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Foods Designed for Women: Healthy Snacks or a Marketing Ploy?

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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

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 (FDA), most Americans do not get the recommended 1,000 to 1,300 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.

Keep in mind that recommended doses of vitamin D (15 micrograms [mcg] per day up to age 69, then 20 mcg per day after age 70) are required to maintain proper calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. Vitamin D is also needed to absorb calcium for proper bone growth and development.

Folic Acid (Folate)

All women should aim to consume the recommended 400 mcg per day of the B vitamin folic acid . Folic acid helps the body carry out many functions, including tissue growth. It also helps repair and build DNA, the genetic code found in nearly all body cells. Deficiencies may cause gastritis , mouth ulcers, low-grade fever, anemia , and palpitations.

If you are a woman of child-bearing age, there are other reasons to add more folic acid to your diet. Getting enough folic acid is important because it helps prevent many neural tube birth defects . The tricky thing about folic acid is that women need to be take it before becoming pregnant in order to prevent these defects. This may be difficult as about half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

All enriched grains, such as white flour, pasta, and bread in the United States and Canada are fortified with folic acid. Despite this, many women are not getting enough. Look for women-specific functional foods which contain most or all of the daily recommendation of 400 mcg of folic acid.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 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.

Soy Protein

Studies show that soy protein might slightly reduce 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. Check the label on the functional foods that you buy.

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. Read nutrition labels carefully and choose the best option for your needs.

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. As more of these products become available, keep in mind that there can be too much of a good thing. If you have questions, or are having difficulty with your dietary intake of certain vitamins and minerals, talk to a dietitian who can help you with planning.

RESOURCES:

Office on Women's Health
http://www.womenshealth.gov

US Department of Agriculture
http://www.nutrition.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada Food and Nutrition
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References

Calcium. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated August 22, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Calcium intake and supplementation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 25, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Updated December 14, 2012. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 16, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Isoflavones. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated August 22, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Luna bar: nutz over chocolate. Luna website. Available at: http://lunabar.com/products/bars/nutz_over_chocolate. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Nutrition facts label. US Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/downloads/NutritionFactsLabel.pdf. Published August 2006. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Pernicious anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 9, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Unintended pregnancy prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/UnintendedPregnancy. Updated February 12, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Soy. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated August 22, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2014.



Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, 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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