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:
Some supplements that were found to have health benefits in observational studies turned out, with more rigorous testing, to be not only ineffective but also risky. Vitamin E, which was initially thought to protect the heart, was later discovered to increase the risk for bleeding strokes. Folic acid and other B vitamins were once believed to prevent heart disease and strokes—until later studies not only didn't confirm that benefit but actually raised concerns that high doses of these nutrients might increase cancer risk.
Cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in foods made from animals, such as bacon, whole milk, cheese made from whole milk, ice cream, full-fat frozen yogurt, and eggs. Fruits and vegetables do not contain cholesterol. Eggs are a major source of dietary cholesterol for Americans, but studies show that eating one egg a day does not increase the risk for heart disease in healthy people.2 You should eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Check the Nutrition Facts label for cholesterol. Foods with 20% or more of the “Daily Value” of cholesterol are high in cholesterol.
Eat healthy fats. According to the American Heart Association, women should get at least five to 10 percent of total daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids (equal to 12 to 20 grams), and between 0.5 and 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, depending on individual risk for heart disease. Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids include sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed and soybean oils. And good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnuts, flaxseed, and their oils. Talk with your health care professional about how much of these beneficial oils you should be getting, how you can best incorporate them into your diet and whether or not you should be taking them in supplement form.
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.
The average American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Research finds our plates lacking in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D. It's no wonder that more than half of us open a supplement bottle to get the nutrition we need. Many of us take supplements not just to make up for what we're missing, but also because we hope to give ourselves an extra health boost—a preventive buffer to ward off disease.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbs and other dietary supplements in the same way it does prescription and non-prescription drugs. Unlike pharmaceutical manufacturers, who must prove a drug's safety and effectiveness prior to putting it on the market, supplement manufacturers are not required to prove the safety and effectiveness of a supplement before it is made available to consumers. (The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act has exempted supplement manufacturers from these regulations).
As the science of nutrition continually evolves, researchers recognize that nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle must be tailored to the individual for maximum effectiveness. Recognizing that people are not all alike and that one size does not fit all when it comes to planning and achieving a healthful diet, the Institute of Medicine's dietary guidelines, titled "Dietary Reference Intakes for Macronutrients," stress the importance of balancing diet with exercise and recommends total calories based on an individual's height, weight and gender for each of four different levels of physical activity.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by your body. It also is found in foods made from animals, like meat and dairy. Fruits and vegetables do not contain cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. Higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease. Almost half of American women have high or borderline high cholesterol.
The majority of adults in the United States take one or more dietary supplements either every day or occasionally. Today's dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and many other products. Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms: traditional tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as drinks and energy bars. Popular supplements include vitamins D and E; minerals like calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and specialty products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils.
Vitamin A can become toxic when taken in large amounts (over 100,000 International Units) on a daily basis over time, as can vitamin D. Substituting beta-carotene for vitamin A can alleviate this risk. Very large doses of minerals taken over long periods may have toxic effects in the body. Dosages far exceeding RDA's of vitamins are not recommended, nor are large doses of other supplements.
^ Siscovick DS, Barringer TA, Fretts AM, Wu JH, Lichtenstein AH, Costello RB, Kris-Etherton PM, Jacobson TA, Engler MB, Alger HM, Appel LJ, Mozaffarian D (2017). "Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (Fish Oil) Supplementation and the Prevention of Clinical Cardiovascular Disease: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association". Circulation. 135 (15): e867–e884. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000482. PMID 28289069.