In an attempt to cut down on fat and cholesterol, women may also have lowered their intakes of iron, zinc and calcium to shaky levels, findings of a USDA research study revealed.
Speaking to registered dietitians at a symposium on heart disease sponsored jointly by the California Dietetic Assn. and the Dairy Council of California, Susan Welsh Ph.D., R.D., director of Nutrition Education Division of the Human Nutrition Information Service of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, pointed to the USDA survey showing that women--particularly women in the high-income bracket--seem to be reducing the amounts of meat, eggs and milk in their diet, thus shortchanging consumption of important nutrients.
The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals (CSFII), initiated in 1985 and carried out in 1986 by the USDA, studied the six-day diets of 1,500 women between the ages of 19 and 50 in all income brackets, their 1- to 5-year-old children and a small sampling of men.
The diets studied in 1985 differed remarkably from data taken in 1977. Compared with eight years earlier, women in 1985 consumed more skim and low-fat milk, but they also drank less whole milk and ate less meat and few eggs. They also increased intakes of carbonated soft drinks and mixed foods, according to the 1985 study.
Decline in Meat Use
It was the higher income, better educated group of women in the study who led in the food consumption changes.
"This is surprising because surveys have for decades shown that people who could afford it, bought the most meat. But in 1985, this was not the case. This reflects the greater decline in meat use by high-income women than by low income women," Welsh said.
The danger in reducing one's intake of fat, according to Welsh, is that such reductions also decrease sources of zinc, iron and calcium, as well as magnesium and Vitamin B-6. An excellent source of the missing zinc, iron, B-6 and magnesium is red meat, and one of the chief sources of calcium in the common diet is milk and other dairy products. Shortages of iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia and low stores of calcium are associated with osteoporosis, a crippling bone disease occuring primarily in aging women.
"These levels do not necessarily mean that severe nutrient deficiencies exist," Welsh said. "The RDA is set high intentionally to cover requirements of almost everyone in all sex and age groups. However, these nutrient intake levels for women of child-bearing age indicate that some guidance and food assistance programs should continue to stress the importance of consuming a varied diet and provide special information about good sources of these nutrients."
'Patterns Must Be Changed'
The study also found that just half of the women ate no legumes, nuts, nut butter or seeds; and less than a third ate dark green vegetables or deep yellow vegetables. A sizable portion of women--about 10% to 25%--consumed no fruit or fruit juices at all. "If we are to count on these foods for nutrients, such patterns must be changed," Welsh said. The study also revealed that 80% of the women 19 to 50 years of age were below the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for magnesium, Vitamin B-6 and folacin, as well as calcium, iron and zinc. Folacin is a nutrient found chiefly in fruits and vegetables. Nuts, nut butter and seeds are especially high in nutrients attributed to meat products, such as iron, niacin, vitamins B-6, B-12, magnesium and zinc.
"The lesson learned here is that a varied diet, as recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, with emphasis on foods that provide the missing nutrients, is an important nutrition education message regardless of income, race, or region," Welsh said.
The study revealed yet another dietary oddity: although high-income women reduced their meat, whole milk and egg intakes to achieve low-fat diets, their intakes of fat, both as grams of fat and percentage of calories, were as high or slightly higher than those of low income women, who were less prone to make these shifts, pointed out Welsh.
The study showed that the percentage of calories from fat in the diets of the women studied was 37% in women's diets and 36% in men's, with the higher income women intakes slightly higher than the lower income women. "This is above the 30% to 35% level that some authorities (National Academy of Sciences) suggest, but not as high as the 40% or more frequently quoted from earlier studies," Welsh pointed out. Cholesterol intakes averaged about 300 milligrams per day, the top level recommended by some authoritative health groups. U.S. Dietary Guidelines call for avoiding too much fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
Were did the additional fat come from in the diets of high-income women?
"It certainly didn't come from meat or whole milk. High-income women did consume more cheese, cream desserts and salad dressings than did low-income women," Welsh said.