If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
Women have traditionally been disadvantaged in terms of economic and social status and power, which in turn reduces their access to the necessities of life including health care. Despite recent improvements in western nations, women remain disadvantaged with respect to men. The gender gap in health is even more acute in developing countries where women are relatively more disadvantaged. In addition to gender inequity, there remain specific disease processes uniquely associated with being a woman which create specific challenges in both prevention and health care.
Vitamin D: Over the past decade, dozens of studies have revealed many important roles for vitamin D, the nutrient that skin cells produce when they are exposed to sunlight. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 600 IU per day, although recommended levels are under review. If you avoid the sun or live in the northern half of the U.S., ask your doctor whether your vitamin D level should be tested.
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.
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.
Obviously, the best treatment plan for poor nutrition is to change your diet. Most Americans eat too little of what they need and too much of that they don't. For many women, decreasing fat and sugar consumption and increasing fruit, vegetables and grains in your diet can make a big difference. Many women also need to boost consumption of foods containing fiber, calcium and folic acid. Compare your diet to that suggested by the food pyramid and compare your nutrient intake to the suggested daily levels. Adjust accordingly, and you may be able to dramatically improve your health.
Our review highlighted how a focus on delivery platforms could indicate who is missed by different nutrition interventions, by evaluating where there is overlap or divergence in where interventions are delivered (as represented in the Venn diagram in Figure 1). Our findings showed that a large proportion of nutrition-specific interventions were delivered at clinic-based settings or community-based health posts. Health centers are important delivery platforms, particularly for pregnant and lactating women (113, 210). However, only half of women worldwide even attend the appropriate number of antenatal care visits (with nearly 86% of women attending 1 visit) and only 59% receive appropriate postnatal care (211). Other delivery platforms, such as schools and universities, were more effective at reaching some adolescents and women of reproductive age. However, interventions delivered at “facilities” (schools, health clinics, health posts) require participation with those facilities, and participation is often limited because of time, costs, distance, and other responsibilities, including work and childcare (116). Facilities-based care is also more likely to miss certain groups, including older women.
CCTs have been more thoroughly evaluated for nutrition outcomes, particularly in Latin American countries. They were associated with improvements in women's knowledge of health and nutrition, as well as their self-esteem, participation in social networks, control over resources, and decision-making power (5, 202). Although intrahousehold allocation for women is not clear, CCTs increased household food expenditure and were associated with improved household dietary diversity, including increased household consumption of animal protein, fruits, and vegetables, and reduced consumption of staples and grains (14, 192, 202). There was also some evidence that household expenditure on fats and sweets also increased significantly (202). However, these findings were not consistent and some evaluations showed no significant increase (14, 202, 203). Despite this, in Mexico, there was evidence that in-kind and cash transfer programs resulted in excess weight gain in women who were not underweight (5, 93). This warrants future research given the burden of overweight and obesity among women.
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.