Nutrition

KIWH Nutrition Services Specialty Program

Some of the biggest health concerns facing women are related to diet, making nutrition a major factor in women’s health and wellness.  Research continuously shows that consuming nutritious foods have a positive impact on health while poor diets have negative long-term effects. Diet and nutrition often becomes less of a priority when you have to juggle family, career and other responsibilities; however, it is important to acknowledge that what you eat has a tremendous affect on your health.   Some of the most common nutrition related health issues faced by women are related to heart health, gastrointestinal health, obesity, and bone health.

Nutrition for heart health

The fact remains that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Heart disease claims the life of over 400,000 women a year. The good news is you have the ability to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Your diet, in addition to exercise, can help you prevent and even reverse heart disease. A healthy diet and lifestyle not only reduces your risk of heart disease, but can reduce your risk of conditions that lead to heart disease such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Changing your diet may seem challenging in the beginning; you may feel unsure where to begin. Take a look at the big picture: your overall eating patterns are more important than focusing on individual foods. Start by setting one or two nutritional goals, small changes can make a big difference in the long run.

Nutrition tips to keep your heart healthy:

  • Maintain a healthy weight; balance your calorie intake with physical activity.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. Have a serving at each meal and snack to benefit from a variety of minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
  • Have whole grains instead of refined grains to benefit from cholesterol-lowering fiber.
  • Eat at least 2 servings of fish a week, preferably fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Limit saturated fats, trans fats, dietary cholesterol, sodium and sugar. Make sure to read nutrition labels to identify amounts of fat, sugar and sodium.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to ≤ 1 drink per day. Although certain types alcohol may boost heart health, it is important to follow the recommended servings.

Nutrition for gastrointestinal health

Gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, celiac disease and gallstones affect women more often than men. In addition, hormonal changes and pregnancy influence a woman’s digestive health. Poor eating habits such as eating too many processed foods, not enough fiber, fruits and vegetables, eating too much and too quickly in one sitting, and skipping meals can be part of the problem as well. Common digestive problems in women may lead to discomfort, nutritional deficiencies, and unintentional weight changes, which in turn can impact quality of life. Being overweight or obese also increases the prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatty liver and development of gallstones. The foods you eat can help you manage your weight, avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, and prevent nutritional imbalances. Diet is especially important for conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, GERD and fatty liver.

Meeting with a registered dietitian can help you develop an eating plan that over time can improve your symptoms and digestive health.

Nutrition tips for digestive health:

  • Eat small frequent meals instead of large ones. This will prevent overloading your digestive system with too much food that may trigger symptoms.
  • Eat fiber rich foods. Fiber helps prevent constipation, maintain a healthy weight and treat various digestive disorders. Increase fiber gradually as too much fiber too quickly can cause discomfort.
  • Drink enough fluids. Fiber requires adequate water to travel through your digestive system, which means if you don’t have enough fluids you may become constipated.
  • Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat and drink, along with symptoms that occur during and/or after mealtimes can help you identify problem foods.

Nutrition for obesity and weight management

Obesity is rising and so are many health conditions associated with excess weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, digestive disorders and certain cancers, particularly post-menopausal breast and endometrial cancer.  Abdominal obesity in women is also strongly related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Body mass index (BMI) is the most commonly used measure to identify overweight and obesity. The formula to calculate BMI is:

BMI = weight (lb) / [height (in)]2 x 703

This calculator can also help you identify your BMI level.

A BMI level greater than 25 is characterized as overweight, and a BMI level of great than 30 is categorized as obese. Measuring waist circumference is a way to estimate health risks associated with overweight and obesity in women. A waist circumference of greater than 35 inches in women is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Factors related to becoming overweight or obese include behavioral factors (eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity), environmental or cultural factors (availability of processed foods, larger portion sizes, and use of modern transportation instead of walking), and genetics.

Making nutritious food choices and increasing physical activity are keys to achieving a healthier weight. Take a look at your current eating and exercise habits and consider making some small changes to help with weight loss.

Nutrition tips for weight loss:

  • Stick to appropriate portion sizes. Portion control is the main reason why many of us have a hard time with weight control. Avoid eating snack foods straight from the box or bag, it will lead to overeating. Use smaller plates, and pass up second helpings.
  • Be wary of fad diets. Fad diets may lead to short term weight loss but the weight often comes back once the diet is stopped. Instead of following fad diets that are too extreme to follow, make small healthful changes that will lead to sustainable weight loss.
  • Keep a food journal. It keeps you in check of what you eat and helps you stay motivated.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully. We tend to overeat if we eat too fast and are doing something else while we are eating. Avoid eating in front of a computer or television, and try to savor each bite.
  • Exercise regularly. Health experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity  each week. That can be broken down to 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week.

Nutrition for healthy bones

Attention to bone health for women begins at an early age. A woman acquires about 85-90 percent of her bone mass during childhood and adolescence. It is important to consume enough calcium each day to maintain bone health. Women need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day for healthy bones. After the age of 50, calcium needs increase to 1,200 milligrams a day. Dairy products are the richest sources of calcium, therefore 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods such as milk and yogurt are recommended each day to meet calcium goals. Leafy green vegetables, nuts, canned fish with bones and beans are non-dairy sources of calcium that can be included in the diet, however larger amounts would be needed to achieve the daily calcium goal. To determine how much calcium is in a given food, check the nutrition facts panel of the food label for the daily value (DV) of calcium. Food labels list calcium as a percentage of the DV. This is based on 1,000 mg of calcium per day. For example, 30% DV of calcium equal 300 mg and 20% DV of calcium equals 200 mg of calcium. If your diet is low in calcium-rich foods, discuss the option of calcium supplements with your doctor.

Vitamin D is also important for bone health. As women age, their bodies do not absorb calcium as well. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, and inadequate vitamin D is related to lower bone density and bone fractures. Vitamin D is found naturally in only a few foods, such as fatty fish, cod liver oil and egg yolks. Milk, orange juice and soymilk can be fortified with vitamin D. It is often difficult to get all the vitamin D you need from food alone, so most people need to take a vitamin D supplement. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 400-800 international units (IU) for women under 50, and 800-2,000 IUs for women over 50. Check with your doctor if you need higher amounts of vitamin D as vitamin D deficiency is common.

Nutrition tips for bone health:

  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Significant bone loss is seen in women who smoke. Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to bone loss.
  • Participate in regular weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, and playing tennis. Incorporate strength training activities to build muscles that will support bones.
  • Limit foods high in salt. Salty foods cause your body to lose calcium and can lead to weaker bones.
  • Avoid soft drinks. Studies suggest that colas are associated with bone loss. It is thought that the caffeine and phosphorus commonly found in sodas may contribute to bone loss.

HOW NORTH SHORE-LIJ CAN HELP
The nutrition services offered by the Katz Institute of Women’s Health are part of an integrated approach to improving the health and wellness of women across the life span. We offer individualized (one-on-one) and group nutrition counseling services to support women in achieving optimal health and wellness.
To schedule a nutrition appointment at the Katz Institute for Women’s Health, please call (516) 881-7060 or email womensnutrition@nshs.edu.

Learn more about making healthy food choices.

Learn more about balancing your diet and eating the right foods.

Learn more about nutrition and take a short quiz to find out if you would benefit from nutrition counseling.