Brunilda Nazario, MD
At every stage of women's lives, nutrition and regular exercise are the cornerstones of good health and optimal energy. But certain vitamins and minerals become especially important at particular times of life. Knowing which matter most can help you choose the best foods and supplements.
This article covers key nutrients women need during their teens, childbearing years, and senior years.
The best guarantee that growing girls get the nutrition they need is a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean sources of protein. Two nutrients are particularly important:
Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium a day for girls aged 9 through 19. Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice, because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption. Milk, yogurt, and cheese contribute most of the calcium in our diets. Some vegetables are also good sources, including broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu. The daily intake for Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for most children and healthy adults.
Until girls begin to menstruate, they need about 8 mg of iron a day. Between ages 14 and 18, the recommended intake climbs to 15 mg. Good sources of iron include beef, turkey, chicken, halibut, tuna, beans, lentils, and breakfast cereals supplemented with iron. Many multivitamins also contain the recommended daily allowance of iron.
Although growing bodies need plenty of energy in the form of calories, many children and teenagers consume way too many, says Ruth Frechman, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. The latest findings from federal surveys show that 18% of adolescents and teenagers are fatter than they should be. Kids who are obese are 16 times more likely than healthy weight children to become obese as adults, other findings show.
Encouraging girls and young women to be more physically active while reducing high-calorie foods can help balance the energy equation. By starting early, they set a pattern of healthy eating that will carry them through life.
Several nutrients are particularly important for women during adulthood, especially if they are capable of becoming pregnant.
After menopause, women's bodies change again. The requirement for iron drops because women are no longer menstruating. Requirements for some other nutrients increase because the body loses some of its ability to absorb or metabolize them. Here are the most important nutrients to consider:
With age, and especially after menopause, calorie requirements drop again. “As women age, they inevitably lose some muscle mass,” Schwartz says. “Regular physical activity can help maintain muscle.”
SOURCES: Heather Schwartz, MS, RD, medical nutrition therapist, Stanford University Hospital and Clinics.Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD, professor of nutrition, University of Maine, Orono.Ruth Frechman, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association.National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.CDC.Gordon-Larsen, P. Journal of the American Medical Association, November 2010; vol 304: pp 2042-7.Shaw, G. Epidemiology, September 2009; vol 20: pp 714-9.Jordan, R. Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health, November-December 2010; vol 55: pp 520-8.
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