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.
Some fat is an important part of your diet; fat is part of every cell. It maintains skin and hair; stores and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; keeps you warm; and protects your internal organs. It even helps your mental processes—not surprising given that fat comprises about 60 percent of your brain. But many women consume too much fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid system (www.mypyramid.gov) provides a good start by recommending that the bulk of your diet come from the grain group—this includes bread, cereal, rice and pasta— the vegetable group; and the fruit group. Select smaller amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans group. Eat few—if any—foods that are high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients. The amount of food you should consume depends on your sex, age and level of activity.
Complementing income-generating interventions with interventions that more directly target women's nutrition has potential to have greater impacts on women's nutritional status (171). Integrated interventions were associated with improvements in health knowledge and behaviors, as well as increased intake of nutrient-rich foods (5, 164, 169, 170, 172). In Bangladesh and Cambodia, the aforementioned EHFP program was associated with increased income, decision-making power in the household, food expenditure (including on oils, salts, spices, fish, rice, and meat), and consumption of fruits and vegetables from home gardens (160, 173). There was also limited, but mixed, evidence of income-generating interventions and behavior change communication causing improvements in maternal anemia and BMI (164, 168, 170).
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas, and other vegetables and fruits. At least one study suggests that women who eat high amounts of fiber (especially in cereal) may have a lower risk for heart disease. High-fiber intake is also associated with lower cholesterol, reduced cancer risk and improved bowel function. And one long-term study found that middle-aged women with a high dietary fiber intake gained less weight over time than women who ate more refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta.
Micronutrient supplementation programs for vitamin A, iron and folic acid, calcium, zinc, and multiple micronutrients effectively impacted the micronutrient status of pregnant and lactating women, as well as women of reproductive age and adolescent girls (13, 14, 33, 35–48). Interventions making use of multiple micronutrients were more effective at changing plasma micronutrient concentrations than interventions focused solely on 1 nutrient alone (38, 42). In countries with comprehensive programs for iron supplementation during pregnancy, anemia prevalence dropped (1, 49). Positive health impacts of supplementation were most notable among pregnant women who were deficient and at risk of low intake (43, 50). However, there were some studies that showed inconsistent or limited evidence for the effectiveness of supplementation on other maternal health outcomes (31, 51–58).
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.
“Whole grains help with digestion and are excellent for your heart, regularity [because of the fiber content], and maintaining a steady level of blood sugar,” says Hincman. “They are also a great source of energy to power you throughout the day.” Whole grains, such as oats, also help improve cholesterol levels. While food manufacturers are adding fiber to all sorts of products, whole grains, like whole wheat, rye, and bran, need to be the first ingredient on the food label of packaged foods, she stresses. Watch your serving sizes, however. Current guidelines are for six one-ounce equivalent servings per day (five if you’re over 50). One ounce of whole-wheat pasta (weighed before cooking) is only one-half cup cooked.
Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium a day for girls aged 9 through 19. Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice, because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption. Milk, yogurt, and cheese contribute most of the calcium in our diets. Some vegetables are also good sources, including broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu. The daily intake for Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for most children and healthy adults.
Research is a priority in terms of improving women's health. Research needs include diseases unique to women, more serious in women and those that differ in risk factors between women and men. The balance of gender in research studies needs to be balanced appropriately to allow analysis that will detect interactions between gender and other factors. Gronowski and Schindler suggest that scientific journals make documentation of gender a requirement when reporting the results of animal studies, and that funding agencies require justification from investigators for any gender inequity in their grant proposals, giving preference to those that are inclusive. They also suggest it is the role of health organisations to encourage women to enroll in clinical research. However, there has been progress in terms of large scale studies such as the WHI, and in 2006 the Society for Women's Health Research founded the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD) and the journal Biology of Sex Differences to further the study of sex differences.
Of the few studies evaluating nutrition education interventions for women and adolescent girls who were overweight and obese, many were “facility-based” and involved delivery platforms such as health clinics (13, 22), worksites (30), and schools (26, 27, 29). Delivery platforms targeting women and adolescents who were undernourished similarly involved facility-based settings (13), but also included community outreach (16, 28), home visits, community kitchens (15, 28), and text messaging platforms (32). Such community-based platforms could provide additional opportunities for the delivery of nutrition education interventions addressing overweight, obesity, and associated noncommunicable disease in the future.
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.
Women's health is positioned within a wider body of knowledge cited by, amongst others, the World Health Organization, which places importance on gender as a social determinant of health. While women's health is affected by their biology, it is also affected by their social conditions, such as poverty, employment, and family responsibilities, and these aspects should not be overshadowed.
The effect of education programs on nutrition outcomes is difficult to assess because programs often have poor baseline data or nutrition outcomes are not evaluated (174, 182). Studies that used longitudinal analyses and “natural” experiments (e.g., before and after a national education policy) found that education was associated with reduced fertility (183, 184), and delayed early marriages and pregnancies (184–187). The impact was more significant for higher levels of education (185). However, 1 study in Malawi identified negative associations between education and timing of first birth, although these findings were largely not statistically significant (188). Secondary education for adolescents and women of reproductive age also showed no impact on women's empowerment (184), although it did show an impact on improved literacy and leadership (174). Educational interventions that provided conditional cash transfers (CCTs) and school feeding, as well as other forms of social protection to families of enrolled girls, were associated with greater school enrollment and attendance (189–191), improved test scores (189, 190), reduced gender gaps (192), and reduced hunger (190, 191).