If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
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:
Getting enough water also is important. Many experts recommend at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily—more if you exercise frequently or are exposed to extremes of heat and cold. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize drinking more water and other calorie-free beverages, along with fat-free or low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juices, instead of calorie-packed regular sodas.
It has not been scientifically established that large amounts of vitamins and minerals or dietary supplements help prevent or treat health problems or slow the aging process. Daily multivitamin tablets can be beneficial to some people who do not consume a balanced diet or a variety of foods. Generally, eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods provides the necessary nutrients your body needs. Eating whole foods is preferable to supplements because foods provide dietary fiber and other nutritional benefits that supplements do not. If you choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements, it is recommended to choose a multi-vitamin that does not exceed 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI).
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.
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.
Adopting a plant-based diet could help tip the scales in your favor. A five-year study of 71,751 adults published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters even though both groups eat about the same number of calories daily. Researchers say it may be because carnivores consume more fatty acids and fewer weight-loss promoting nutrients, like fiber, than herbivores do. Go green to find out if it works for you.
What you eat is even more important as you enter your 40s. Women need protein (meat, fish, dairy, beans, and nuts), carbohydrates (whole grains), fats (healthy oils), vitamins, minerals, and water. These foods have been linked to some disease prevention, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the development of healthy food supply chains in supplemental nutrition programs so as to broaden the availability of healthy food.
Research from Tufts University nutrition scientists shows that Americans are drinking so much soda and sweet drinks that they provide more daily calories than any other food. Obesity rates are higher for people consuming sweet drinks. Also watch for hidden sugar in the foods you eat. Sugar may appear as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate or malt syrup, among other forms, on package labels.