March 8 is International Women’s Day, so it’s a good time to focus on nutrients of particular concern to women. Like men, women should follow an eating pattern that balances fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy and healthy fats in the right amounts for their bodies. However, women have some additional considerations when it comes to eating well for their health, specifically with regard to their intake of the following vitamins and minerals.
Calcium and vitamin D
Calcium is an essential mineral required for our nerves and muscles to function properly, but it is perhaps best known for its role in helping to grow and maintain healthy bones. In order for the body to absorb calcium, vitamin D must also be present. Without adequate vitamin D, the body is forced to rely on calcium stores from the bones, which can eventually lead to osteoporosis. Because women are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis, it is especially important for women and girls to get adequate calcium and vitamin D daily. Calcium is found in dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, fish with bones, and certain leafy green vegetables like kale. Likewise, vitamin D is found in fortified dairy, mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereals, egg yolks and beef liver.
Iron requirements for women can change depending on stage of life. During pregnancy, iron needs are higher, while after menopause they typically decrease. Food sources of iron include beans, beef, poultry and fish, liver and leafy green vegetables, along with fortified cereals and breads. Plant-based sources of iron should be eaten with vitamin C to help with absorption.
Folic acid (folate) is an important vitamin for women, especially during the reproductive years. A lack of folic acid during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. Women who are not pregnant should consume at least 400 micrograms per day of folate, while the recommendation is increased to 600 micrograms during pregnancy, and a supplement may be recommended by a doctor or dietitian to meet needs. Food sources of folic acid include fortified cereals and breads, leafy green vegetables and oranges.