Your Health

Body Mass Index

How to Interpret Your BMI

  • The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a chart that helps determine a person’s ideal weight for his or her height.
  • It does not take into account factors like age, gender, race, percent body fat or muscle mass, which means it is an indicator of body fat, not a direct measurement.
  • The BMI chart should be used as a guide with the advice of a health care professional.

Waist Size

Knowing your BMI is important, but waist size is another significant factor to consider when determining your health. Your body shape and where you carry your weight is an important indicator of health.

Recent studies have found that people with larger waists, or an "apple shape," are at greater risk for many health problems than people with a "pear shape" who tend to carry extra weight at their hips and thighs. A healthy woman’s waist measures 35 in. or less.

Instructor Tips:
Share the BMI chart/wheel and help her to identify her own personal BMI.

Daily Food Record

Use this chart to determine how well you’re balancing your diet. For a full day, write down everything you eat and drink in the appropriate box.

Food Amount (serving size) Grains Vegetables Fruits Milk Products Meats, fish & poultry Nuts, seeds & legumes Fats & oils Sweets & added sugars
Number of Servings by Food Group:
Spinach, onion & cheddar omelet, orange juice
2 1 1 1

Have fruit as a mid–morning or mid–afternoon snack.
Add fruit to your cereal or veggies to your omelet.
Eat whole–grain bread instead of white.
Remember to watch your portion sizes.
Don’t forget to include your beverages

Food Guide Pyramid

Check out the MyPyramid handout and explain what an ideal diet looks like for the participant.

What is a "Healthy Diet?"

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat–free or low–fat milk and milk products
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Does not exceed 2,000 calories per day.

Check out the Daily Food Record handout and help participant identify her personal eating habits (as discussed in the beginning of the section) and encourage her to fill out the form for the next 24 hours to help visualize improvements and areas where she’s struggling.

Don’t Forget to Stay Hydrated!

  • A normal, healthy adult should drink eight 8–ounce glasses of water a day.
  • Replacing juice and soda with water will help keep you properly hydrated and cut back on your intake of empty calories
  • The color of your urine is a good way to tell if you’re drinking enough water; light to clear urine signifies healthy water intake.

Good to Know

  • When you are pregnant, you only need 300 more calories per day to support the baby’s growth and development.
  • Grocery stores are designed so that healthy foods are placed near the outer walls. Avoiding center aisles can help you make nutritous choices.

Instructor Tips:
Identify the participant’s current diet and exercise habits in order to establish healthy diet and exercise goals.

Grocery Shopping

One of the best ways to practice healthy eating habits is to surround yourself with healthy choices. This means preparing before you go to the grocery store and shopping smart.

Before you leave the house:

  • Eat something. Shopping hungry makes it more difficult to make smart choices.
  • Make a grocery list.
  • Collect any coupons you may have.

While you are at the grocery store:

  • Stick to the list you made at home.
  • Compare prices of name brands and store brands.
  • Sign up for your grocer’s bonus/discount card for additional savings.
  • Remember large containers (1 or ½ gallon) of milk cost less than smaller containers.
  • Use the Food Labels
    • Choose foods low in cholesterol, sodium, saturated and trans fats.
    • Pick foods high in potassium, fiber, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, and D.
    • Check the calories (more than 400 per serving is high), then check the nutrients.
    • Use the % Daily Value (% DV) column. 5% or less is low, 20% or more is high.

Consider lower–calorie alternatives of old favorites. Here are a few suggestions:

If you usually buy... Try these...
Whole milk Fat–free (skim), 1% or 2% milk
Ice cream Sorbet, sherbet, low–fat frozen yogurt
Sour cream, cream cheese or cheese Low–fat or reduced–fat sour cream, cream cheese or cheese
Coffee Cream or non–dairy creamer Low–fat milk or non–fat dry milk powder
Ramen noodles Rice or noodles (spaghetti, macaroni, etc.)
Pasta with white sauce (Alfredo) Pasta with red sauce (marinara)
White rice Brown rice
Lunch meats: bologna, salami, liverwurst Low–fat cold cuts, 95%–97% fat–free meats: turkey, ham, roast beef
Hot dogs Lower–fat hot dogs, turkey dogs
Bacon or sausage Canadian bacon, lean ham, vegetarian sausage, turkey sausage
Pork (spareribs or untrimmed loin) Pork tenderloin or trimmed, lean smoked ham
Croissants or brioches Hard French rolls, soft brown n’ serve rolls
Donuts, sweet rolls, muffins or pastries English muffins, bagels, reduced–fat or fat–free muffins or scones
Cake: chocolate, yellow or pound Cake: white, angel food or gingerbread
Cookies Reduced–fat cookies: ginger snaps, fig bars, graham crackers
Nuts Popcorn (air–popped or light microwave)
Frozen TV dinners (containing more than 13g of fat per serving) Frozen TV dinners (containing less than 13g of fat per serving and low in sodium)

Iron, Calcium and Folic Acid

What is it and Why is it Important?


  • Iron is a mineral that helps build red blood cells, muscle proteins and healthy bones.
  • During teenage years, the body’s need for iron increases when you begin menstruating.
  • Women need more iron due to menstruation.
  • Some women develop iron–deficiency, called anemia, because of pregnancy, heavy monthly menstrual periods and low iron diets.


  • Calcium is a mineral that strengthens bones and teeth. It is the main substance in bone.
  • Calcium is vital for many of the body’s functions, such as blood clotting and the proper function of nerves and muscles.
  • Additional calcium is needed between the ages of 9–18 and during pregnancy.
  • Your bones store calcium so that your skeleton will remain strong later in life. If your body does not get the calcium it needs from your diet, it takes calcium from the only source that it has: your bones. This can lead to brittle bones, shortened height and even a hunched back later in life.

Folic Acid

  • Folic Acid (or folate) is a B vitamin that all women of childbearing age MUST take 400 micrograms of every day.
  • If taken daily, folic acid can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine like Spina Bifida or "open spine."
  • About half of all pregnancies are unplanned. That is why you need folic acid if there is any chance you could get pregnant. By the time you realize you are pregnant, your baby’s brain and spine are already formed.

Instructor Tips:
Explain the importance of consuming enough calcium, iron and folic acid to stay healthy.


Key Concepts/Main Points

  • Creating a healthy diet by understanding the food pyramid and eating the appropriate quantity of each food group.
  • Why and how to meet the daily requirements of iron, calcium, and folic acid.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): Understanding how the relationship between your weight and height can help determine your physical health.
  • How regular physical activity can reduce health problems and improve how you feel every day

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What did you eat for dinner last night? For breakfast this morning?
  • What are five foods that you almost always have in your kitchen?
  • How many meals do you eat each day? How many snacks?
  • Do you eat foods from all the food groups every day?
  • In the grocery store, do you tend to shop in the outer sections (produce, refrigeration, deli, butcher, etc.) or the middle section?
  • How many times a week are you physically active?
  • Do you know your Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Instructor Tips:
Section Goal: Identify participant’s personal nutritional obstacles and explain which habits to change or create in order to improve health

Shopping List

Here is a checklist that you can use as a guide to making your own grocery list.

Dairy Case

  • Fat–free (skim) or reduced–fat (1%) milk
  • Fat–free or reduced fat cottage cheese
  • Low–fat or reduced–fat cheeses
  • Fat–free or light yogurt
  • Light or diet margarine
  • Eggs/egg substitute

Breads, Muffins, and Rolls

  • Bread, bagels or pitas
  • Yeast breads (whole wheat, multi–grain, rye, raisin, pumpernickel)
  • Corn tortillas (not fried)
  • Low–fat tortillas
  • Fat–free biscuit mix
  • Challah

Cereals, Crackers, Rice, Noodles and Pasta

  • Plain cereal, dry or hot
  • Low–fat crackers
  • Rice
  • Pasta (noodles, spaghetti)
  • Bulgur, couscous or kasha
  • Hominy
  • Polenta
  • Polvillo

Meat Case

  • White meat chicken and turkey (skinless)
  • Fish (not battered)
  • Beef (round or sirloin)
  • Extra lean ground beef
  • 95% fat–free lunch meat or low–fat deli meat


  • Fresh fruit
  • Canned fruit (in juice or water)
  • Frozen fruits (without added sugar)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, craisins, etc.)


  • Fresh vegetables
  • Canned vegetables (low–sodium or no salt added)
  • Frozen vegetables (without added fats)

Beans and Legumes (no–salt added)

  • Lentil
  • Black beans
  • Red/Kidney beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Black–eyed peas
  • Italian white beans
  • Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
  • Dried beans, peas and lentils

Baking Items

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Imitation butter (flakes or buds)
  • Non–stick cooking spray
  • Canned evaporated milk, fat–free or 2%
  • Non–fat dry milk
  • Cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar–free gelatin
  • Pudding mixes (reduced calorie)
  • Angel food cake mix

Frozen Foods

  • Fish fillets, unbreaded
  • 100% fruit juices (no sugar added)

Condiments, Sauces, Seasonings and Spreads

  • Fat–free or low–fat salad dressing
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Jam, jelly or honey
  • Spices
  • Flavored vinegars
  • Salsa or picante sauce
  • Low–sodium Soy sauce
  • Bouillon cubes or granules (low–sodium)


  • Low–calorie drink mix
  • Reduced calorie and/or 100% fruit juice
  • Unsweetened iced tea
  • Carbonated water
  • Water

Nuts and Seeds (unsalted)

  • Almonds
  • Mixed nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cashews
  • Pecans

Fats and Oils

  • Soft (tub) margarine
  • Low–fat mayonnaise
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil

Vitamins & Minerals

It’s important to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. Here are a couple of particularly important vitamins for women.

Vitamin/Minerals Best Sources Functions
Folic Acid Green leafy vegetables, organ meats, dried beans Red blood cell formation, breaking down protein, growth and cell division, prevents brain and spine defects when taken in very early stages of pregnancy
C Citrus fruits, melon, berries, vegetables Helps heal wounds, strengthens blood vessels, collagen maintenance, resistance to infection
Calcium Milk and milk products Strong bones, teeth, muscle tissue, regulates heart beat, muscle action and nerve function, blood clotting
Iron Organ meats, meat, fish, poultry, dried beans, whole grains, enriched grains, green leafy vegetables Formation of elements that supply oxygen to cells
Fluoride Tea, marine fish, fluoridated water, foods cooked in Teflon Prevents dental problems, may strengthen bones

It is hard to get all the nutrients your body needs from eating these foods alone. Taking a daily multivitamin is a good way to help get all the vitamins you need.

Here are some things to remember when choosing a multivitamin:

  • Make sure that it contains 400 micrograms of folic acid
  • Avoid multivitamins that contain herbs, enzymes and amino acids
  • Check the expiration date because old vitamins can lose their potency
  • Choosing less expensive store brands is okay as long as they have all the vitamins and minerals you need

Weight Control

Overweight and obese people exist in all population groups. However, it is most common among Hispanic, African American and Native American women.

There are three things to consider when trying to determine the health of your weight.

  • Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Waist Size
  • Risk Factors for Diseases

Body Mass Index

See the Body Mass Index Chart below to determine your BMI.

Waist Size

The size of your waist (all the way around) can be measured with a simple measuring tape. For women, a healthy waist size is 35 in. (88 cm) or less. Anything over 35 in. increases your risk for disease.

Risk Factors for Disease

If your BMI is over 24.9 or your waist size is over 35 inches, you’re at greater risk for the following health problems:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Heart problems
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Infertility
  • Bladder control problems
  • Sleep and respiratory problems
  • Gout
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Gallbladder disease

To control your weight and reduce your risk, eat a healthier diet (see the Food Pyramid) and exercise regularly.