronutrient deficiencies and, specifically, hemoglobin concentration, was limited (46).
Not surprisingly, many integrated health services were delivered in health clinics and facilities. Many women faced barriers to health facility–based care for nutrition, such as distance, time, quality of care, stocking of supplies, and the capacity and nutrition knowledge of healthcare professionals (105, 119). These barriers need to be taken into consideration to enhance the coverage of integrated health care services. Universal health care mitigated cost barriers to seeking health care, but did not address all of the barriers noted here (105, 109, 114, 120–123).
UN Women believe that violence against women "is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence", and advocate moving from supporting victims to prevention, through addressing root and structural causes. They recommend programmes that start early in life and are directed towards both genders to promote respect and equality, an area often overlooked in public policy. This strategy, which involves broad educational and cultural change, also involves implementing the recommendations of the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (2013). To that end the 2014 UN International Day of the Girl Child was dedicated to ending the cycle of violence. In 2016, the World Health Assembly also adopted a plan of action to combat violence against women, globally.
Our findings identified gaps and limitations in the evaluation, scope, targeting, and delivery platforms of nutrition interventions in low- and middle-income countries. First, the monitoring and evaluation of nutrition programs that reported on women's nutrition outcomes was generally inadequate. Many of the studies we identified included small-scale efficacy trials. Although there were many large-scale programs that targeted women and adolescent girls with nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches, they lacked rigorous evaluation. Whether the evidence about women's outcomes was limited because they are not systematically measured or because they are not well reported is not clear. Negative results are often not published, and many evaluations of nutrition interventions that are conducted by the same groups responsible for implementing them are typically presented positively. This may have also skewed our findings. More intentional research-quality program evaluation, including of large-scale programs, would provide a stronger evidence base. Of the studies identified in this review, many reported on short-term findings such as changes in knowledge, dietary behaviors, and program coverage. They were limited in their ability to report clinical and anthropometric outcomes for women, the duration of those outcomes, and the feasibility of scaling up programs. There is also a need for systematic, long-term evaluations of interventions whose effects on nutrition outcomes are more distal (e.g., nutrition education compared with micronutrient supplementation). The effects of multisectoral interventions are even more complex to measure. However, frameworks exist to evaluate complex interventions (102) and could be utilized to evaluate the impact of interventions across the life course.