Q. How do nutritional needs and diets change for women
across their lifespans?
A. The effects of a
woman's diet on her children start long before she becomes pregnant. Stores of
fat, protein, and other nutrients built up over the years are called upon during
pregnancy for fetal nourishment. During adolescence and early adulthood, women
need to increase food rich in calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass to
reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, a progressive loss of bone with
aging that causes bones to be more susceptible to fracture.
All women need more
iron than men since younger women lose iron through menstruation. Caloric intake
varies for each person based on age, gender, and activity level, but for the
most part, women between 23 and 50 should eat about 2,200 calories per day to
maintain their current weight, while older women need fewer calories.
should consumer fewer than 1,500 calories, even in attempts to lose weight,
according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA recommends that
everyone maintain healthy levels of fat and fiber intake through out their adult
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Q. What is a healthy diet?
A. The United States
Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services have
jointly issued a complete report on a healthy diet titled "Nutrition and
Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans" and "Food
Guidelines for Americans".
Healthy diets follow the food guide
"pyramid," which recommends 6-11 servings of complex carbohydrates,
2-3 servings each of fruits and vegetables,1-2 servings each of dairy products
and proteins like meat, tofu, or beans, and sparing use of added fats and
In addition, the "Five A Day" Campaign is a national effort to
get Americans to eat at least five servings combined from the fruit and
vegetable groups per day.
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Q. What weight is considered obese or overweight?
A. The words obesity
and overweight are generally used interchangeably. However, according to the
Institute of Medicine report, their technical meanings are not identical.
Overweight refers to an excess of body weight that includes all tissues, such as
fat, bone and muscle.
Obesity refers specifically to an excess of body fat. It
is possible to be overweight without being obese, as in the case of a body
builder who has a substantial amount of muscle mass. It is possible to be obese
without being overweight, as in the case of a very sedentary person who is
within the desirable weight range but who nevertheless has an excess of body
fat. However, most overweight people are also obese and vice versa.
more than 25 percent and women with more than 30 percent body fat are considered
obese. The USFDA has released a chart detailing recommended weights relative to
height; women should be in the lower end of their appropriate weight range,
according to the chart.
Q. Where can I find more information about nutrition and
diet for the female athlete?
A. Although there are
few governmental sources of information on this topic, try searching Healthfinder
to access government-selected (though not necessarily endorsed) information
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Q. How can I
determine how much fat is okay to eat daily and have a healthy diet?
A. Your personal 'fat
allowance' depends on how many calories you take in each day. Remember, the
total fat in your diet should average no more than 30 percent of your calories,
and saturated fat should be no more than 10 percent. The total fat and saturated
fat grams you should eat depends on how many calories you consume each day.
Check food labels to find out the number of fat grams (total and saturated) in
* Amounts are equal to 30 percent of total calories (rounded
down to the nearest 5); the recommendation is to eat this much or less.
** Amounts are equal to 9 percent of total calories; the
recommendation is to eat less than 10 percent of total calories as saturated
fat. Each gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.
dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals important in maintaining a
A. Dietary supplements
have been prescribed by physicians to correct nutrient deficiencies diagnosed.
However, it has not been established that large amounts of vitamins and minerals
as dietary supplements will help prevent or treat health problems or slow the
Daily multivitamin tablets may be beneficial to some people, but
the value of the supplement is dependent on many factors, including eating
habits and overall health. While some supplements only contain some of the
identified nutrients important to health, a well-balanced diet provides all the
Large amounts of some supplements may actually upset the
natural balance of nutrients that the body maintains. If you have illnesses such
as diabetes, high blood pressure, or arthritis, you should check with your
doctor before taking any over-the-counter dietary supplements.
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are many weight-loss programs; how do you know which ones are safe and
A. Almost any of the
commercial weight-loss programs can work, but only if they motivate you
sufficiently to decrease the amount of calories you eat or increase the amount
of calories you burn each day (or both).
A responsible and safe weight-loss
program should be able to document for you the five following features:
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Q. Should I take vitamins or other dietary supplements?
A. The Federal Governmentís
approach to dietary intervention, formulated by boards composed of nutrition
scientist, generally does not recommend supplementing the typical American diet
with vitamins or nutrients beyond the recommended daily allowances (RDAs), nor
does it suggest that some foods never be eaten.
In contrast, many alternative
dietary approaches contend that no amount of manipulation of the typical
American diet is enough to promote optimum health or prevent eventual chronic
These alternative approaches represent a continuum of
philosophies ranging from the concept that supplementing the typical American
diet somewhat beyond the RDAs is necessary to promote optimum health, to the
idea that supplementation well beyond the RDAs is often required to reverse the
effects of long-term deficiencies.
Other approaches advocate drastic dietary
modification, either eliminating or adding certain types of foods or
macronutrients, to treat specific types of conditions such as cancer and
Finally, there is the view that certain major staples of
typical American diet, such as meat and dairy products, are basically unhealthy
and should be generally avoided.
There is a growing body of data supporting the notion that the
RDAs for minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, may be too low and that
supplementation may be necessary to prevent the onset of chronic diseases. In
addition, the RDAs for a number of vitamins and micronutrients, such as vitamin
C, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene, may not be adequate to
prevent chronic illness. For example, recent studies have found that the RDA for
folate may need to be doubled for women as well as men.
The FDA has said that a well-balanced diet will usually
meet women's allowances for vitamins and minerals. (See Recommended Dietary
Allowances.) However, for good health, women need to pay special attention to
two minerals, calcium and iron.
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Q. How much calcium do women need?
A. Both women and men need enough
calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass during their early years of life. Low
calcium intake appears to be one important factor in the development of
osteoporosis, a disease in which bone density decreases and leads to weak bones.
Women have a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis.
Therefore, particularly during adolescence and early
adulthood, women should increase their food sources of calcium. According to one
FDA spokesperson, the most important time to get a sufficient amount of calcium
is while bone growth and consolidation are occurring, a period that continues
until approximately age 30 to 35. The idea is, if you can build a maximum peak
of calcium deposits early on, this may delay fractures that occur later in life.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium for woman
19 to 24 is 1,200 milligrams per day. For women 25 and older, the allowance
drops to 800 milligrams, but that is still a significant amount, says
Stephenson. "The need for good dietary sources of calcium continues
throughout life," she says.
Q. How do you get enough calcium without too many calories
A. Dairy products are
powerhouses of calcium, but they neednít be high-fat. Use 1 percent or skim
milk instead of whole milk or cream, and choose from lower fat cheeses, yogurts,
frozen yogurts, and ice cream substitutes.
In addition to dairy foods, other good sources of calcium
include salmon, tofu (soybean curd), certain vegetables (for example, broccoli),
legumes (peas and beans), calcium-enriched grain products, lime-processed
tortillas, seeds, and nuts.
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Q. Do I need to take an iron supplement?
A. For women, the RDA for iron is
15 milligrams per day, 5 milligrams more than the RDA for men. Women need more
of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each
month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can
develop and cause symptoms that include pallor, fatigue and headaches.
After menopause, body iron stores generally begin to increase.
Therefore, iron deficiency in women over 50 may indicate blood loss from another
source, and should be checked by a physician.
Animal products--meat, fish and poultry--are good and
important sources of iron. In addition, the type of iron, known as heme iron, in
these foods is well absorbed in the human intestine.
Dietary iron from plant sources, called non-heme, are found in
peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and
whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. Although non-heme iron is not as
well absorbed as heme iron, the amount of non-heme iron absorbed from a meal is
influenced by other constituents in the diet. 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.
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For more information.....
You can find out more about diet and exercise by contacting
the following organizations:
Nutrition Information Center
National Institute on Aging
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive
and Kidney Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Heart, Lung and
Food and Drug Administration
This information was abstracted from fact sheets including
those developed by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute
on Aging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office
of Alternative Medicine of the Department of Health and Human Services and from
the Food and Drug
Find your nutritional recommendations.
A.D.A. Position Paper
on Women's Health and Nutrition.
Websites for Women's Health
American Cancer Society
American Diabetes Association
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
American Institute of Cancer Research
American Obesity Association
Canadian Diabetes Association
Canada Health Network
Canadian Women Health Network
Dietitians of Canada
International Osteoporosis Foundation
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Organization
National Institutes of Health
National Institutes of Health, Osteoporosis, and Related Bone Disease,
National Resource Center
Womenís Health Initiative and Office of Research on Womenís Health
National Osteoporosis Foundation
Osteoporosis Society of Canada
Weight Control Network
Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of
Canada: Nutrition and Womenís Health. JADA. 2004;
February 06, 2008
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