Notice that alcohol isn't included in a food group. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Alcohol offers little nutritional value, and when used in excess, can cause short-term health damage, such as distorted vision, judgment, hearing and coordination; emotional changes; bad breath; and hangovers. Long-term effects may include liver and stomach damage, vitamin deficiencies, impotence, heart and central nervous system damage and memory loss. Abuse can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma and death. Pregnant women should not drink at all because alcohol can harm the developing fetus and infant. According to the March of Dimes, more than 40,000 babies are born each year with alcohol-related damage. Even light and moderate drinking during pregnancy can hurt your baby. If you are breastfeeding, discuss drinking alcohol with your health care professional. After clearing it with your doctor, you may be able to have an occasional celebratory single, small alcoholic drink, but you should abstain from breastfeeding for two hours after that drink.
Your doctor may also be able to notify you of any other potential risks a supplement might pose to your health (especially if you're pregnant, have other medical conditions or are planning to have surgery), as well as offer guidance on the best dosage to take. If your doctor isn't comfortable with advising you on supplement use, ask if he or she can refer you to a qualified supplement-savvy health practitioner. But keep in mind that because of a lack of research on side effects, just how a supplement may interact with a medication isn't known.
Herbal supplements are added to the diet for both nutritional and medicinal purposes. Herbs have been used for centuries in many traditional medicine systems, and as sources of phytochemicals, or substances found in plants that have notable effects in the body. Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine from India, two of the world's oldest healing systems, use hundreds of herbal medications. Naturopathy and homeopathy, two other systems of natural healing, also rely on herbal preparations as their main sources of medication. The medicinal effects of herbs are getting scientific validation; about one-fourth of all pharmaceuticals have been derived directly from plant sources, including aspirin (found in willow bark), codeine (from poppy seeds), paclitaxel (Taxol), a patented drug for ovarian and breast cancer (from the Pacific Yew tree), and many others.
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.
Folate or vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid when used in fortified foods or taken as a supplement) is another nutrient that many women don’t get enough of in their diets. Folate can greatly reduce the chance of neurological birth defects when taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folate can also lower a woman’s risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer, so even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant (and many pregnancies are unplanned), it’s an essential nutrient for every woman of childbearing age. In later life, folate can help your body manufacture estrogen during menopause.
There’s a reason why many people eat as a way to cope with stress. Stress causes certain regions of the brain to release chemicals (specifically, opiates and neuropeptide Y). These chemicals can trigger mechanisms that are similar to the cravings you get from fat and sugar. In other words, when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you’re pulled back to junk food.
"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."
A healthy vegetarian diet falls within the 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) may want to consider vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. You can obtain what you need from non-animal sources. For instance:
Purchasing organic local produce is better for both the environment and your health, but when the nearest farm is hours away, don't default to a package of Oreos. "Frozen, canned and fresh fruit all have comparable amounts of nutrients," says Christine M. Bruhm, Ph.D., director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California at Davis.
Carbohydrates are one of your body’s main sources of energy. But most should come from complex, unrefined carbs (vegetables, whole grains, fruit) rather than sugars and refined carbs. Cutting back on white bread, pastries, starches, and sugar can prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar, fluctuations in mood and energy, and a build-up of fat, especially around your waistline. Learn more »
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.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important piece of the puzzle to achieve good health. A healthy weight can be determined using the body mass index charts (see web source below). If you find you are overweight or obese, weight loss may be beneficial for you. Before you begin any weight loss efforts, consult with your medical provider and/or consult a registered dietitian to create a weight loss plan. If you are underweight, consult a medical provider to assess your weight status.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the neurological and early visual development of your baby and for making breast milk after birth. Aim for two weekly servings of cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, or anchovies. Sardines are widely considered the safest and most sustainable fish to eat, while seaweed is a rich vegetarian source of Omega-3s.
USDA's food icon, MyPlate, serves as a quick visual reminder to all consumers to make healthy food choices when you choose your next meal, built off of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. MyPlate can help prioritize food choices by reminding us to make half of our plate fruits and vegetables and shows us the other important food groups for a well-balanced meal: whole grains, lean proteins, and low fat dairy.
It's trendy to think "food should be fuel" or that food is something that helps you lose (or, ahem, gain) weight. But thinking only in terms of number on the scale takes away a huge part of what eating is about: pleasure. "If you think of eating as something enjoyable and something you do without guilt or without judging yourself, and you stay active, you're less likely to overeat, have a better diet, and maintain any weight loss for the long haul," says Zied. It's true: feeling guilty about your food choices can undermine weight loss—and even pack on the pounds—while a celebratory mindset gives you more control over your diet and can thwart weight gain, found a 2014 study in the journal Appetite.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. People engaging in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium. Sports drinks contain blends of electrolytes (salts) that the body loses during exertion and sweating, as well as vitamins, minerals, and performance-supporting herbs.