Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.

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).
Thus, higher levels of vitamins and minerals may delay mitochondrial aging, speed up the repair of large molecules such as DNA and collagen, and generally improve other cellular functions. This is an important rationale for taking higher doses of vitamins and minerals than recommended reference intakes. Dietary supplements can slow the aging process, in part by reducing the harmful effects of free radicals, known to be involved in many diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. [36] Naturally-occurring hormones and/or supplements of cofactors needed for optimal hormone production in the body can have a significant life-prolonging effect if the body produces less than optimal amounts. [37] This is especially relevant for those with a genetic predisposition for disease.
Women who have very low levels of sunlight exposure or have naturally very dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Those affected may include women who cover most of their body when outdoors, shift workers, those who are unable to regularly get out of their house or women in residential care. Women who have certain medical conditions or are on some medications may also be affected.
Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods are critical to healthy bones and can help you avoid osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that consuming calcium-rich foods as part of a healthy diet may aid weight loss in obese women while minimizing bone turnover. The National Institute of Medicine recommends the following calcium intake, for different ages:
In 2015, the Australian Government's Department of Health published the results of a review of herbal supplements to determine if any were suitable for coverage by health insurance.[108] Establishing guidelines to assess safety and efficacy of botanical supplement products, the European Medicines Agency provided criteria for evaluating and grading the quality of clinical research in preparing monographs about herbal supplements.[109] In the United States, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health provides fact sheets evaluating the safety, potential effectiveness and side effects of many botanical products.[110]
"The front is all advertising," says Michelle K. Berman, R.D., of Fairfax, Virginia. Flip it around for the real story. The more ingredients, the more likely it has visited a few processing plants where something artificial was mixed in, says Lydia Zepeda, Ph.D., professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Plus, checking the label is a great way to find out if there are unnecessary ingredients in something seemingly healthy. Because, no, bread does not need added sugar.

One exception, he says, is seniors, who may need additional B-12 because as we get older, we absorb less of it. Most of us should skip the supplements and get our Bs from grains, dark green vegetables, orange juice, and enriched foods. People with certain medical conditions or who take drugs that interfere with vitamin absorption may also require supplementation.


Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
As it turns out, both lines are the same length, but our brain has a tendency to overestimate vertical lines. In other words, taller drinks look bigger to our eyes than round, horizontal mugs do. And because height makes things look bigger than width, you’ll actually drink less from taller glasses. In fact, you will typically drink about 20% less from a tall, slender glass than you would from a short, fat glass. (Hat tip to Darya Pino for originally sharing this image and idea.)
Foods that contain natural folic acid include orange juice, green leafy vegetables, peas, peanuts and beans. (One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 230 mcg of folic acid.) Fortified foods, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, also contain a synthetic form of folic acid, which is more easily absorbed by your body than the natural form. Folic acid is now added to all enriched grain products (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron have been added to enriched grains for many years).

Eat all the foods you enjoy—but the key is to do it in smaller quantities, says Elisa Zied, RDN, who has lost and kept off more than 30 pounds since her highest weight in high school. In fact, she says it's the number one change she made that's helped her maintain her smaller frame. "I didn't want to feel deprived as I had in previous attempts to lose weight," she says. The worst thing you can do is be too strict, then rebound by overeating because you're not satisfied.

It is possible to ingest too much of certain vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, calcium, iron, copper, selenium) which may exacerbate an existing imbalance or lack of another mineral (magnesium, zinc). It is also important to balance intake of fatty acids in the omega-6 and omega-3 series, as most people get too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. Small children can be overdosed with adult doses of for example vitamin A or iron, and pills may be dangerous for babies or young children because they can get stuck in the throat. Therefore, I recommend consulting a doctor or nutritionist educated in orthomolecular medicine. Most people are likely to benefit from taking a broad-spectrum multivitamin/mineral supplement as a basic insurance against deficiencies.
Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include fatigue and headaches. After menopause, body iron generally increases. Therefore, iron deficiency in women older than 50 years of age may indicate blood loss from another source and should be checked by a physician.
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Some supplements can have unwanted effects before, during, or after surgery. For example, bleeding is a potential side effect risk of garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and Vitamin E. In addition, kava and valerian act as sedatives and can increase the effects of anesthetics and other medications used during surgery. Before surgery, you should inform your health care professional about all the supplements you use.
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Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include fatigue and headaches. After menopause, body iron generally increases. Therefore, iron deficiency in women older than 50 years of age may indicate blood loss from another source and should be checked by a physician.
After menopause. Lower levels of estrogen  after menopause raise your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects these chronic diseases. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating plans and whether you need more calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones. Read more about how very low estrogen levels affect your health in our Menopause section. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. Find out how many calories you need based on your level of activity.
Dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or alleviate the effects of diseases. They cannot completely prevent diseases, as some vaccines can. However, some supplements are useful in reducing the risk of certain diseases and are authorized to make label claims about these uses. For example, folic acid supplements may make a claim about reducing the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
Foods that contain natural folic acid include orange juice, green leafy vegetables, peas, peanuts and beans. (One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 230 mcg of folic acid.) Fortified foods, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, also contain a synthetic form of folic acid, which is more easily absorbed by your body than the natural form. Folic acid is now added to all enriched grain products (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron have been added to enriched grains for many years).
According to US & Canadian Dietary Reference Intake guidelines, the protein Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is based on 0.8 grams protein per kilogram body weight. The recommendation is for sedentary and lightly active people.[26][27][28] Scientific reviews can conclude that a high protein diet, when combined with exercise, will increase muscle mass and strength,[29][30][31] or conclude the opposite.[32] The International Olympic Committee recommends protein intake targets for both strength and endurance athletes at about 1.2-1.8 g/kg body mass per day.[22] One review proposed a maximum daily protein intake of approximately 25% of energy requirements, i.e., approximately 2.0 to 2.5 g/kg.[27]

Herbs can supplement the diet to aid in overall health or to stimulate healing for specific conditions. For instance, ginseng is used as a general tonic to increase overall health and vitality, while echinacea is a popular herb used to stimulate the body's resistance to colds and infections. Herbs come in many forms. They can be purchased as capsules and tablets, as well as in tinctures, teas, syrups, and ointments.
Keep in mind that some ingredients found in dietary supplements are added to a growing number of foods, including breakfast cereals and beverages. As a result, you may be getting more of these ingredients than you think, and more might not be better. Taking more than you need is always more expensive and can also raise your risk of experiencing side effects. For example, getting too much vitamin A can cause headaches and liver damage, reduce bone strength, and cause birth defects. Excess iron causes nausea and vomiting and may damage the liver and other organs.

As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.

The total fat in your daily diet should average no more than 30 percent of your total calories consumed. And saturated fat should be no more than 10 percent of those 30 percent of calories. The amount of fat and saturated fat you eat depends on the foods you select and consume that have fat in them. Consider consulting with a nutrition professional to learn more about how to calculate your fat needs and to not exceed what are healthy amounts. There are many tools available to help you determine how much fat you should consume each day based on your current energy and nutrition needs. Reading food labels is one way to begin to identify where and how much fat is in particular food items.
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.
There's not much doubt about this one: Women need more iron than men, because they lose iron with each menstrual period. After menopause, of course, the gap closes. The RDA of iron for premenopausal women is 18 mg a day, for men 8 mg. Men should avoid excess iron. In the presence of an abnormal gene, it can lead to harmful deposits in various organs (hemochromatosis). Since red meat is the richest dietary source of iron, it's just as well that men don't need to wolf down lots of saturated fat to get a lot of iron.
In the same year, the European Food Safety Authority also approved a dietary supplement health claim for calcium and vitamin D and the reduction of the risk of osteoporotic fractures by reducing bone loss.[17] The U.S. FDA also approved Qualified Health Claims (QHCs) for various health conditions for calcium, selenium and chromium picolinate.[18] QHCs are supported by scientific evidence, but do not meet the more rigorous “significant scientific agreement” standard required for an authorized health claim. If dietary supplement companies choose to make such a claim then the FDA stipulates the exact wording of the QHC to be used on labels and in marketing materials. The wording can be onerous: "One study suggests that selenium intake may reduce the risk of bladder cancer in women. However, one smaller study showed no reduction in risk. Based on these studies, FDA concludes that it is highly uncertain that selenium supplements reduce the risk of bladder cancer in women."[19]
The tiny gender differences in minerals other than calcium and iron depend on body size. But while the dietary requirements for selenium fit this rule, men may benefit from supplements of about 200 micrograms a day, a level about four times above the RDA. That's because both a clinical trial and an observational study suggest that selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. It's far from proven, but it's something for men to consider.
Mental stress increases the excretion and hence the need for many nutrients. Among the most important are magnesium and vitamin C, both of which are used by the body in larger quantities during periods of physical and mental stress. [24,25] Compared with our past as hunters and gatherers, today´s stress is often of a more permanent nature. Instead of experiencing occasional situations where we had to fight or flee, many of us live with recurring stress day in and out.
The total fat in your daily diet should average no more than 30 percent of your total calories consumed. And saturated fat should be no more than 10 percent of those 30 percent of calories. The amount of fat and saturated fat you eat depends on the foods you select and consume that have fat in them. Consider consulting with a nutrition professional to learn more about how to calculate your fat needs and to not exceed what are healthy amounts. There are many tools available to help you determine how much fat you should consume each day based on your current energy and nutrition needs. Reading food labels is one way to begin to identify where and how much fat is in particular food items.
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Finding healthier recipes to serve your family is easier than ever, now that five of America’s largest media companies have teamed up with Pinterest and the Partnership for a Healthier America on an effort to make it easier for their millions of online visitors to put nutritious meals on the table every day. Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines, Meredith, Food Network and Time, Inc.  have identified thousands of nutritious recipes that that support USDA’s MyPlate, and are labeling, compiling and promoting these recipes on their most popular cooking websites. Check out a Pinterest page for thousands of recipes, a site that provides a one-stop-shop where parents, beginner home cooks and even the most experienced chefs can find and share healthier recipes.
Other nutritional supplements include nutrient-dense food products. Examples of these are brewer's yeast, spirulina (sea algea), bee pollen and royal jelly, fish oil and essential fatty acid supplements, colostrum (a specialty dairy product), psyllium seed husks (a source of fiber), wheat germ, wheatgrass, and medicinal mushrooms such as the shiitake and reishi varieties.
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.
Retinol (Vitamin A) B vitamins: Thiamine (B1) Riboflavin (B2) Niacin (B3) Pantothenic acid (B5) Pyridoxine (B6) Biotin (B7) Folic acid (B9) Cyanocobalamin (B12) Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) Ergocalciferol and Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D) Tocopherol (Vitamin E) Naphthoquinone (Vitamin K) Calcium Choline Chromium Cobalt Copper Fluorine Iodine Iron Magnesium Manganese Molybdenum Phosphorus Potassium Selenium Sodium Sulfur Zinc
In 1994, the United States Congress passed a law defining nutritional supplements, and requiring them to be labeled as dietary supplements and identified as not intended to be a substitute for certain foods. A nutritional supplement can be defined as a product intended for consumption in tablet, capsule, powder, soft gel, gel cap, or liquid form, and containing vitamin(s), mineral(s), herb(s), other botanicals, amino acids, or any combination thereof.

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FDA regulations for nutritional supplements differ in important ways from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. For one thing, pharmaceutical companies have to gather data showing that a new drug is safe and effective in order to get the FDA's approval to market the drug. Makers of dietary supplements don't have to show that sort of proof. Be sure to let your doctor know about any nutritional supplement you plan on taking so you can discuss whether it's right for you and the appropriate dose.


Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups. So talk with your health care provider if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements.


Ditching the habit and instead focus on good-for-you foods, says Frank Lipman, MD, integrative and functional medicine physician, founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and author of The New Health Rules. Instead of how many calories, ask yourself where the food came from and if it's nutritious. "Healthy, nutrient-rich foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood sugar levels, minimize cravings, and help your brain signal your belly when you're full," he says. In other words, you don't have to go through all the trouble of counting.
In general, the FDA regulations for dietary supplements are different from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Unlike drugs, which must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed, dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA. While the supplement company is responsible for having evidence that their products are safe and the label claims are truthful and not misleading, they do not have to provide that evidence to the FDA before the product is marketed.

The dietary supplements industry in the United Kingdom (UK), one of the 28 countries in the bloc, strongly opposed the Directive. In addition, a large number of consumers throughout Europe, including over one million in the UK, and various doctors and scientists, had signed petitions by 2005 against what are viewed by the petitioners as unjustified restrictions of consumer choice.[95] In 2004, along with two British trade associations, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) had a legal challenge to the Food Supplements Directive[96] referred to the European Court of Justice by the High Court in London.[97]
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