Depending on what age and stage of life you are in, there are specific nutrients that will be important for your health. How you nourish your body now can have a major impact on your future self. Women have unique needs and can’t always be compared to men when it comes to health. At various stages of life, there are some nutrients that should be prioritized if you are a woman.
Folic acid is often discussed and encouraged when it comes to pregnancy. But do you know what it does or why it is discussed for women’s health? Folate is a B vitamin that is needed for our cells to make DNA. Early on in a pregnancy, folate is crucial for forming the baby’s neural tube; therefore, adequate folate is essential for preventing neural tube defects. Additionally, it is involved in promoting normal blood levels of homocysteine and red blood cell formation. Young women have a greater risk of developing folate-deficiency anemia.1
Spinach, legumes, nuts
There are two different forms of iron, which are heme iron and nonheme iron. Plants and any fortified foods contain nonheme iron while meat contains both heme and nonheme iron. Iron plays an important role in the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues among other things. Women in their childbearing years are at risk for iron deficiency, especially if they experience heavy periods or if they don’t get enough iron in their diet. Someone with an iron deficiency can develop anemia which is when there are not enough red healthy blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.2
Pregnant: 27 mg/day
Red Meat, Legumes, Fortified Foods, Dark Leafy Greens
Women over 50 are more susceptible to developing osteoporosis, making calcium an essential nutrient since it plays a role in bone health, heart, and muscle function. Calcium levels start to drop in women as a result of decreased estrogen production at the onset of menopause. Getting adequate calcium in the teen years is crucial for developing bone mass since peak bone mass typically occurs in the mid-20s and then begins to decline after 40.3
Dairy Products, Fortified Foods, Sardines, Salmon, Dark Leafy Greens
Alongside calcium, Vitamin D is there to help promote bone health. Vitamin D is needed to maintain adequate calcium blood levels. It is also involved in cell growth immune function and reducing inflammation. Up to 78% of women that are in their childbearing years are deficient in this crucial vitamin.4,5 While some foods contain small amounts of vitamin D, it is primarily absorbed through the skin from sunlight.
Salmon, Fortified Foods, Sardines, Eggs
Magnesium is involved in many roles in the body including supporting muscle and nerve function, maintaining healthy blood sugar, and maintaining blood pressure. Many pregnant women are low in magnesium and deficiencies during pregnancies have been linked to conditions such as gestational diabetes, early delivery, and premature babies.6
Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seeds, Almonds, Spinach
Throughout the many stages of life, women will have distinct nutrient needs. From the childbearing years to pregnancy to menopause, women are unique and each stage of life will be important to prioritize different nutrients.
While a food-first approach to health and nutrition is ideal, it’s not always possible to get all the nutrients the human body requires from food alone. Demanding work schedules, social events, family obligations, and other requirements make it challenging to eat well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals daily. To offset busy lifestyles and to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, a multivitamin can help supplement your diet.
Alongside a daily supplement, meal planning and meal prepping can also help you get the micronutrients you need to maintain a healthy diet. Planning meals in advance (bonus points for incorporating foods on your recommended foods list!) so that you can shop appropriately is one step in the right direction.
- “Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/.
- “Office of Dietary Supplements - Iron.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/.
- “Healthy Bones at Every Age - Orthoinfo - Aaos.” OrthoInfo, https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/healthy-bones-at-every-age/#:~:text=Most%20people%20will%20reach%20their,severe%20bone%20loss%20over%20time.
- “Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin D.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/.
- Ginde, A. A., Sullivan, A. F., Mansbach, J. M., & Camargo, C. A., Jr (2010). Vitamin D insufficiency in pregnant and nonpregnant women of childbearing age in the United States. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 202(5), 436.e1–436.e4368. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2009.11.036
- Dalton, L. M., Ní Fhloinn, D. M., Gaydadzhieva, G. T., Mazurkiewicz, O. M., Leeson, H., & Wright, C. P. (2016). Magnesium in pregnancy. Nutrition reviews, 74(9), 549–557. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuw018