Hey hey! The month of May on NS is all about women’s health awareness so we’re chatting wellness advice, nourishing recipes, and beauty foods to help you feel amazing! Today on the blog I wanted to round up questions I’ve been getting about women’s health and nutrition related to just us ladies. Sorry, fellas. If you have more questions that went unanswered here, comment below with em’. Let’s go!
Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
However, the Norwegian authorities do admit that vitamin D supplements are needed during part of the year.  Only part of the year? One third of Norway is within the Arctic Circle. Norway has far too little sunshine (especially during winter months) to get adequate levels of vitamin D from UVB radiation on the skin. The authorities also recommend that pregnant women take folic acid to prevent birth defects, and omega-3-fatty acids may be advisable for those who do not eat fish regularly. Norwegians have a long tradition of giving children cod liver oil, which in a daily tablespoon provides enough vitamin A and D and essential fatty acids to cover basic needs.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important piece of the puzzle to achieve good health. A healthy weight can be determined using the body mass index charts (see web source below). If you find you are overweight or obese, weight loss may be beneficial for you. Before you begin any weight loss efforts, consult with your medical provider and/or consult a registered dietitian to create a weight loss plan. If you are underweight, consult a medical provider to assess your weight status.
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.
The average American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Research finds our plates lacking in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D. It's no wonder that more than half of us open a supplement bottle to get the nutrition we need. Many of us take supplements not just to make up for what we're missing, but also because we hope to give ourselves an extra health boost—a preventive buffer to ward off disease.
Anemia can deplete your energy, leaving you feeling weak, exhausted, and out of breath after even minimal physical activity. Iron deficiency can also impact your mood, causing depression-like symptoms such as irritability and difficulty concentrating. While a simple blood test can tell your doctor if you have an iron deficiency, if you’re feeling tired and cranky all the time, it’s a good idea to examine the amount of iron in your diet.
However, some herbal supplements may not be safe. They could contain unlisted ingredients that make you sick. Drugs that aren’t listed on the label can include, steroids or estrogens. Products may even contain toxic, or poisonous, substances. Examples include, as arsenic, mercury, lead, and pesticides. Supplements must be recalled if they are found to contain toxic ingredients.
Overall diet is an important first consideration for those considering nutritional supplementation. Healthy dietary habits can help optimize nutrition and the absorption of supplements, and nutritional supplements cannot substitute for a diet that is not nutritionally balanced in the first place. Supplements are best used moderately to supply any extra nutritional requirements. Sound diets contain a variety of wholesome foods. At least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables are recommended, as well as the inclusion of whole grains in the diet. Variety in the diet is important to provide a full range of vitamins and minerals. Overeating inhibits digestion and absorption of nutrients, while regular exercise contributes to sound nutrition, by improving metabolism and digestion. Drinking plenty of clean water prevents dehydration, improves digestion, and helps the body flush out impurities.
A better approach is to make a few small changes at a time. Keeping your goals modest can help you achieve more in the long term without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by a major diet overhaul. Think of planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. People engaging in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium. Sports drinks contain blends of electrolytes (salts) that the body loses during exertion and sweating, as well as vitamins, minerals, and performance-supporting herbs.
Supplements are most likely to cause side effects or harm when people take them instead of prescribed medicines or when people take many supplements in combination. Some supplements can increase the risk of bleeding or, if a person takes them before or after surgery, they can affect the person's response to anesthesia. Dietary supplements can also interact with certain prescription drugs in ways that might cause problems. Here are just a few examples:
There is more than one way to eat healthfully and everyone has their own eating style. Make healthier choices that reflect your preferences, culture, traditions, and budget. Choose fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods to get the most nutrition and meet your personal calorie needs. Aim for a variety of foods and beverages from each food group and limit saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
One of the best ways to have a healthy diet is to prepare your own food and eat in regularly. Pick a few healthy recipes that you and your family like and build a meal schedule around them. If you have three or four meals planned per week and eat leftovers on the other nights, you will be much farther ahead than if you are eating out or having frozen dinners most nights.
Iodine is needed for normal mental development of the baby, but it can be difficult to get enough from food. Ways of increasing iodine intake include using iodised salt, eating fish and seafood weekly (see your health professional for advice about safe types and amounts of fish), or using a multivitamin supplement that contains iodine and is safe for pregnancy.
Watch your portion sizes: Check to see what the recommended portion sizes of foods you eat looks like in the bowls, plates, and glasses you use at home. When dining out avoid "supersizing" your meal or buying "combo" meal deals that often include large-size menu items. Choose small-size items instead or ask for a take home bag and wrap up half of your meal to take home before you even start to eat.
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5. Wrap unhealthy foods in tin foil. Wrap healthy foods in plastic wrap. The old saying, “out of sight, out of mind” turns out to have some truth to it. Eating isn’t just a physical event, but also an emotional one. Your mind often determines what it wants to eat based on what your eyes see. Thus, if you hide unhealthy foods by wrapping them up or tucking them away in less prominent places, then you are less likely to eat them.
Some supplements that were found to have health benefits in observational studies turned out, with more rigorous testing, to be not only ineffective but also risky. Vitamin E, which was initially thought to protect the heart, was later discovered to increase the risk for bleeding strokes. Folic acid and other B vitamins were once believed to prevent heart disease and strokes—until later studies not only didn't confirm that benefit but actually raised concerns that high doses of these nutrients might increase cancer risk.
"Often the enthusiasm for these vitamins and supplements outpaces the evidence. And when the rigorous evidence is available from randomized controlled trials, often the results are at odds with the findings of the observational studies," explains Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and principal investigator of a large randomized trial known as VITAL (Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial).
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.
2. Eat a variety of foods. As we covered earlier, the brain craves novelty. While you may not be able to replicate the crunchy/creamy contrast of an Oreo, you can vary your diet enough to keep things interesting. For example, you could dip a carrot (crunchy) in some hummus (creamy) and get a novel sensation. Similarly, finding ways to add new spices and flavors to your dishes can make eating healthy foods a more desirable experience.
Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., founder of the New York-based BZ Nutrition, tells SELF, "Eating regularly throughout the day keeps your metabolism running at full speed, prevents dips in your energy, keeps you alert and focused, and [can help keep] your weight steady by preventing overeating at later meals." She and other experts recommend eating every three to four hours. If you don't, there are a number of unpleasant symptoms you may encounter.
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.
When it comes to supplementing your diet, you want to do it in a simple, no-fuss way. A shake can increase your intake of calories and other nutrients in one easy-to-enjoy product. There are many nutritional shakes at Walgreens. The flavors available include chocolate, vanilla, and orange. You can also choose other flavors. There are also different types of these supplements. They are available in liquid and powder form. You can choose pre-bottled shakes. Bottled shakes make it simple to toss a drink into your lunchbox. This allows you to enjoy them quickly. On the other hand, you might prefer a powder form. You just add water to create your supplement. You should also think about how many times you will use your nutritional supplement. You can buy them in a variety of quantities. A four-pack of shakes might be appropriate if you are trying the product for the first time. If you plan to add a nutritional supplement to your daily life, a larger quantity, such as a 12 pack might be best. There are other sizes available. You should take some time to look at all of the supplements to see what they contain. Many of the supplements at Walgreens have more than 20 vitamins and minerals. Examples of these include B6, C, D, and E. The minerals include calcium, biotin and niacin. Nutritional supplements also have a different number of calories. Just decide how many calories you want to add to your diet. Then simply place your order with Walgreens. Make sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before beginning a nutritional supplement. You should tell him/her about any medical problems you may have now. Also be sure to talk about your medicines.
To help you learn how to eat healthfully, start with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) dietary guidelines system, which you can find at http://www.mypyramid.gov. The MyPyramid system, which looks somewhat like the familiar food pyramid of old, offers guidance based on individual needs and replaces "serving" recommendations with actual amounts of food. It also emphasizes the importance of balancing nutritious (and tasty!) food choices from all food groups every day with daily physical activity.
A 45-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity in addition to her normal routine should consume six ounce of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and/or beans; five teaspoons of oil; and just 195 calories of additional fat and sugar. With a higher level of daily activity (30 to 60 minutes), this woman would be able to consume a little more in certain food groups: her fruit intake could rise to two cups; meat and beans to five and a half ounces; oils to six teaspoons; and extra fat and sugar to 265 calories.
Among general reasons for the possible harmful effects of dietary supplements are: a) absorption in a short time, b) manufacturing quality and contamination, and c) enhancing both positive and negative effects at the same time. The incidence of liver injury from herbal and dietary supplements is about 16–20% of all supplement products causing injury, with the occurrence growing globally over the early 21st century. The most common liver injuries from weight loss and bodybuilding supplements involve hepatocellular damage with resulting jaundice, and the most common supplement ingredients attributed to these injuries are green tea catechins, anabolic steroids, and the herbal extract, aegeline. Weight loss supplements have also had adverse psychiatric effects.
Memories of past eating experiences. This is where the psychobiology of junk food really works against you. When you eat something tasty (say, a bag of potato chips), your brain registers that feeling. The next time you see that food, smell that food, or even read about that food, your brain starts to trigger the memories and responses that came when you ate it. These memories can actually cause physical responses like salivation and create the “mouth-watering” craving that you get when thinking about your favorite foods.
This study secretly took place in the hospital cafeteria and helped thousands of people develop healthy eating habits without changing their willpower or motivation in the slightest way. Thorndike and her team utilized a concept known as “choice architecture.” Choice architecture is just a fancy word for changing the way the food and drinks are displayed, but, as it turns out, it makes a big difference.
A study of dietary supplements sold between 2007 and 2016 identified 776 that contained unlisted pharmaceutical drugs, many of which could interact with other medications and lead to hospitalization. 86% of the adulterated supplements were marketed for weight loss and sexual performance, with many containing prescription erectile dysfunction medication. Muscle building supplements were contaminated with anabolic steroids, and multiple products contained antidepressants and antihistamines. Despite these findings, fewer than half of the adulterated supplements were recalled.
Nutrition interventions that target mothers alone inadequately address women's needs across their lives: during adolescence, pre-conception, and in later years of life. They also fail to capture nulliparous women. The extent to which nutrition interventions effectively reach women throughout the life course is not well-documented. In this comprehensive narrative review, we summarized the impact and delivery platforms of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions targeting adolescent girls, women of reproductive age (non-pregnant, non-lactating), pregnant and lactating women, women with young children<5 years, and older women, with a focus on nutrition interventions delivered in low- and middle-income countries. We found that though there were many effective interventions that targeted women's nutrition, they largely targeted women who were pregnant and lactating or with young children. There were major gaps in the targeting of interventions to older women. For the delivery platforms, community-based settings, compared to facility-based settings, more equitably reached women across the life course, including adolescents, women of reproductive age, and older women. Nutrition-sensitive approaches were more often delivered in community-based settings, however, the evidence of their impact on women's nutritional outcomes was less clear. We also found major research and programming gaps targeting overweight, obesity, and non-communicable disease. We conclude that focused efforts on women during pregnancy and in the first couple of years postpartum fails to address the interrelation and compounding nature of nutritional disadvantages that are perpetuated across many women's lives. In order for policies and interventions to more effectively address inequities faced by women, and not only women as mothers, it is essential that they reflect how, when, and where to engage with women across the life course.
Women, as we age, are also more susceptible to the breakdown of our bones, which may result in osteoporosis over time. Genetically, women have a particularly high risk of osteoporosis compared to men, so it’s recommended that women monitor their calcium intake to be sure they’re getting enough. Weight training is another great way (and my favorite!) to build bone density, which is another great reason you should hit the weights!
The soil in areas with relatively low rainfall may in some cases contain an extremely high concentration of minerals, which is reflected in the plants growing there. This was well documented 70 years ago in the book Tomorrow's Food.  The Dentist George W. Heard found that the soil in Hereford, Texas, was exceptionally rich in minerals. Hereford became known as the "town without a toothache" after a newspaper article from January 29, 1942, reported that Hereford had the lowest incidence of tooth decay of any city in the United States.  Heard found that people in Hereford had exceptionally few dental cavities and also that the soil locally was especially rich in minerals. He emphasized that the population in the county ate unprocessed food and was drinking raw milk. 
Having a treat now and then is a great way to make sure your healthy eating plan stays on track. Now, you might be thinking, how can eating a piece of cake or a donut help my eating habits? By not making anything completely off limits, registered dietitians explain that you're less likely to wind up feeling deprived—which means you're also less likely to find yourself in a binge-eating episode.
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:
You should eat a healthful, well-balanced diet during pregnancy. However, you should avoid certain foods, including raw or undercooked fish, poultry and meat; raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs; unpasteurized juices; raw sprouts; unpasteurized milk products; and some soft cheeses (cream cheese is OK). Avoid deli meats and frankfurters unless they have been reheated to steaming hot before eating. To prevent food-borne illnesses, take the following precautions:
Carbohydrates are one of your body’s main sources of energy. But most should come from complex, unrefined carbs (vegetables, whole grains, fruit) rather than sugars and refined carbs. Cutting back on white bread, pastries, starches, and sugar can prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar, fluctuations in mood and energy, and a build-up of fat, especially around your waistline. Learn more »
Dynamic contrast. Dynamic contrast refers to a combination of different sensations in the same food. In the words of Witherly, foods with dynamic contrast have “an edible shell that goes crunch followed by something soft or creamy and full of taste-active compounds. This rule applies to a variety of our favorite food structures — the caramelized top of a creme brulee, a slice of pizza, or an Oreo cookie — the brain finds crunching through something like this very novel and thrilling.”
Substances which the FDA regulates as food are subdivided into various categories, including foods, food additives, added substances (man-made substances which are not intentionally introduced into food, but nevertheless end up in it), and dietary supplements. The specific standards which the FDA exercises differ from one category to the next. Furthermore, the FDA has been granted a variety of means by which it can address violations of the standards for a given category of substances.