Women's menstrual cycles, the approximately monthly cycle of changes in the reproductive system, can pose significant challenges for women in their reproductive years (the early teens to about 50 years of age). These include the physiological changes that can effect physical and mental health, symptoms of ovulation and the regular shedding of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) accompanied by vaginal bleeding (menses or menstruation). The onset of menstruation (menarche) may be alarming to unprepared girls and mistaken for illness. Menstruation can place undue burdens on women in terms of their ability to participate in activities, and access to menstrual aids such as tampons and "sanitary pads". This is particularly acute amongst poorer socioeconomic groups where they may represent a financial burden and in developing countries where menstruation can be an impediment to a girl's education.
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.
Integrated health care, which integrates curative and preventive interventions, can improve nutrition outcomes for women across the life course through improved access to counseling, vaccinations, and screening and treatment of illnesses (103–107). Access to primary health care positively contributed to the prevention, diagnosis, and management of both communicable and noncommunicable disease (108). Distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, condoms, screening and testing for disease, and delivery of medical treatments were often associated with integrated health initiatives and improved health and nutrition outcomes (13, 109). Access to health care was associated with the delivery of nutrition-specific interventions to manage pregnancy-induced hypertension, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and hemorrhage (106, 107, 110). However, some studies showed that integrated services increased knowledge, but did not result in changes in health or nutrition outcomes (103). In addition, in many settings, quality of care was inadequate (107) and incorrect diagnoses and treatments were common (111).
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.
Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
Among other things, you need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly. Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis. Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium, in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, to support your bone health.
Fluids: Fluid needs increase as women age. The reason: Kidneys become less efficient at removing toxins. “Drinking more fluids helps kidneys do their job,” Schwartz says. “Unfortunately, thirst signals often become impaired with age, so people are less likely to drink enough water and other fluids.” Rather than fret about how many glasses to drink, Frechman says, check the color of your urine. "It should be clear or very pale colored. If it becomes darker, you need more fluid.”
Health care experts haven't reached a consensus on the issue of vitamin and mineral supplements. Many say that if you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, you don't need any. But not all of us eat a well-balanced diet. And sometimes, you may follow a nutritious diet and still be deficient. Many women fail to get the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Stress increases your need for vitamins and minerals, especially C, B-complex and zinc.
There are many well-documented challenges in disentangling empowerment interventions from other interventions with which they are delivered. Empowerment interventions are often integrated into income-generating activities and agricultural extension, and many empowerment approaches are retroactively classified as “nutrition-sensitive” despite a lack of nutrition components in the original intervention designs (5). In addition, many studies are limited in scope and their evaluation of nutrition outcomes (159), and it is difficult to evaluate which dimensions of women's empowerment matter most for nutrition (162). Notably, indicators to quantify women's empowerment are also not used consistently and vary widely between individual studies (158).
Equally challenging for women are the physiological and emotional changes associated with the cessation of menses (menopause or climacteric). While typically occurring gradually towards the end of the fifth decade in life marked by irregular bleeding the cessation of ovulation and menstruation is accompanied by marked changes in hormonal activity, both by the ovary itself (oestrogen and progesterone) and the pituitary gland (follicle stimulating hormone or FSH and luteinizing hormone or LH). These hormonal changes may be associated with both systemic sensations such as hot flashes and local changes to the reproductive tract such as reduced vaginal secretions and lubrication. While menopause may bring relief from symptoms of menstruation and fear of pregnancy it may also be accompanied by emotional and psychological changes associated with the symbolism of the loss of fertility and a reminder of aging and possible loss of desirability. While menopause generally occurs naturally as a physiological process it may occur earlier (premature menopause) as a result of disease or from medical or surgical intervention. When menopause occurs prematurely the adverse consequences may be more severe.
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.
Systematically report and evaluate women's nutrition outcomes in research and program evaluation documents in low- and middle-income countries, including outcomes for adolescents, older women, and mothers (as opposed to reporting on women's nutrition as child nutrition outcomes alone). When possible, report and evaluate differences by setting (e.g., rural compared with urban) and socioeconomic status.
Low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of calcium. Other good sources of calcium include salmon, tofu (soybean curd), certain vegetables (broccoli), legumes (peas and beans), calcium-enriched grain products, lime-processed tortillas, seeds and nuts. If you do not regularly consume adequate food sources of calcium, a calcium supplement can be considered to reach the recommended amount. The current recommendations for women for calcium are for a minimum of 1,200 mg per day.
Adopting a plant-based diet could help tip the scales in your favor. A five-year study of 71,751 adults published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters even though both groups eat about the same number of calories daily. Researchers say it may be because carnivores consume more fatty acids and fewer weight-loss promoting nutrients, like fiber, than herbivores do. Go green to find out if it works for you.