Nutrition is particularly important during pregnancy to ensure your health and the health of the baby. It's normal to gain weight during pregnancy—not just because of the growing fetus, but because you'll need stored fat for breast-feeding. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a gain of 25 to 35 pounds in women of normal weight when they get pregnant; 28 to 40 pounds in underweight women; and at least 15 pounds in women who are overweight when they get pregnant. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional.
It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.
Say no to sugary drinks. The average American drinks around 45 gallons of soda each year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Other than the obvious risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, consuming sugary beverages can also cause liver damage, premature aging and anxiety. So, instead of sipping packaged juice or soda, go for unsweetened beverages or infused water.
We've heard a lot of encouraging news about supplements. A series of studies hailed vitamin D as a possible defense against a long list of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, depression, and even the common cold. Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted for warding off strokes and other cardiovascular events. And antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene were seen as promising silver bullets against heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer's disease.
The same protein ingredients marketed as dietary supplements can be incorporated into meal replacement and medical food products, but those are regulated and labeled differently from supplements. In the United States, "meal replacement" products are foods and are labeled as such. These typically contain protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. There may be content claims such as "good source of protein", "low fat" or "lactose free." Medical foods, also nutritionally complete, are designed to be used while a person is under the care of a physician or other licensed healthcare professional. Liquid medical food products - example Ensure - are available in regular and high protein versions.
^ Fortmann, SP; Burda, BU; Senger, CA; Lin, JS; Whitlock, EP (Nov 12, 2013). "Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force". Annals of Internal Medicine. 159 (12): 824–834. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00729. PMID 24217421.
Vitamins and minerals are most easily digested with food. Fat-soluble vitamins should be taken with food that contains fat. Vitamins tend to work synergistically, meaning that they work together in order to be effective. For instance, vitamin E requires some of the B-complex vitamins and the minerals selenium and zinc for most effective absorption. Some minerals may not be absorbed or may inhibit each other when taken in improper ratios. Generally, a high quality, broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement will be formulated to prevent unfavorable interactions.
Don't take dramatic steps alone. You need to work closely with an experienced health care professional to lose weight, particularly if you have other medical problems, plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds or take medication on a regular basis. An initial checkup can identify conditions that might be affected by dieting and weight loss. Make sure you find out how much experience your health care professional has dealing with nutrition. It's not always well covered in medical schools. You may want to talk to a registered dietitian before embarking on a diet.
The VITAL trial showed that neither vitamin D nor fish oil supplementation significantly reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Conversely, current evidence supports the benefits of multiple dietary patterns, especially the Mediterranean diet, in primary prevention of CVD. Health effects of low-carbohydrate diets depend on the food sources of macronutrients.
Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
We mean real food as opposed to processed food. Real food is fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans. Natural sweeteners, coffee, chocolate and wine count, too — just in moderation. Avoid food that is mass-produced, emulsified (where water and oil don’t separate) or shelf-stable. Eating real food leads to eating more nutrient-rich food without much effort. See What Real Food Looks Like for more information.
Because observational studies may not fully control for dietary factors, exercise habits, and other variables, they can't prove whether the treatment is responsible for the health benefits. "People who take supplements tend to be more health conscious, exercise more, eat healthier diets, and have a whole host of lifestyle factors that can be difficult to control for fully in the statistical models," Dr. Manson says.
Keep healthy food readily available. When you get hungry, you’re more likely to eat the first thing you see on the counter or in the cupboard. Keep healthy food in easily accessible and visible places in your home and workplace. Put some fruits in a basket and place it on the kitchen counter, store healthy snacks at eye level in your pantry and stock up your fridge with small batches of cooked whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. At work, store quick bites like almonds, pistachios and dried berries in a jar and place it on your desk or in its top drawer.
Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
The FDA does not have authority over dietary supplements in the same way it does prescription medicines. The Federal Government does not regularly test what is in dietary supplements, and companies are not required to share information on the safety of a dietary supplement with the FDA before they sell it. The companies are responsible for making sure the supplement is safe, but the FDA does not evaluate the safety of the product before the supplement is sold. So, just because you see a dietary supplement on a store shelf does not mean it is safe, that it does what the label says it will, or that it contains what the label says it contains.
A potato comes from the ground, an egg from a hen. But where did that Pop-tart come from? "Unprocessed, whole foods will give you the most benefits," Berman says. Processing takes out nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber. What's worse is that a lot of processed foods tend to sneak in things that aren't really necessary like extra sodium and sugar. There's nothing wrong with indulging the occasional processed food craving (sometimes a bag of potato chips is too hard to resist!). But if you're trying to shop healthier altogether, be on the lookout for products that have been minimally processed.
Manufacturers must follow certain good manufacturing practices to ensure the identity, purity, strength, and composition of their products. If the FDA finds a product to be unsafe or otherwise unfit for human consumption, it may take enforcement action to remove the product from the marketplace or work with the manufacturer to voluntarily recall the product.
Before you take any supplements for disease prevention, it's important to know whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks. To make that conclusion, you need to look at the results of well-designed studies. A recent randomized trial in men suggested multivitamins have possible benefits for cancer prevention. For many of the other popular supplements, including vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, results from randomized controlled trials should be available within the next five years, according to Dr. Manson.
In general, the FDA regulations for dietary supplements are different from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Unlike drugs, which must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed, dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA. While the supplement company is responsible for having evidence that their products are safe and the label claims are truthful and not misleading, they do not have to provide that evidence to the FDA before the product is marketed.
Junk foods, however, are designed to avoid this sensory specific response. They provide enough taste to be interesting (your brain doesn’t get tired of eating them), but it’s not so stimulating that your sensory response is dulled. This is why you can swallow an entire bag of potato chips and still be ready to eat another. To your brain, the crunch and sensation of eating Doritos is novel and interesting every time.
The implications of direct nutrition interventions on women's nutrition, birth outcome and stunting rates in children in South Asia are indisputable and well documented. In the last decade, a number of studies present evidence of the role of non-nutritional factors impacting on women's nutrition, birth outcome, caring practices and nutritional status of children. The implications of various dimensions of women's empowerment and gender inequality on child stunting is being increasingly recognised. Evidence reveals the crucial role of early age of marriage and conception, poor secondary education, domestic violence, inadequate decision-making power, poor control over resources, strenuous agriculture activities, and increasing employment of women and of interventions such as cash transfer scheme and microfinance programme on undernutrition in children. Analysis of the nutrition situation of women and children in South Asia and programme findings emphasise the significance of reaching women during adolescence, pre-conception and pregnancy stage. Ensuring women enter pregnancy with adequate height and weight and free from being anemic is crucial. Combining nutrition-specific interventions with measures for empowerment of women is essential. Improvement in dietary intake and health services of women, prevention of early age marriage and conception, completion of secondary education, enhancement in purchasing power of women, reduction of work drudgery and elimination of domestic violence deserve special attention. A range of programme platforms dealing with health, education and empowerment of women could be strategically used for effectively reaching women prior to and during pregnancy to accelerate reduction in stunting rates in children in South Asia.
A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and one 30 or above is considered obese. For an idea of what this means, a 5-foot 5-inch woman who weighs 150 pounds is overweight with a BMI of 25. At 180 pounds, she would be considered obese, with a BMI of 30. Keep in mind that the tables aren't always accurate, especially if you have a high muscle mass; are pregnant, nursing, frail or elderly; or if you are a teenager (i.e., still growing).
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.
Count nutrients, not calories. If you want to improve the quality of your diet, focus on the nutrients in your food instead of calories. “Our energy intake can only depend on our ability to extract that energy from food,” writes blogger and nutritionist Rhiannon Mack. “All calories are not created equal – it is the quality of the calorie that has the most impact on health, not necessarily the quantity,” she explains in a post that appeared in Move Nourish Believe.
Look for supplements certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or the United Natural Products Alliance, as it indicates a higher standard of quality assessment. (The USP's screening process, for instance, ensures that a product will break down properly and effectively release its ingredients into the body.) These organizations have a certification seal that is typically shown on the product packaging.
Women who have very low levels of sunlight exposure or have naturally very dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Those affected may include women who cover most of their body when outdoors, shift workers, those who are unable to regularly get out of their house or women in residential care. Women who have certain medical conditions or are on some medications may also be affected.
When shopping for an herbal supplement, it's important to verify which parts of the plant were used in its production. Different components can produce different effects, some of which can harm your health. For example, research shows that while the roots of the herb kava seem to be safe, its stem peelings and leaves may contain compounds that could be toxic to the liver. Talking with your doctor or herbalist can help you determine which plant parts to look for.
If you suspect that you have had a serious reaction from a dietary supplement, let your health care provider know. He or she may report your experience to the FDA. You may also submit a report to the FDA by calling 800-FDA-1088 or completing a form online. In addition, report your reaction to the dietary supplement company by using the contact information on the product label.
Magkos, F., Fraterrigo, G., Yoshino, J., Luecking, C., Kirbach, K., Kelly, S. C., … Klein, S. (2016, April 12). Effects of moderate and subsequent progressive weight loss on metabolic function and adipose tissue biology in humans with obesity. Cell Metabolism, 23(4), 591–601. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413116300535
Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods are critical to healthy bones and can help you avoid osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that consuming calcium-rich foods as part of a healthy diet may aid weight loss in obese women while minimizing bone turnover. The National Institute of Medicine recommends the following calcium intake, for different ages:
In its natural state, sugar is a relatively harmless — even necessary — carbohydrate our bodies need to function. It’s found in fruits, vegetables and dairy as the compound fructose or lactose. The problem comes when sugar is added to foods during processing for added flavor, texture or color. Eating too many of these empty calories has many health effects, the most obvious being major weight gain. Added sugar drives your insulin levels up, messes with your metabolism and causes those calories to turn right into belly fat. Sugar goes by many names. Learn more about the surprising benefits of cutting back on sugar.
It’s perfectly OK to indulge in breakfast sausage and cheeseburgers on occasion. But on an everyday basis, there are plenty of great lean proteins to choose from. Some good meat-free options include beans, peas, quinoa, lentils, tofu, low-fat yogurt and 1% milk. Fish is another great source of protein that can also be rich in healthy omega-3’s. As far as meat goes, cuts that have round, chuck or loin in the name are usually leanest, along with chicken and turkey breast. Learn more with our Essential Guide to Protein.