Women are at unique risk for certain nutrition-related diseases and conditions. Many of these diseases and conditions are caused by unhealthy lifestyle behaviors that may be preventable if women are given correct advice and information. To assist health professionals in educating this group about healthful eating habits and other lifestyle choices, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Dietitians of Canada have released a new Position Paper on nutrition and women’s health. The paper was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

According to the guidelines, 75% of U.S. women from 20–50 years of age do not get enough calcium, while 90% have inadequate intakes of folate and vitamin E from food sources. In Canada, more than half of the women do not eat the recommended five or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables.

Here are some of the key recommendations for nutrition professionals who work with women having the following common conditions or chronic diseases:

Overweight/Obesity. Encourage women to balance healthy eating with regular physical activity.

Eating Disorders. Promote healthy self-esteem in young girls prior to adolescence; screen girls who exhibit mild symptoms or risk factors; support body size acceptance; know when to refer women and adolescents to a mental health specialist.

Anemia. Increase access to screening and treatment, especially for Hispanic women, who tend to have low iron status; teach all women about iron-rich foods and other nutrients that increase iron absorption (e.g., vitamin C); suggest women consult a physician about iron supplementation.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Have clients ask their physicians about calcium or vitamin B6 supplementation to alleviate PMS symptoms, such as irritability and cramping.

Menopause. The paper states that more research is needed into whether dietary supplements (e.g., soy, flaxseed and black cohosh) can reduce menopause symptoms. In the meantime, it advises that nutrition interventions focus on encouraging women to limit their weight gain and improve the quality of their diet.

Postmenopause and Old Age. Remember that women in this age group have low fruit and vegetable intakes and often have difficulty shopping, cooking, tasting and chewing food; recommend resistance training to ward off bone loss; promote a balanced, “cardioprotective” diet.

Diabetes. Support research of low- versus high-glycemic-index (GI) foods (but refrain from recommending low-GI foods based on current studies); teach women to pay attention to what they eat, to increase their physical activity and to self-monitor blood glucose levels; focus on a balanced diet; keep in mind that the incidence of eating disorders among young female diabetics is double that of their nondiabetic peers.

Cardiovascular Disease. Educate women about the heart-protective effects of food plans like the Mediterranean or the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet; recommend increasing folate intake from fortified foods and limiting sodium intake; educate clients about the different types of dietary fat and their food sources; promote physical activity, weight control, smoking cessation and a healthy low-fat diet.

Cancer. Encourage a plant-based diet and less reliance on processed foods; promote healthy weight control along with regular exercise.

According to the ADA, a full copy of the June 2004 report will appear soon on the organization’s website at www.eatright.org.