Vitamins and Minerals: The Essentials for Women

JUNE 17, 2015
Beth Bolt, RPh
You do your best to eat right. You stay away from junk food, and you eat fruits and vegetables as often as possible. But, is your diet falling short of essential vitamins and minerals? Should you be taking dietary supplements?

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of American adults take at least 1 dietary supplement, most commonly a multivitamin.1 This is a good place to start if you think you are not getting all the nutrients you need from your diet. But keep in mind, dietary supplements are intended to supplement the diet, not to cure, prevent, or treat diseases or replace the variety of foods important to a healthy diet.

Our nutritional needs change as we move through different stages of life, so consider a multivitamin targeted for women in your age group. It should contain B vitamins; vitamins A, C, D, E, and K; and various minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. Also remember that to be fit and healthy, adjust your diet, as well as your vitamin and supplement intake, to meet the extra demands placed on your body and the specific needs of each decade.

19 to 30 Years of Age

Calcium builds strong bones, but is also important for healthy muscles, nerves, and heart. Women should be careful to get enough calcium throughout life, but you want to build bone density in your 20s because the body will lose some of that bone in later years. The more you start with, the better off you are. You need 1000 mg of calcium per day while you are in your 20s. Consider taking a calcium supplement if you do not receive enough calcium from your diet through dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice and cereals, beans, leafy greens, almonds, and salmon.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D, like calcium, is essential for bone health, and may reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. It also promotes calcium absorption in the stomach and intestines. Good sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, and fortified milk, juices, and cereals. With the help of sunshine, most of the vitamin D we get is made in the skin. If you are almost always indoors and get little or no sunshine on your skin, however, you may need to consult your doctor or dietitian about your vitamin D needs. Online Table 1 shows the recommended daily allowances for calcium and vitamin D in women.

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances for Calcium and Vitamin D in Women
Age (years) Calcium Vitamin D
19–30 1000 mg 600 IU
31–50 1000 mg 600 IU
51-70 1200 mg 600 IU
71+ 1200 mg 800 IU

Iron helps to increase the amount of red blood cells in the body and keep blood healthy. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding or pregnant women need more iron in their diets or may need an iron supplement. Too little iron may lead to anemia. Iron comes from animal sources (heme iron) and plant sources (nonheme iron). Heme iron (from animal sources) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources; however, the absorption of iron from plant sources can be improved when these foods are eaten in combination with foods rich in vitamin C (such as orange juice, strawberries, or green, yellow, or red peppers). Animal sources include meat, fish, and eggs. Plant sources include nuts, seeds, and dark leafy green vegetables. Women 19 to 50 years of age need 18 mg of iron daily, pregnant women need 27 mg of iron daily, and women 51 years and older need 8 mg every day.