Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is essential for women at any age. But your nutrient needs change as you progress through different stages of life. In part one of this two blog series, learn about key nutrients and supplements to help women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s live their best life. In part two, you’ll dive into the essential nutrients and supplements to consider as you age.
Women in Their 20s, 30s, and 40s
While physical activity and a healthy, balanced diet are important at all stages of your life, here are a few nutrients to highlight during your 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Folate is a B vitamin found naturally in green vegetables, beans, peas, oranges, and bananas. It is also added to cereals, bread, and other grains as folic acid, and can be found in nutritional supplements in the form of folic acid or methylated folate.
Although folate is most often associated with pregnancy, it’s just as important to focus on folate before pregnancy. The neural tube (which later becomes the brain and spinal cord) forms within four weeks of conception, often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant – and folate plays a huge role in making that happen. Healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect. Women of reproductive age should aim to get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate each day.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D work together to build and maintain strong bones. Adults reach peak bone mass around the age of 30, so it’s important to focus on these nutrients early in life to support an active lifestyle for years to come. Adequate calcium and vitamin D as part of a healthful diet, along with physical activity, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, most of which is found in bone. Calcium-rich foods include milk and dairy products (yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese), vegetables (such as Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli), and fortified foods (such as some orange juice, tofu, and cereals). Adult women ages 19-50 need about 1,000 mg of calcium per day. It is best to get calcium from food, but if you struggle to get enough, a high-quality calcium supplement is an excellent way to fill in the gap.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because you can make vitamin D when exposed to UV light from the sun. But there are many factors that affect how much vitamin D you can make from sunlight, like age, geographical location, environmental conditions, and sunscreen use. Certain foods, like fatty fish and egg yolks, naturally contain vitamin D, and foods like milk and orange juice are often fortified with vitamin D. Some people struggle to get enough vitamin D from their diet and sunlight alone, so a vitamin D supplement can step in to help achieve healthy vitamin D levels.
Inositols are B-vitamin-like nutrients that occur naturally in whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruits, and are also made in the body. Studies have shown that inositols support healthy hormone levels and ovarian health, which may be beneficial in promoting a healthy menstrual cycle. Inositol also promotes egg quality in women trying to conceive. While inositols are found in small amounts in food, some women may choose to take inositol as a supplement. Supplements can be a convenient way to ensure you are getting the dose of inositol that is right for you.
Iron is a mineral that helps make healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron is also essential for immune health.
During your 20s, 30s, and 40s, you generally have higher iron needs because of the blood loss that occurs during your monthly menstrual cycle. For women having a regular menstrual cycle, iron requirements are 18 mg a day. Good sources of iron include beef, turkey, chicken, fish, beans, legumes, spinach, tofu, and iron-fortified cereals. Women’s multivitamins and prenatal vitamins are also good sources of iron.
One final note is that during pregnancy, iron needs increase during the second and third trimesters. This is due to an increase in blood volume to supply oxygen to the growing baby. Pregnant women should aim to get at least 27 mg of iron from their diet and a prenatal vitamin.
If you are getting most of your iron from vegetarian sources, be sure to include a good source of vitamin C at the same time. Vitamin C increases the absorption of vegetarian sources of iron. For example, top your spinach salad with red peppers, tomatoes and broccoli, or strawberries. Add balsamic or citrus vinaigrette, and you’ve got an iron-rich vegetarian dish.
Make sure you check out part two, “Supplements for Women’s Health: The Transition Years,” to learn more about your nutrient needs later in life: “