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.
"Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are cardio-protective and the basis for the AHA recommendation to consume fatty fish twice weekly," she says. "But the studies do not show that popping a supplement can have the same benefit in healthy individuals." She adds, "There is also a misperception that fish oils can lower cholesterol, but this is not true."
Incorporate colorful foods into every meal — some people call it eating a rainbow. From dark greens to red berries, orange bell peppers and white onions, the colors in fruits, vegetables and even proteins are associated with important vitamins and minerals. Eating a rainbow of colorful foods, especially fruits and vegetables, is a great way to get a variety of micronutrients in your diet. Take a deep dive with our Guide to Vitamins & Minerals and check out these Rainbow-Inspired Smoothies.
If you count calories, count fat calories, too. Food labels indicate how many calories come from fat, both in actual grams and in percentages. This helps you assess the percentage of fat in your diet. If the total number of fat calories is 30 percent or more of the total calories you consume in a day, you probably need to cut back. But don't be misled by terms like "lower fat." Ask yourself "lower than what?" and look at the overall percentage of fat calories in the food.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin E is 15 mg. Don't take more than 1,000 mg of alpha-tocopherol per day. This amount is equivalent to approximately 1,500 IU of "d-alpha-tocopherol," sometimes labeled as "natural source" vitamin E, or 1,100 IU of "dl-alpha-tocopherol," a synthetic form of vitamin E. Consuming more than this could increase your risk of bleeding because vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant (blood thinner).
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.
Kris Clark, PhD, RD, sports nutrition director at Penn State University, says she very carefully uses select sports supplements with collegiate athletes: "I rely on the major nutrients in food, timing of meals and fluids to enhance athletic performance, and in general I discourage dietary supplements, other than the use of sport shakes, bars, and gels after practice or events for muscle cell recovery."
Eat a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats at each meal and choose foods rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. A good way to do this is to fill your plate with 3–4 food groups at each meal. Eat a combination of protein-rich foods, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and incorporate the groups you miss into other meals and snacks throughout the day. Stick to healthy portions — see our Essential Guide to Portion Sizes for tips.
Herbal preparations and nutritional supplements may interact unfavorably with pharmaceutical drugs. For instance, some nutritional supplements recommended for nervous system function may not be recommended for those taking pharmaceutical antidepressants, such as taking 5-HTP, a nutritional supplement for the brain, or the herb St. John's Wort, with prescription antidepressants. Vitamin C should not be taken with aspirin, as it can irritate the stomach and limit absorption. Minerals should be taken in proper proportions to prevent unfavorable interactions; large amounts of zinc may deplete the body of the mineral copper, while too much calcium adversely affects the magnesium levels in the body. Balanced mineral supplements are recommended to alleviate these interactions.
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Adverse effects with dietary supplements should be reported to FDA as soon as possible. If you experience such an adverse effect, contact or see your health care professional immediately. Both of you are then encouraged to report this problem to FDA. For information on how to do this, go to www.fda.gov/FDAgov/Food/DietarySupplements/Alerts/ucm111110.htm.
Salt, caffeine and alcohol intake may interfere with the balance of calcium in the body by affecting the absorption of calcium and increasing the amount lost in the urine. Moderate alcohol intake (one to two standard drinks per day) and moderate tea, coffee and caffeine-containing drinks (no more than six cups per day) are recommended. Avoid adding salt at the table and in cooking
Challenge yourself to come up with two or three dinners that can be put together without going to the store—utilizing things in your pantry, freezer, and spice rack. A delicious dinner of whole grain pasta with a quick tomato sauce or a quick and easy black bean quesadilla on a whole wheat flour tortilla (among endless other recipes) could act as your go-to meal when you are just too busy to shop or cook.
If you suspect that you have had a serious reaction from a dietary supplement, let your health care provider know. He or she may report your experience to the FDA. You may also submit a report to the FDA by calling 800-FDA-1088 or completing a form online. In addition, report your reaction to the dietary supplement company by using the contact information on the product label.