The European Union's (EU) Food Supplements Directive of 2002 requires that supplements be demonstrated to be safe, both in dosages and in purity. Only those supplements that have been proven to be safe may be sold in the EU without prescription. As a category of food, food supplements cannot be labeled with drug claims but can bear health claims and nutrition claims.
Among other things, you need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly. Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis. Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium, in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, to support your bone health.
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet though the use of vitamins and supplements. However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.
Compared to pharmaceutical drugs, supplements of most essential nutrients are quite harmless. However, some supplements may have poor quality, or contain toxic metals such as lead or cadmium. Therefore, it is the duty of our authorities to ensure that potentially hazardous products or supplements of poor quality are not sold, and that consumers are offered fair prices in a free market. An example where the Norwegian authorities do not follow up such basic duties is that pharmacies demand more than 1,600 Norwegian Kroner (about $190) per kg of vitamin C in powder form, which would cost less than $20 with free competition and no restrictions in permitted doses or outlets.
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.
Sugar is a source of calories, not nutrients. Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and tooth decay. Contrary to what many people think, there is no evidence linking high-sugar diets to hyperactivity or diabetes. However, high-fructose corn syrup, found in most processed foods, is linked with obesity, and obesity increases your risk for developing diabetes and other conditions.
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.
Women, as we age, are also more susceptible to the breakdown of our bones, which may result in osteoporosis over time. Genetically, women have a particularly high risk of osteoporosis compared to men, so it’s recommended that women monitor their calcium intake to be sure they’re getting enough. Weight training is another great way (and my favorite!) to build bone density, which is another great reason you should hit the weights!
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.
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.
Research from Tufts University nutrition scientists shows that Americans are drinking so much soda and sweet drinks that they provide more daily calories than any other food. Obesity rates are higher for people consuming sweet drinks. Also watch for hidden sugar in the foods you eat. Sugar may appear as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate or malt syrup, among other forms, on package labels.
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.
The VITAL trial showed that neither vitamin D nor fish oil supplementation significantly reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Conversely, current evidence supports the benefits of multiple dietary patterns, especially the Mediterranean diet, in primary prevention of CVD. Health effects of low-carbohydrate diets depend on the food sources of macronutrients.
Good sources of iron include liver, kidneys, red meat, poultry, eggs, peas, legumes, dried fruits and dark, green leafy vegetables. Three ounces of cooked chicken liver contains 7.2 mg of iron; a cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg. Your health care professional will probably recommend iron supplements during pregnancy (probably starting at 30 mg per day).
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.
The guidelines also establish ranges (called acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges or AMDR) for fat, carbohydrates and protein, instead of exact percentages of calories or numbers of grams. The report maintains that since all three categories serve as sources of energy, they can, to some extent, substitute for one another in providing calories.
A study of dietary supplements sold between 2007 and 2016 identified 776 that contained unlisted pharmaceutical drugs, many of which could interact with other medications and lead to hospitalization. 86% of the adulterated supplements were marketed for weight loss and sexual performance, with many containing prescription erectile dysfunction medication. Muscle building supplements were contaminated with anabolic steroids, and multiple products contained antidepressants and antihistamines. Despite these findings, fewer than half of the adulterated supplements were recalled.
In the United States, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 provides this description: "The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) defines the term “dietary supplement” to mean a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any of the aforementioned ingredients. Furthermore, a dietary supplement must be labeled as a dietary supplement and be intended for ingestion and must not be represented for use as conventional food or as a sole item of a meal or of the diet. In addition, a dietary supplement cannot be approved or authorized for investigation as a new drug, antibiotic, or biologic, unless it was marketed as a food or a dietary supplement before such approval or authorization. Under DSHEA, dietary supplements are deemed to be food, except for purposes of the drug definition."
Higher dosages may be given after having consulted a therapist who has measured the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in relevant cell membranes (red blood cells). In most industrialized countries, many people get too much of the omega-6 fatty acids, and would therefore benefit from eating more seafood or taking supplements with omega-3 fatty acids derived from organisms low in the food chain (algae, krill). Flax seeds contain a high level of the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, and freshly ground flaxseed meal or flax oil can be mixed with breakfast cereals or smoothies. Note that it may be advisable to limit eating farmed fish to once per week, since their fodder contains less omega-3 fatty acids than the food eaten by wild fish, and possibly also contains more contaminants.  Some researchers even warn against letting children eat too much fish because of the content of environmental toxins. [13,14]
For instance, foods rich in vitamin E and beta-carotene are healthy and can help reduce cancer risk. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend against taking vitamin E or beta-carotene for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. People who smoke or are at risk for lung cancer also should avoid beta-carotene. It can increase their risk of lung cancer.