Trying to balance the demands of family and work or school—and coping with media pressure to look and eat a certain way—can make it difficult for any woman to maintain a healthy diet. But the right food can not only support your mood, boost your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also be a huge support through the different stages in a woman’s life. Healthy food can help reduce PMS, boost fertility, make pregnancy and nursing easier, ease symptoms of menopause, and keep your bones strong. Whatever your age or situation, committing to a healthy, nutritious diet will help you look and feel your best and get the most out of life.
If all you have time for is a quick snack from the gas station or drugstore, know that you do have options, and if you know what you're looking for, it will be easier to find. When we asked registered dietitians to recommend snacks to buy at the drugstore, they tended to go for things like nuts and seeds that pack plenty of flavor (hi, wasabi chickpeas), plenty of protein, and not a whole lot else.

A spokesperson for optimal nutritional intake is the well-known biochemist Bruce Ames, who proposed the "triage theory of nutrients," in which enzymes responsible for cell maintenance functions evolved to have lower affinity for the essential vitamin and mineral cofactors than the enzymes responsible for short-term survival, to preserve life during times of famine. [35]
Dietary supplements are substances you might use to add nutrients to your diet or to lower your risk of health problems, like osteoporosis or arthritis. Dietary supplements come in the form of pills, capsules, powders, gel tabs, extracts, or liquids. They might contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, herbs or other plants, or enzymes. Sometimes, the ingredients in dietary supplements are added to foods, including drinks. A doctor’s prescription is not needed to buy dietary supplements.
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.

Go nuts for nuts (and seeds). From protein and healthy fats to vitamins and minerals, these superfoods pack a serious nutritional punch. Similarly, seeds like chia, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses too. They are an excellent source of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals like calcium, zinc, and magnesium. You can add them to your favorite baking recipe, sprinkle them over your cereal or simply munch on them instead of a candy bar.
If the FDA receives reports of possible problems with a supplement, it will issue warnings about products that are clearly unsafe. The FDA may also take these supplements off the market. The Federal Trade Commission looks into reports of ads that might misrepresent what dietary supplements do. A few private groups, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, ConsumerLab.com, and the Natural Products Association, have their own “seals of approval” for dietary supplements. To get such a seal, products must be made by following good manufacturing procedures, must contain what is listed on the label, and must not have harmful levels of ingredients that don’t belong there, like lead.
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.
"Often the enthusiasm for these vitamins and supplements outpaces the evidence. And when the rigorous evidence is available from randomized controlled trials, often the results are at odds with the findings of the observational studies," explains Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and principal investigator of a large randomized trial known as VITAL (Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial).

After basic nutritional requirements are supported, supplements may be used to target specific needs and health conditions. For instance, athletes, men, women, children, the elderly, and vegetarians have differing needs for nutrients, and an informed use of supplements would take these differences into account. People suffering from health conditions and diseases may use specific supplements to target their condition and to support the body's healing capacity by providing optimal amounts of nutrients.
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."
Consumers can make wise choices for nutritional supplementation by consulting professional nutritionists and naturopathic physicians. Nutritional supplements are best added into the diet slowly, starting with small dosages and working up to the manufacturers' recommended amounts over time. Also, some supplements, such as herbal medications that may stimulate processes in the body, are best taken intermittently, allowing the body occasional rest periods without the supplement. To avoid unfavorable interactions, nutritional supplements are best used moderately and individually, rather than taking handfuls of capsules and tablets for various needs and conditions at the same time. Finally, consumers should be wary of excessive or grandiose health claims made by manufacturers of nutritional supplements and rely on scientific information to validate these claims.
Actually, more people suffer from food intolerances, which don't involve the immune system. However, food intolerance symptoms—such as intestinal distress—may mimic those of a food allergy. If you have a food intolerance, talk to a nutritionist about diagnosis and treatment; if you have food allergies, you need to see an allergist. 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.
Fiber is an important part of an overall healthy eating plan. Good sources of fiber include fortified cereal, many whole-grain breads, beans, fruits (especially berries), dark green leafy vegetables, all types of squash, and nuts. Look on the Nutrition Facts label for fiber content in processed foods like cereals and breads. Use the search tool on this USDA page to find the amount of fiber in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.

Iron is one of the keys to good health and energy levels in women prior to menopause. Foods that provide iron include red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Plant-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by your body when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods. So eat fortified cereal with strawberries on top, spinach salad with mandarin orange slices or add tomatoes to lentil soup.

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.

Total sales for the U.S. dietary supplement industry in 2006 are estimated at $22.1 billion, with vitamins accounting for $7.2 billion of that, says Patrick Rea, editor of the market research publication Nutrition Business Journal. Included in this total are not only sales of vitamins, but also those of minerals, herbs/botanicals, sports supplements, meal supplements, and weight loss products.


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.
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.
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.
When shopping for an herbal supplement, it's important to verify which parts of the plant were used in its production. Different components can produce different effects, some of which can harm your health. For example, research shows that while the roots of the herb kava seem to be safe, its stem peelings and leaves may contain compounds that could be toxic to the liver. Talking with your doctor or herbalist can help you determine which plant parts to look for.
Bodybuilding supplements are dietary supplements commonly used by those involved in bodybuilding, weightlifting, mixed martial arts, and athletics for the purpose of facilitating an increase in lean body mass. The intent is to increase muscle, increase body weight, improve athletic performance, and for some sports, to simultaneously decrease percent body fat so as to create better muscle definition. Among the most widely used are high protein drinks, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), glutamine, arginine, essential fatty acids, creatine, HMB,[40] and weight loss products.[41] Supplements are sold either as single ingredient preparations or in the form of "stacks" – proprietary blends of various supplements marketed as offering synergistic advantages. While many bodybuilding supplements are also consumed by the general public the frequency of use will differ when used specifically by bodybuilders. One meta-analysis concluded that for athletes participating in resistance exercise training and consuming protein supplements for an average of 13 weeks, total protein intake up to 1.6 g/kg of body weight per day would result in an increase in strength and fat-free mass, i.e. muscle, but that higher intakes would not further contribute.[30] The muscle mass increase was statistically significant but modest - averaging 0.3 kg for all trials and 1.0–2.0 kg, for protein intake ≥1.6 g/kg/day.[30]
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.
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