Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.
Whether you're visiting the drug store, grocery or natural food shop you'll likely find an aisle where there are jars and bottles of things for you to put in your body that are neither foods nor medicines. Ranging from vitamins and minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.
Vitamins and minerals are most easily digested with food. Fat-soluble vitamins should be taken with food that contains fat. Vitamins tend to work synergistically, meaning that they work together in order to be effective. For instance, vitamin E requires some of the B-complex vitamins and the minerals selenium and zinc for most effective absorption. Some minerals may not be absorbed or may inhibit each other when taken in improper ratios. Generally, a high quality, broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement will be formulated to prevent unfavorable interactions.
A new twist on an old favorite ― if your favorite recipe calls for frying fish or breaded chicken, try healthier variations using baking or grilling. Maybe even try a recipe that uses dry beans in place of higher-fat meats. Ask around or search the internet and magazines for recipes with fewer calories ― you might be surprised to find you have a new favorite dish!
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas, and other vegetables and fruits. At least one study suggests that women who eat high amounts of fiber (especially in cereal) may have a lower risk for heart disease. High-fiber intake is also associated with lower cholesterol, reduced cancer risk and improved bowel function. And one long-term study found that middle-aged women with a high dietary fiber intake gained less weight over time than women who ate more refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta.
We mean real food as opposed to processed food. Real food is fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans. Natural sweeteners, coffee, chocolate and wine count, too — just in moderation. Avoid food that is mass-produced, emulsified (where water and oil don’t separate) or shelf-stable. Eating real food leads to eating more nutrient-rich food without much effort. See What Real Food Looks Like for more information.
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.
Medicine companies follow FDA regulations. Some makers of dietary supplements follow the U.S. Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention quality standards. This means they volunteer to have their products tested. An outside company will check them for quality and purity before they are sold. These supplements display additional credentials on their labels. Look for them to say “USP Verified” or “ConsumerLab.com Approved Quality.”
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.
In the United States, manufacturers of dietary supplements are required to demonstrate safety of their products before approval is granted for commerce. Despite this caution, numerous adverse effects have been reported, including muscle cramps, hair loss, joint pain, liver disease, and allergic reactions, with 29% of the adverse effects resulting in hospitalization, and 20% in serious injuries or illnesses. By more than five-fold, the highest incidence of health problems derived from "combination products", whereas supplements for vitamins and minerals, lipid products, and herbal products were less likely to cause adverse effects.
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. 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. 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.
Calcium may even be harmful for men, at least in large amounts. The worry is prostate cancer, and two Harvard studies have raised the alarm. In 1998, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study found that a high consumption of calcium from food or supplements was linked to an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer. The risk was greatest in men who got more than 2,000 mg a day. More recently, the U.S. Physicians' Health Study reported that a high consumption of calcium from dairy products appeared to increase a man's risk of prostate cancer by up to 37%. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle also found a link between calcium and advanced prostate cancer.
The United States Food and Drug Administration, Office of Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations, monitors supplement products for accuracy in advertising and labeling, and when finding violations, warns manufacturers of impending enforcement action, including search and seizure, injunction, and/or financial penalties, such as for a Maine supplement company in 2017. The United States Federal Trade Commission, which litigates against deceptive advertising, established a consumer center to assist reports of false health claims in product advertising for dietary supplements, and, in 2017, successfully sued nine manufacturers for deceptive advertising of dietary supplements.
Keep a record of the supplements you take in one place, just as you should be doing for all of your medicines. Note the specific product name, the dose you take, how often you take it, and the reason why you use each one. You can also bring the products you use with you when you see your health care provider. The FDA provides a useful form, "My Medicine Record", to record the medicines and dietary supplements that you take. Share this form with your healthcare provider to discuss what's best for your overall health.
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
Reduced nutritional density in many foods, combined with the use of refined "foods" like sugar, white flour and refined oils, places a greater priority on eating the most nutritious foods. Farm produce grown organically generally has higher levels of essential nutrients such as trace minerals because the soil contains higher levels of trace minerals and the produce grows slower and thus has more time to absorb nutrients from the soil. Examples of nutrient dense foods are sardines, wild salmon, shellfish, eggs, liver, kale, collards and spinach, sea plants (seaweed), garlic, blueberries, and dark chocolate. 
The saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars found in foods and beverages are important for you to think about as you build your healthy eating style. Saturated fat and sodium are sometimes found naturally in foods and beverages. Sugars, sodium, and ingredients high in saturated fat can also be added during processing or preparing foods and beverages.
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."
Fish oil is a commonly used fatty acid supplement because it is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids are strings of carbon atoms, having a range of lengths. If links are all single (C-C), then the fatty acid is called saturated; with one double bond (C=C), it is called monounsaturated; if there are two or more double bonds (C=C=C), it is called polyunsaturated. Only two fatty acids, both polyunsaturated, are considered essential to be obtained from the diet, as the others are synthesized in the body. The "essential" fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid. ALA can be elongated in the body to create other omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
6. Keep healthy foods in larger packages and containers, and unhealthy foods in smaller ones. Big boxes and containers tend to catch your eye more, take up space in your kitchen and pantry, and otherwise get in your way. As a result, you’re more likely to notice them and eat them. Meanwhile, smaller items can hide in your kitchen for months. (Just take a look at what you have lying around right now. It’s probably small cans and containers.)
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.
Dietary supplement labels may carry certain types of health-related claims. Manufacturers are permitted to say, for example, that a dietary supplement addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health, or is linked to a particular body function (like immunity or heart health). Such a claim must be followed by the words, "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."