Those who want to use natural healing methods, such as the use of food and supplements of essential nutrients to prevent or reverse illness, should consult therapists who are qualified to give advice on how natural therapies can help. I recommend that anyone interested in supplements read the references for this article as well as the archives of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/ and the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/index.shtml . Both are free access online.
This study secretly took place in the hospital cafeteria and helped thousands of people develop healthy eating habits without changing their willpower or motivation in the slightest way. Thorndike and her team utilized a concept known as “choice architecture.” Choice architecture is just a fancy word for changing the way the food and drinks are displayed, but, as it turns out, it makes a big difference.

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.

Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation and can raise your risk for other health problems. Part of healthy eating is choosing fiber-rich foods, including beans, berries, and dark green leafy vegetables, every day. Fiber helps lower your risk for diseases that affect many women, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer. Fiber also helps you feel full, so it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.


Eat a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats at each meal and choose foods rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. A good way to do this is to fill your plate with 3–4 food groups at each meal. Eat a combination of protein-rich foods, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and incorporate the groups you miss into other meals and snacks throughout the day. Stick to healthy portions — see our Essential Guide to Portion Sizes for tips.
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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."
Eating healthy is important for a woman’s body and mind. But what does eating healthy mean? On the internet, in books and journals, there is a wealth of nutrition information at your fingertips. Important dietary needs include carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Having a balanced diet and physical activity plan can help keep you ready for class demands and activities on campus. To get the basics on nutritional needs, visit the websites listed below. Please note, every body has different nutrient needs. The major nutrients benefiting women’s health are listed on this page.
Learn. Find out as much as you can about any dietary supplement you might take. Talk with your doctor, your pharmacist, or a registered dietitian. A supplement that seemed to help your neighbor might not work for you. If you are reading fact sheets or checking websites, be aware of the source of the information. Could the writer or group profit from the sale of a particular supplement? Read more about choosing reliable health information websites.
Specialty products may offer particular health benefits or are targeted for specific conditions. These products may consist of whole foods or may be isolated compounds from natural or synthetic sources. Examples include antioxidants, probiotics (supplements containing friendly bacteria for the digestive tract), digestive enzymes, shark cartilage, or other animal products, or chemical extracts such as the hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant.
Vitamins are micronutrients, or substances that the body uses in small amounts, as compared to macronutrients, which are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that make up all food. Vitamins are present in food, but adequate quantities of vitamins may be reduced when food is overcooked, processed, or improperly stored. For instance, processing whole wheat grain into white flour reduces the contents of vitamins B and E, fiber, and minerals, including zinc and iron. The body requires vitamins to support its basic biochemical functions, and deficiencies over time can lead to illness and disease.

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.
Something else to remember: an estimated 90 to 95 percent of dieters who lose weight regain all or part of it within five years, and the consequences can be even worse than simply being overweight. Those who exercise regularly as part of a weight loss diet and maintenance program are more likely to keep the weight off. Also note that an overly restrictive diet can lead to more overeating, a natural reaction to food deprivation.
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.
Even more important than shopping for healthy foods: actually eating them. When you get home from the store or farmer's market, bounty of fruits and veggies in tow, wash and chop them right away and store in a pretty glass container in your fridge. "Studies show that spending more time on food prep is linked to better eating habits," says Dr. Lipman. It's all about convenience—if they're ready for you, you'll grab them in a pinch. If not? It's chips and dip time. You can also do this with other foods, like making a batch of quinoa for the week or roasting a bunch of veggies to throw together for quick lunches.
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.
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.)
For instance, foods rich in vitamin E and beta-carotene are healthy and can help reduce cancer risk. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend against taking vitamin E or beta-carotene for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. People who smoke or are at risk for lung cancer also should avoid beta-carotene. It can increase their risk of lung cancer.
The best evidence that ALA can protect the heart comes from the Lyon Diet Heart Study, a randomized clinical trial in Europe. It tested the effects of an ALA-enriched Mediterranean diet in 605 patients with coronary artery disease. Over a four-year period, the high-ALA diet produced a 72% reduction in heart attacks and cardiac deaths and a 56% lower risk of dying from any cause (including cancer). The Mediterranean diet differed from the standard Western diet in many respects, but because it contained a special canola oil margarine, the greatest difference was in its ALA content, which was nearly eight times higher in the protective diet.
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.
Some fat is an important part of your diet; fat is part of every cell. It maintains skin and hair; stores and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; keeps you warm; and protects your internal organs. It even helps your mental processes—not surprising given that fat comprises about 60 percent of your brain. But many women consume too much fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories.
Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
Nutritional supplements are used for many purposes. They can be added to the diet to boost overall health and energy; to provide immune system support and reduce the risks of illness and age-related conditions; to improve performance in athletic and mental activities; and to support the healing process during illness and disease. However, most of these products are treated as food and not regulated as drugs are.

Although as a general rule, dietary supplement labeling and marketing are not allowed to make disease prevention or treatment claims, the U.S. FDA has for some foods and dietary supplements reviewed the science, concluded that there is significant scientific agreement, and published specifically worded allowed health claims. An initial ruling allowing a health claim for calcium dietary supplements and osteoporosis was later amended to include calcium supplements with or without vitamin D, effective January 1, 2010. Examples of allowed wording are shown below. In order to qualify for the calcium health claim, a dietary supplement much contain at least 20% of the Reference Dietary Intake, which for calcium means at least 260 mg/serving.[16]
However, the Norwegian authorities do admit that vitamin D supplements are needed during part of the year. [1] Only part of the year? One third of Norway is within the Arctic Circle. Norway has far too little sunshine (especially during winter months) to get adequate levels of vitamin D from UVB radiation on the skin. The authorities also recommend that pregnant women take folic acid to prevent birth defects, and omega-3-fatty acids may be advisable for those who do not eat fish regularly. Norwegians have a long tradition of giving children cod liver oil, which in a daily tablespoon provides enough vitamin A and D and essential fatty acids to cover basic needs.
In humans, the large intestine is host to more than 1,000 species of microorganisms, mostly bacteria, numbering in the tens of trillions.[59] "Probiotic" in the context of dietary supplements is the theory that by orally consuming specific live bacteria (or yeast) species, it is possible to influence the large intestine microbiota, with consequent health benefits. Although there are numerous claimed benefits of using probiotic supplements, such as maintaining gastrointestinal health, in part by lowering risk of and severity of constipation or diarrhea, and improving immune health, including lower risk of and severity of acute upper respiratory tract infections, i.e., the common cold, such claims are not all supported by sufficient clinical evidence.[60][61][62] A review based on interviews with dozens of experts in microbiome research expressed concern about "...how biomedical research is co-opted by commercial entities that place profit over health."[62] The concern is timely, as through 2021, probiotic supplements are expected to be the fastest growing segment of the dietary supplement market worldwide, while at the same time, the global health benefits market for probiotic-containing yogurt (a food, not a dietary supplement) is declining.[63][64]
Most Americans get far more protein than they really need. In theory, that may not be wise. Like carbohydrates, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and excess calories from any source will be stored as body fat. Excess dietary protein increases calcium loss in the urine, perhaps raising the risk for osteoporosis ("thin bones," more a worry for women) and kidney stones (a particular worry for men).
Over the past decade, many studies have revealed the importance of the gut microbiome in disease development and treatment, including in cancer. Because both host genetics and the gut microbiome can influence host phenotype and treatment outcome, there is an urgent need to develop precision medicine and personalize dietary supplementation based on an individual’s microbiome.

Vitamins are micronutrients, or substances that the body uses in small amounts, as compared to macronutrients, which are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that make up all food. Vitamins are present in food, but adequate quantities of vitamins may be reduced when food is overcooked, processed, or improperly stored. For instance, processing whole wheat grain into white flour reduces the contents of vitamins B and E, fiber, and minerals, including zinc and iron. The body requires vitamins to support its basic biochemical functions, and deficiencies over time can lead to illness and disease.
Dietary supplements are complex products. The FDA has established good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements to help ensure their identity, purity, strength, and composition. These GMPs are designed to prevent the inclusion of the wrong ingredient, the addition of too much or too little of an ingredient, the possibility of contamination, and the improper packaging and labeling of a product. The FDA periodically inspects facilities that manufacture dietary supplements.
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