Designer Foods for Women: Noteworthy Niche or Not?


The Buzz: “A unique combination of nutrients designed specially for women,” because “You know your needs are different.” At least, that’s what marketers have decided in formulating foods just for females, including Luna and Oasis nutrition bars, Harmony cereal and Nutrition For Women oatmeal, with soups, salty snacks, bottled water and sports drinks on the horizon.

The Basics: What makes these products exclusively for women? They are fortified with nutrients that address women’s health concerns, such as calcium for healthy bones (as much as 60% of the Daily Value), folic acid for healthy pregnancies and a healthy heart (up to 100% DV), soy for hormone balance (up to nine grams protein per serving), vitamins A, C and E as antioxidants and other B vitamins and iron for energy. Yet men could benefit from these products as well?except for the iron some contain?as the same nutrients are key to combating heart disease, high blood pressure and colon and prostate cancers.

The Bonus: To some extent, these foods may indeed help fill nutrient voids. After all, it can be daunting to get the recommended 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium or 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. And the Luna and Oasis bars have fewer calories than the typical energy bar, a plus for women, considering their lower calorie needs.

The Bust: We question the wisdom of consuming<IMG height=47 src=”/wp-content/uploads/newspics/luna_bar.gif” width=108 align=right> too many fortified foods over the course of a day, especially if you also take a multivitamin/mineral. It is possible to get too much of some nutrients?or the wrong balance. For example, one bowl of Harmony cereal and one Luna bar together fulfill 85% of the daily iron requirement for younger women, which is much more than postmenopausal women (and men) need.<IMG height=93 src=”/wp-content/uploads/newspics/quaker_for_women.gif” width=155 align=right> On the other hand, both the Harmony and Nutrition For Women cereals contain only two grams of soy protein per serving?not much. It’s a similar story for fiber and antioxidants in most products.

Along with noteworthy ingredients come some that are less than admirable. Harmony cereal contains far too much sugar and sodium for our cereal tastes. And we discovered, to our dismay, that despite all-natural ingredients and no hydrogenated oils, Luna bars contain highly saturated palm kernel oil.

The Bottom Line: Designer foods for women can fill a void but are not magic bullets nor are they created equally healthful. You?re just as well off selecting gender-neutral, whole-grain foods, then filling in nutrient gaps with a balanced multi and separate calcium supplement.

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