Foods Designed for Women: Healthy Snacks or a Marketing Ploy?
With dozens of mouth-watering, nutrient-packed treats available, it seems that all of your vitamin and mineral needs can be met with a tasty snack. Women-specific functional foods are generally lower in calories, catering to calorie-conscious women. These products do provide nutrients that some women may be lacking. But can you get too much of a good thing?
]]>Calcium]]> helps keep bones and teeth strong. It is especially important for women because they are at increased risk of developing ]]>osteoporosis]]>. According to the Food and Drug Administration, most Americans do not get the recommended 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. The best food sources of calcium are low-fat or fat-free dairy products. But, because many people find it hard to consume enough dairy to meet calcium needs, supplementation is often necessary.
Women-specific functional foods pack a hefty dose of calcium, which is great for women who need more calcium. But, chronic calcium intakes over 2,000-2,500 mg per day might cause adverse effects, including ]]>constipation]]>, malabsorption of other nutrients, and ]]>kidney stones]]>. The risk of getting too much calcium may increase as more and more foods are fortified with calcium.
Folic Acid (Folate)
If all women consumed the recommended 400 micrograms (mcg) of the B vitamin ]]>folic acid]]> each day, many ]]>neural tube birth defects]]> would be prevented. The tricky thing about folic acid is that women need to be consuming it before becoming pregnant to prevent neural tube defects. This may be difficult as about half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
All enriched grains (white flour, pasta, bread, and rice) in the United States are fortified with folic acid. But, some women still are not getting enough. Many women-specific functional foods contain most or all of the daily recommendation of 400 mcg of folic acid.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that folic acid is not toxic when consumed in large amounts. However, ]]>pernicious anemia]]>, a rare condition caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, may be masked in people who consume over 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day.
Studies show that 25 grams of ]]>soy protein]]> per day can reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol levels, which may decrease the risk for heart disease. While the study results have been inconsistent, soy might also alleviate menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, and help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. But soy contains isoflavones. Isoflavones are estrogen-like substances that may effect breast cancer in women. There is inconsistent evidence about the effects of eating soy with certain types of breast cancer. But for women who have had breast cancer or are at high risk for it, they should talk to their doctors about adding isoflavones to their diet.
While more studies are looking at the benefits and risks of soy, most women can generally feel safe adding it to their diets. Many health professionals view soy as a beneficial component of a heart-healthy diet, and recommend that people consume more of it. But do not take too high a dose of concentrated soy isoflavones. In Japan, a country where soy foods are popular, few women consume more than 50 milligrams (mg) of isoflavones daily. Check the label on the functional foods that you buy. Luna Bars, for example, have 9-16 mg of isoflavones.
Calories and Sugar
While women-specific functional foods are loaded with many essential nutrients, they also contain more calories and sugar than nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. While none of these products will blow your diet, they can certainly add up. Just 100 or 200 extra calories a day can contribute to weight gain over the long run. As far as sugar is concerned, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that people who eat 2,000 calories a day try to limit their added sugar intake to no more than 10 teaspoons—or 40 grams—per day.
The Bottom Line
If these women-specific functional foods appeal to you, have them occasionally. Many women do not get the nutrients they need, so an extra supply every once in a while probably will not hurt. But, as more and more of these products become available, keep in mind that there can be too much of a good thing.
US Department of Agriculture
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
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Pernicious anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated January 2010. Accessed March 11, 2010.
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Last reviewed March 2010 by ]]>Brian Randall, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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