Not everyone who is underweight suffers from an eating disorder, but anorexia and bulimia are serious health problems in this country; an estimated 500,000 women suffer from anorexia, and 1 to 2 million women struggle with bulimia. Women with anorexia nervosa starve themselves and/or exercise excessively, losing anywhere from 15 percent to 60 percent of their normal body weight. Some die. Women with bulimia nervosa binge on large quantities of food—up to 20,000 calories at one time—and then try to get rid of the excess calories. Some purge by inducing vomiting, abusing laxatives and diuretics or by taking enemas. Others fast or exercise to extremes.
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet though the use of vitamins and supplements. However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.
Calcium may even be harmful for men, at least in large amounts. The worry is prostate cancer, and two Harvard studies have raised the alarm. In 1998, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study found that a high consumption of calcium from food or supplements was linked to an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer. The risk was greatest in men who got more than 2,000 mg a day. More recently, the U.S. Physicians' Health Study reported that a high consumption of calcium from dairy products appeared to increase a man's risk of prostate cancer by up to 37%. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle also found a link between calcium and advanced prostate cancer.
The average woman should get 10 to 35 percent of her daily calories from protein. Protein helps prevent muscle tissue from breaking down and repairs body tissues. Sources of animal proteins include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese. Vegetable proteins include dried beans and peas, peanut butter, nuts, bread and cereal. (A three-ounce serving of cooked chicken contains about 21 grams of protein.)
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.
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).
Many nutrition-sensitive approaches were delivered in broader community-based settings and more equitably reached women across the life course. Non-facilities-based settings more equitably delivered nutrition interventions to women who were not pregnant or lactating, and who were less engaged with health clinics and schools. For instance, food fortification, which was often delivered through markets, home visits, and community centers, seemed to be more effective at reaching women of reproductive age than health center–based delivery platforms. Community-level interventions are often reported as more equitable than platforms that require access to “fixed and well-equipped health facilities” (212). This aligns with our findings, where we found that community-based platforms such as home visits, community centers, homes of community leaders, work, mass media, mobile phones, and commercial settings were effective at reaching women across the life course (Table 1). Other delivery platforms such as marketplaces, water points, tailoring shops, and agricultural points for seeds or inputs were also effective. These locations need to be context-specific in order to capture where women spend their time. For instance, in countries where many adolescent girls do not attend school, school-based delivery platforms might be less effective. Delivery platforms also need to be sensitive to the sociodemographic differences that influence where women spend their time, such as differences for women in rural and urban areas, and of different socioeconomic statuses. Additional research needs to identify and report where women and adolescent girls are, and how best to reach them.
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.
Nutrition education, including communication and counseling to raise awareness and promote nutrition-related knowledge and behaviors aligned with public health goals, was found to increase women's knowledge and improve women's dietary diversity and protein intake (15–21). It also reduced energy intake of overweight women over a 9-mo period (22). However, evidence for the effectiveness of nutrition education interventions showed mixed impact on biological and anthropometric markers of women's nutritional status (14–16, 18, 23–29). This could be due to lack of statistical power given the small sample sizes of the reviewed studies. For adolescent girls, nutrition education was found to reduce odds of overweight, and improve knowledge, dietary intake, physical activity, and sedentary behavior (27, 29, 30). This was particularly true for nutrition education that lasted longer than 12 mo (29). Nutrition education was also more strongly associated with changes in health outcomes in studies evaluating childhood obesity treatment, rather than childhood obesity prevention (29).
Trans fatty acids, also known as trans fats, are solid fats produced artificially by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of metal catalysts and hydrogen. They also pose a health risk, increasing LDL or "bad" cholesterol and increasing your risk of coronary heart disease. They are often found in cookies, crackers, icing and stick margarine, and in small amounts in meats and dairy products. Beginning in January 2006, all food manufacturers had to list the amount of trans fatty acids in foods, resulting in a significant reduction in the amount of these fats used in prepared foods. In its guidelines, the American Heart Association notes that trans fats increase risk of heart disease by raising "bad" LDL cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible. In addition, research has shown that trans fats can also decrease "good" HDL cholesterol, increase inflammation, disrupt normal endothelial cell function and possibly interfere with the metabolism of other important fats—even more evidence that they are very bad for overall health.