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.

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.
Check the science. Make sure any claim about a dietary supplement is based on scientific proof. The company making the dietary supplement should be able to send you information on the safety and/or effectiveness of the ingredients in a product, which you can then discuss with your doctor. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
While women tend to need fewer calories than men, our requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are much higher. Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, child-bearing, and menopause mean that women have a higher risk of anemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis, requiring a higher intake of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B9 (folate).
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.
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.

Recent research shows that differences in the content of the selenium in the soil can cause major differences in the concentration of selenium in meat. [22] For instance, since the soil in Finland is poor in selenium, the authorities decided in the early 1980s to add selenate to commercial fertilizers. A survey of selenium status among 108 healthy young people showed an increase in the blood selenium level of about 50 percent after four years. [23]

It has not been scientifically established that large amounts of vitamins and minerals or dietary supplements help prevent or treat health problems or slow the aging process. Daily multivitamin tablets can be beneficial to some people who do not consume a balanced diet or a variety of foods. Generally, eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods provides the necessary nutrients your body needs. Eating whole foods is preferable to supplements because foods provide dietary fiber and other nutritional benefits that supplements do not. If you choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements, it is recommended to choose a multi-vitamin that does not exceed 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI).

A review of clinical trials registered at, which would include both drugs and supplements, reported that nearly half of completed trials were sponsored wholly or partially by industry.[125] This does not automatically imply bias, but there is evidence that because of selective non-reporting, results in support of a potential drug or supplement ingredient are more likely to be published than results that do not demonstrate a statistically significant benefit.[125][126] One review reported that fewer than half of the registered clinical trials resulted in publication in peer-reviewed journals.[127]
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).
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.
Proteins are chains of amino acids. Nine of these proteinogenic amino acids are considered essential for humans because they cannot be produced from other compounds by the human body and so must be taken in as food. Recommended intakes, expressed as milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, have been established.[26] Other amino acids may be conditionally essential for certain ages or medical conditions. Amino acids, individually and in combinations, are sold as dietary supplements. The claim for supplementing with the branched chain amino acids leucine, valine and isoleucine is for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. A review of the literature concluded this claim was unwarranted.[36] In elderly people, supplementation with just leucine resulted in a modest (0.99 kg) increase in lean body mass.[37] The non-essential amino acid arginine, consumed in sufficient amounts, is thought to act as a donor for the synthesis of nitric oxide, a vasodilator. A review confirmed blood pressure lowering.[38] Taurine, a popular dietary supplement ingredient with claims made for sports performance, is technically not an amino acid. It is synthesized in the body from the amino acid cysteine.[39]
Grains, vegetables and fruits are essential to getting the vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber) and other nutrients you need to sustain good health. Some of these nutrients may even reduce your risk of certain kinds of cancer. But experts say we rarely eat enough of these foods. To make matters worse, we also eat too much of unhealthy types of food, including fat (and cholesterol), sugar and salt.
Among general reasons for the possible harmful effects of dietary supplements are: a) absorption in a short time, b) manufacturing quality and contamination, and c) enhancing both positive and negative effects at the same time.[56] The incidence of liver injury from herbal and dietary supplements is about 16–20% of all supplement products causing injury, with the occurrence growing globally over the early 21st century.[41] The most common liver injuries from weight loss and bodybuilding supplements involve hepatocellular damage with resulting jaundice, and the most common supplement ingredients attributed to these injuries are green tea catechins, anabolic steroids, and the herbal extract, aegeline.[41] Weight loss supplements have also had adverse psychiatric effects.[84]
Everyone seems to have food allergies these days, but in fact, such allergies are rare. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, while one in three adults think they have a food allergy or modify their family's diet, only about four percent do. A food allergy is an abnormal immune-system response to certain foods (most commonly, fish, shellfish, peanuts, other nuts and eggs). Symptoms can include hives, rashes, nasal congestion, nausea, diarrhea and gas. However, symptoms of food intolerance—such as intestinal distress—may mimic those of a food allergy. You may want to talk to an allergist about diagnosis and treatment. Whether you have food allergies or intolerance, you will need to develop a diet that fits your needs and avoids foods that trigger a reaction.

In addition to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors can also play an important role in bone health. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, while weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, dancing, yoga, or lifting weights) can lower your risk. Strength or resistance training—using machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight—can be especially effective in helping to prevent loss of bone mass as you age.