It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.
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.
You don't have to hunt and skin your supper, but if your chicken has been molded into a nugget, who knows what you're really chewing. And when you choose meat that's been processed into sausage, strips or slices, you're downing sodium and preservatives instead of healthy nutrients, says Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington at Seattle. Stick to unfussed-with cuts straight from the butcher.
Talk to your doctor before you begin taking a dietary supplement. They can tell you about the benefits and risks of each supplement. Make sure they know about anything you already take. This includes all medicines, prescription and over-the-counter. Some of these can interact with supplements. Read the ingredient list to make sure you know what else is in them. Do not take more than the recommended dosage on the label, unless your doctor approves it. Just because a supplement is advertised as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe.
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.
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.
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.