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).
Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods are critical to healthy bones and can help you avoid osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that consuming calcium-rich foods as part of a healthy diet may aid weight loss in obese women while minimizing bone turnover. The National Institute of Medicine recommends the following calcium intake, for different ages:
Hi there, it’s Lacey! I’m the editor and main writer for A Sweet Pea Chef. I'm a food blogger, health and food coach, professional photographer, and mommy of three. I also run the awesome free Take Back Your Health Community, am the healthy and clean weekly meal planner behind No-Fail Meals, and a little bit in love with Clean Eating. Be sure to check out my free beginner’s guide to eating clean and follow me on YouTube and Instagram to get my latest recipes and healthy eating inspiration. Read More…
There is more than one way to eat healthfully and everyone has their own eating style. Make healthier choices that reflect your preferences, culture, traditions, and budget. Choose fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods to get the most nutrition and meet your personal calorie needs. Aim for a variety of foods and beverages from each food group and limit saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
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.
To make it easy to find reliable information, NIH has fact sheets on dietary supplements at ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/. NIH also recently launched an online Dietary Supplement Label Database at www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov. This free database lets you look up the ingredients of thousands of dietary supplements. It includes information from the label on dosage, health claims and cautions.
I have identified a number of arguments in favor of supplementing the modern diet with essential nutrients, here summarized with 7 headlines. Most people should consider taking a multivitamin supplement containing vitamins and minerals even if they eat a nutritionally balanced diet. Additional nutrients may contribute to better health and, in some cases, can be of vital importance in our modern world. The arguments are presented in random order, i.e. the order does not reflect priority.
If you count calories, count fat calories, too. Food labels indicate how many calories come from fat, both in actual grams and in percentages. This helps you assess the percentage of fat in your diet. If the total number of fat calories is 30 percent or more of the total calories you consume in a day, you probably need to cut back. But don't be misled by terms like "lower fat." Ask yourself "lower than what?" and look at the overall percentage of fat calories in the food.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. People engaging in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium. Sports drinks contain blends of electrolytes (salts) that the body loses during exertion and sweating, as well as vitamins, minerals, and performance-supporting herbs.
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.
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.
A person's caloric requirement depends on his body size and exercise level. Sedentary people of both genders will keep their weight stable by taking in about 13 calories per pound of body weight each day. Moderate physical activity boosts this requirement to 16 calories a pound, and vigorous exercise calls for about 18 calories a pound. On average, a moderately active 125-pound woman needs 2,000 calories a day; a 175-pound guy with a similar exercise pattern needs 2,800 calories. And like women, men will lose weight only if they burn more calories than they take in.
FDA regulations for nutritional supplements differ in important ways from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. For one thing, pharmaceutical companies have to gather data showing that a new drug is safe and effective in order to get the FDA's approval to market the drug. Makers of dietary supplements don't have to show that sort of proof. Be sure to let your doctor know about any nutritional supplement you plan on taking so you can discuss whether it's right for you and the appropriate dose.
The soil in areas with relatively low rainfall may in some cases contain an extremely high concentration of minerals, which is reflected in the plants growing there. This was well documented 70 years ago in the book Tomorrow's Food.  The Dentist George W. Heard found that the soil in Hereford, Texas, was exceptionally rich in minerals. Hereford became known as the "town without a toothache" after a newspaper article from January 29, 1942, reported that Hereford had the lowest incidence of tooth decay of any city in the United States.  Heard found that people in Hereford had exceptionally few dental cavities and also that the soil locally was especially rich in minerals. He emphasized that the population in the county ate unprocessed food and was drinking raw milk. 
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.
^ Jump up to: a b Coghlan, M. L.; Haile, J; Houston, J; Murray, D. C.; White, N. E.; Moolhuijzen, P; Bellgard, M. I.; Bunce, M (2012). "Deep Sequencing of Plant and Animal DNA Contained within Traditional Chinese Medicines Reveals Legality Issues and Health Safety Concerns". PLoS Genetics. 8 (4): e1002657. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002657. PMC 3325194. PMID 22511890.
Improving public information about use of dietary supplements involves investments in professional training programs, further studies of population and nutrient needs, expanding the database information, enhancing collaborations between governments and universities, and translating dietary supplement research into useful information for consumers, health professionals, scientists, and policymakers. Future demonstration of efficacy from use of dietary supplements requires high-quality clinical research using rigorously-qualified products and compliance with established guidelines for reporting of clinical trial results (e.g., CONSORT guidelines).
A better approach is to make a few small changes at a time. Keeping your goals modest can help you achieve more in the long term without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by a major diet overhaul. Think of planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
Obviously, the best treatment plan for poor nutrition is to change your diet. Most Americans eat too little of what they need and too much of that they don't. For many women, decreasing fat and sugar consumption and increasing fruit, vegetables and grains in your diet can make a big difference. Many women also need to boost consumption of foods containing fiber, calcium and folic acid. Compare your diet to that suggested by the food pyramid and compare your nutrient intake to the suggested daily levels. Adjust accordingly, and you may be able to dramatically improve your health.
To assure supplements have sufficient quality, standardization, and safety for public consumption, research efforts have focused on development of reference materials for supplement manufacturing and monitoring. High-dose products have received research attention, especially for emergency situations such as vitamin A deficiency in malnutrition of children, and for women taking folate supplements to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
For healthy bones and teeth, women need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps to reduce the risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily. Some calcium-rich foods include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, sardines, tofu (if made with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified foods including juices and cereals. Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods and beverages, such as some yogurts and juices.
A potato comes from the ground, an egg from a hen. But where did that Pop-tart come from? "Unprocessed, whole foods will give you the most benefits," Berman says. Processing takes out nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber. What's worse is that a lot of processed foods tend to sneak in things that aren't really necessary like extra sodium and sugar. There's nothing wrong with indulging the occasional processed food craving (sometimes a bag of potato chips is too hard to resist!). But if you're trying to shop healthier altogether, be on the lookout for products that have been minimally processed.
Nutrition is particularly important during pregnancy to ensure your health and the health of the baby. It's normal to gain weight during pregnancy—not just because of the growing fetus, but because you'll need stored fat for breast-feeding. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a gain of 25 to 35 pounds in women of normal weight when they get pregnant; 28 to 40 pounds in underweight women; and at least 15 pounds in women who are overweight when they get pregnant. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional.
Much of the sugar we eat is added to other foods, such as regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, puddings, ice cream and baked goods, to name just a few. Soft drinks and other sugary beverages are the No. 1 offenders in American diets. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 8 teaspoons of sugar, exceeding the daily maximum amount recommended for women.
A vitamin is an organic compound required by an organism as a vital nutrient in limited amounts. An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when it cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from the diet. The term is conditional both on the circumstances and on the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a vitamin for anthropoid primates, humans, guinea pigs and bats, but not for other mammals. Vitamin D is not an essential nutrient for people who get sufficient exposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or an artificial source, as then they synthesize vitamin D in skin. Humans require thirteen vitamins in their diet, most of which are actually groups of related molecules, "vitamers", (e.g. vitamin E includes tocopherols and tocotrienols, vitamin K includes vitamin K1 and K2). The list: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Vitamin B6, Biotin (B7), Folate (B9) and Vitamin B12. Vitamin intake below recommended amounts can result in signs and symptoms associated with vitamin deficiency. There is little evidence of benefit when consumed as a dietary supplement by those who are healthy and consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.
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.
5. Wrap unhealthy foods in tin foil. Wrap healthy foods in plastic wrap. The old saying, “out of sight, out of mind” turns out to have some truth to it. Eating isn’t just a physical event, but also an emotional one. Your mind often determines what it wants to eat based on what your eyes see. Thus, if you hide unhealthy foods by wrapping them up or tucking them away in less prominent places, then you are less likely to eat them.
Processing of food reduces its nutritional content, and the finished products are often based on fractions of the original foods. One example is milling grain to make white flour,  which has a lower nutritional density than whole grain flour. The reduction in nutritional value has accelerated since whole foods are now divided into pieces, for example, boneless chicken breast. When meat is injected with saline to increase the volume, the relative level of essential nutrients is reduced. In the United States, many supermarkets in low-income rural and inner city areas have a limited selection of nutrient-dense foods, compared with high-income areas. 
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.)
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 front is all advertising," says Michelle K. Berman, R.D., of Fairfax, Virginia. Flip it around for the real story. The more ingredients, the more likely it has visited a few processing plants where something artificial was mixed in, says Lydia Zepeda, Ph.D., professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Plus, checking the label is a great way to find out if there are unnecessary ingredients in something seemingly healthy. Because, no, bread does not need added sugar.
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.
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.
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.