Overall diet is an important first consideration for those considering nutritional supplementation. Healthy dietary habits can help optimize nutrition and the absorption of supplements, and nutritional supplements cannot substitute for a diet that is not nutritionally balanced in the first place. Supplements are best used moderately to supply any extra nutritional requirements. Sound diets contain a variety of wholesome foods. At least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables are recommended, as well as the inclusion of whole grains in the diet. Variety in the diet is important to provide a full range of vitamins and minerals. Overeating inhibits digestion and absorption of nutrients, while regular exercise contributes to sound nutrition, by improving metabolism and digestion. Drinking plenty of clean water prevents dehydration, improves digestion, and helps the body flush out impurities.
Generally, nutrients from food sources are more efficiently utilized by the body than isolated substances. For instance, fresh fruit and vegetable juice could be used to provide concentrated amounts of particular nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, to the diet. As another example, eating plenty of leafy green vegetables is a healthy option for those wishing to add calcium to the diet.
It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.
Low-fat diets also can help you lose weight.16 But the amount of weight lost is usually small. You can lose weight and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke if you follow an overall healthy pattern of eating that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans that are high in fiber, nuts, low-fat dairy and fish, in addition to staying away from trans fat and saturated fat.
SOURCES: Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board, Dietary Reference Intakes: "Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride." National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1999. Journal of Nutrition, October 2005. Position paper of the American Dietetic Association on Food Fortification and Supplementation, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2005. Michael Holick, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics, Boston University Medical Center. Andrew Shoa, PhD, vice president for regulatory affairs, Council for Responsible Nutrition. Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University. Dave Grotto, RD, spokesman, American Dietetic Association; author, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Eduardo Baetti, MD, rheumatologist; Kaiser Permanente. Patrick Rea, editorial director, Nutrition Business Journal. Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition, Penn State University. Vasilios Frankos, PhD, Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, FDA. Sarubin, A. The Health Professionals Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements, American Dietetic Association, Chicago, IL, 2000. FDA. WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Feature: "Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?" National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Questions and Answers About Homeopathy."
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.
d minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.
Trans fat: Some trans fat is naturally in fatty meat and dairy products. Artificial trans fats have been widely used in packaged baked goods and microwave popcorn. They're bad for heart health, so avoid them as much as possible. Look on the nutrition facts label to see how much trans fat is in an item. Know that something that says "0 g trans fat" may actually have up to half a gram of trans fat in it. So also check the ingredients list: If it mentions "partially hydrogenated" oils, those are trans fats.
Obviously, the best treatment plan for poor nutrition is to change your diet. Most Americans eat too little of what they need and too much of that they don't. For many women, decreasing fat and sugar consumption and increasing fruit, vegetables and grains in your diet can make a big difference. Many women also need to boost consumption of foods containing fiber, calcium and folic acid. Compare your diet to that suggested by the food pyramid and compare your nutrient intake to the suggested daily levels. Adjust accordingly, and you may be able to dramatically improve your health.
Dietary supplement labels may carry certain types of health-related claims. Manufacturers are permitted to say, for example, that a dietary supplement addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health, or is linked to a particular body function (like immunity or heart health). Such a claim must be followed by the words, "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."
Folate is most important for women of childbearing age. If you plan to have children some day, think of folate now. Folate is a B vitamin needed both before and during pregnancy and can help reduce risk of certain serious common neural tube birth defects (which affect the brain and spinal chord). Women ages 15-45 should include folate in their diet to reduce the risk for birth defects if one becomes pregnant, even if one is not planning a pregnancy.
If all you have time for is a quick snack from the gas station or drugstore, know that you do have options, and if you know what you're looking for, it will be easier to find. When we asked registered dietitians to recommend snacks to buy at the drugstore, they tended to go for things like nuts and seeds that pack plenty of flavor (hi, wasabi chickpeas), plenty of protein, and not a whole lot else.
Learn. Find out as much as you can about any dietary supplement you might take. Talk with your doctor, your pharmacist, or a registered dietitian. A supplement that seemed to help your neighbor might not work for you. If you are reading fact sheets or checking websites, be aware of the source of the information. Could the writer or group profit from the sale of a particular supplement? Read more about choosing reliable health information websites.
Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas, and other vegetables and fruits. At least one study suggests that women who eat high amounts of fiber (especially in cereal) may have a lower risk for heart disease. High-fiber intake is also associated with lower cholesterol, reduced cancer risk and improved bowel function. And one long-term study found that middle-aged women with a high dietary fiber intake gained less weight over time than women who ate more refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta.
Use whole grain flour in baking recipes. For some guilt-free indulgence, use whole grain flour in your baking recipes. Whole grain flour includes the bran and the germ which make it more nutritious than its refined counterpart. Start off by subbing half of the flour in the recipe with spelt flour (or any other whole grain flour of your choice) and see how it works. Here are some handy tips for baking with whole grain flours.
Some people choose their cheat days to actually be cheat meals. So, one day they could have a cheat breakfast (i.e. pancakes), then a cheat lunch on another day and then a cheat dinner or dessert, and so on. While this works for some people, I found this allows me too much flexibility in my eating schedule and I start to cheat more and more because I justify it’s a cheat meal. Rather, on a cheat day, I have the whole day to get it out of my system and then move on. And it’s pretty darn glorious, let me tell you.
"Staying well-hydrated helps your body function properly, and it also helps make sure you don’t overeat," Pam Bede, M.S., R.D. with Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition, tells SELF. But it's not just that staying hydrated keeps you from overeating. According to Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., owner of The Wellness Whisk, sometimes you may feel hungry when, in fact, you're actually thirsty. Basically, no harm can come from drinking a glass of water.
The FDA does not have authority over dietary supplements in the same way it does prescription medicines. The Federal Government does not regularly test what is in dietary supplements, and companies are not required to share information on the safety of a dietary supplement with the FDA before they sell it. The companies are responsible for making sure the supplement is safe, but the FDA does not evaluate the safety of the product before the supplement is sold. So, just because you see a dietary supplement on a store shelf does not mean it is safe, that it does what the label says it will, or that it contains what the label says it contains.
Nutritionists are always saying to eat more vegetables, so cook them in a way that takes them from ho-hum to yum. "I even think that steamed veggies can be very boring!" says Ilyse Schapiro, a greater New York City-area registered dietitian. Always incorporate high-flavor add-ons to jazz up veggies, like sautéing with olive oil and garlic, or spraying them with olive oil before throwing them in an oven with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That way, you don't equate "healthy" with "tasteless," a mindset that will knock you off the veggie bandwagon fast. Another tip: buy a spiralizer and make zucchini noodles. Topped off with a rich tomato sauce, you'll feel like you're eating pasta.
However, some herbal supplements may not be safe. They could contain unlisted ingredients that make you sick. Drugs that aren’t listed on the label can include, steroids or estrogens. Products may even contain toxic, or poisonous, substances. Examples include, as arsenic, mercury, lead, and pesticides. Supplements must be recalled if they are found to contain toxic ingredients.
When it comes to carbs, the more natural and whole, the better. Go for complex carbs like 100% whole-grain breads and pasta, brown rice, starchy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit simple sugars from refined grains, processed snack foods, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. Check out our Essential Guide to Carbs.
Dietary supplements are substances you might use to add nutrients to your diet or to lower your risk of health problems, like osteoporosis or arthritis. Dietary supplements come in the form of pills, capsules, powders, gel tabs, extracts, or liquids. They might contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, herbs or other plants, or enzymes. Sometimes, the ingredients in dietary supplements are added to foods, including drinks. A doctor’s prescription is not needed to buy dietary supplements.
Per DSHEA, dietary supplements are consumed orally, and are mainly defined by what they are not: conventional foods (including meal replacements), medical foods, preservatives or pharmaceutical drugs. Products intended for use as a nasal spray, or topically, as a lotion applied to the skin, do not qualify. FDA-approved drugs cannot be ingredients in dietary supplements. Supplement products are or contain vitamins, nutritionally essential minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids and non-nutrient substances extracted from plants or animals or fungi or bacteria, or in the instance of probiotics, are live bacteria. Dietary supplement ingredients may also be synthetic copies of naturally occurring substances (example: melatonin). All products with these ingredients are required to be labeled as dietary supplements. Like foods and unlike drugs, no government approval is required to make or sell dietary supplements; the manufacturer confirms the safety of dietary supplements but the government does not; and rather than requiring risk–benefit analysis to prove that the product can be sold like a drug, such assessment is only used by the FDA to decide that a dietary supplement is unsafe and should be removed from market.
Eat like a tourist in Greece. The sunset over your office park isn't as stunning as the one over an Aegean beach, but a plate of grilled fish and fresh vegetables and a glass of wine is as delicious in Athens, Georgia, as it is in Athens, Greece. All the heart-healthy fats, minerals, and antioxidants in Mediterranean foods like hummus, olive oil, and feta can help lower your risk for heart disease, says Susan Mitchell, Ph.D., coauthor of Fat Is Not Your Fate (Fireside).