Every body is different, and every person will have a different set of nutritional needs.
When it comes to women’s health, we have to pay particular attention to certain vitamins and nutrients, as we tend to lose a significant amount of them when we menstruate: the average woman who gets her period at age 12 or 13 and goes through menopause in her early 50 has 40 years’ worth of mineral loss to make up for. Fun, huh?
The vitamins and minerals listed below are a few that women need to ingest on a regular basis, whether through supplement form, or through a very well-balanced diet. Granted, all nutrients are important for optimal health, but these are the ones that we really need to be diligent about.
Since the average woman menstruates for at least 30 years, there are going to be a lot of minerals lost with every menstrual period. One of the primary nutrients that leaves the body when blood is lost is iron; something that’s vitally needed for overall well being. Anemia caused by iron deficiency can have some significant effects on one’s health if left unchecked, so it’s seriously important to ensure that enough iron is being absorbed on a daily basis.
Foods rich in iron include mollusks (clams, oysters, and mussels in particular), kale, pumpkin seeds,
*Note: Iron supplements can wreak havoc on some people’s digestive systems, so it’s good to check with one’s health provider to determine which would be the best option. Remember that folic acid and vitamin C aid in iron absorption, while caffeine prevents proper absorption, so you can take your iron pills with orange or grapefruit juice, but not coffee or tea.
Our bones are made of calcium, and women’s bones in particular tend to deteriorate over time, leading to osteoporosis and injuries like broken hips, femurs, knees, and arms. Women who have given birth to several children are particularly at risk for calcium deficiency, as the developing fetus draws nutrients from its mother’s body to form its own, and if an insufficient amount of calcium is absorbed via the mother’s diet, it will be drawn from mama’s bones and organs instead.
Calcium is found in all dairy products, but if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, you’ll have to go for fortified soy or almond milk instead. Dark leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach also have calcium in them, as do chick peas, white beans, tahini (sesame seed paste) and almond butter.
This goes along with iron when it comes to regulating red blood cell production, and it’s actually the nutrient that allows iron to be incorporated into hemoglobin; the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. This vitamin is also important for maintaining eye health, and for keeping your immune system strong. The retinol form of vitamin A is responsible for maintaining the function of cells that make up the linings of your respiratory, urinary, and digestive tracts, so when you don’t get enough of it, you’re at greater risk for issues like ulcers, urinary tract infections, and lung complaints.
Some dietary sources of vitamin A include all orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potato, squash), as well as spinach, kale, eggs, and cod liver oil.
Vital for bone health, this helps you absorb calcium, and also helps to defend your body against immune disorders and possibly even certain cancers. Vitamin D assists in weight management, and may even reduce the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis. People who get a significant amount of exposure to natural sunlight tend to have good levels of this nutrient, but if you live in a place that’s often cool, foggy, smoggy, or overcast, you may be lacking in it. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include depression and worsening of symptoms like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
There aren’t many natural food sources for D, but salmon, tuna, mackerel, and fortified cereals have decent levels therein.
Vitamins B6 and B12
These are 2 of the 3 major B vitamins (the third being folate, which follows next), and it’s in our best interest not to let these get too depleted. In addition to assisting with the production of hemoglobin, B6 helps to regulate white blood cell production, and assists in maintaining your glucose levels. When it gets depleted, you can end up depressed, anxious, lethargic, and prone to gastro distress. B12 helps you process fats and carbohydrates, and is also responsible for producing DNA, and for governing your nervous system as well. A deficiency of this nutrient can lead to all kinds of neurological impairments, including nerve damage and dementia.
You’ll find B6 in avocados, spinach, potatoes, and bananas, as well as beef, poultry, and fish. B12 is found in trout, haddock, tuna, and clams, as well as cheese, milk, eggs, and enriched cereals.
Folate (Folic Acid)
As mentioned earlier, this lovely nutrient helps the body to absorb iron properly, but it actually serves other purposes as well: this member of the B vitamin family may be vital in maintaining heart health, and it’s also needed to ensure that one does not develop anemia.
Folate is also incredibly important for pregnant women, or those who are planning to have children—a lack of it can result in birth defects such as spina bifida, or any number of issues relating to lack of brain cell development.
Dietary sources of folate include dark-leaved greens, citrus fruits, and beans. Many whole grains also have folic acid within them, but the best source of it is actually fortified cereals, breads, and flours.
A daily multivitamin can keep your vitamin levels where they should be, provided that you remember to take it every day! If you have a history of anemia or B12 deficiency (which is common in women who suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding, or have Celiac or Crohn’s diseases), or if you have a family history of osteoporosis, it’s also good to ensure that you eat plenty of the foods that are rich in the nutrients your body may be craving.