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salmon over kaleWomen have unique health issues as well as nutritional needs. In terms of nutrition, women should enjoy a variety of foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Women also have special nutrient needs, and, during each stage of a woman's life, these needs change.

Read on for tips about nutrients that are important during certain life stages.

Young Girls and Teenage Girls

Why calcium and vitamin D are important:
For young girls and teenage girls, the foundation of strong bones is important. But many youths trade low-fat milk for soft drinks or other beverages, winding up with too little calcium and vitamin D. Young girls and teenage girls need these nutrients to build strong bones, so that later in life they are less likely to develop osteoporosis, a disease where decreased bone strength increases the risk of a broken bone.

How much is recommended?

  • Calcium: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for ages 9–18 is 1300 mg per day. This equals 3–4 servings of dairy per day.
  • Vitamin D: The RDA is 600 IU (international units) per day.

Food sources of calcium:

  • Dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese; milk and some yogurts fortified with vitamin D
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage
  • Most grains (such as breads, pastas, and unfortified cereals) are not rich in calcium, but add significant amounts of calcium to the diet because people eat them often or in large amounts.
  • Calcium is added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, and nondairy beverages (almond, soy, coconut, etc.)

Food sources of vitamin D:
While very few foods naturally have vitamin D, fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in American diets.

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Fortified foods including breakfast cereals, some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy beverages.

Bone up on calcium and vitamin D:

  • Breakfast on the go: Whip up a smoothie with low-fat milk or yogurt for breakfast.
  • Sweet treat: Top yogurt with berries and fruit for a quick dessert.
  • Lactose-free: Try calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk.

Why iron is important:
Iron is an essential mineral whose primary function is to transport oxygen in the blood. If young girls and teenage girls don’t get enough, this could potentially lead to iron deficiency anemia, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and other symptoms.

How much is recommended?
Young girls ages 9–13 need 8 mg per day. From the ages of 14–18, the recommended amount increases to 15 mg per day.

Food sources of iron:
Iron is found naturally in many foods and is added to some fortified food products. You can get recommended amounts of iron by eating a variety of foods, including the following:

  • Lean meat, seafood, and poultry
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads
  • White beans, lentils, spinach, kidney beans, and peas
  • Nuts and some dried fruits, such as raisins

Iron in food comes in two forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. The heme iron, predominantly found in meat or seafood, is more absorbable than the nonheme iron found in plant foods and iron-fortified food products. Combining the two at one meal helps, as does consuming iron with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus. Separate iron-rich foods from those high in calcium, such as milk and cheese; the two minerals compete for absorption.

Iron up your diet:

  • Look at the big picture: The best way to ensure you are getting enough iron is to eat a well-balanced diet—one that includes breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products.
  • Check out the food label: Look for breads and cereals that contain 20% or more of the Daily Value (DV) for iron.
  • Make your own trail mix with cereal, nuts, and raisins.
  • Add beans to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles.
  • Winning combination: Have fortified cereal (iron), such as oatmeal, with orange juice or strawberries (vitamin C).

 

Childbearing Age

Why calcium and vitamin D are important:
For women who are pregnant or nursing, calcium intake is important for both the mom and baby. The baby gets the calcium necessary for healthy bones and teeth from the mother's supply. If the mother doesn’t get enough calcium for both her and the growing baby, the calcium is taken from her bones. Vitamin D also helps to maintain strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium from food and supplements.

How much is recommended?

  • Calcium: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 1000 mg per day.
  • Vitamin D: The RDA is 600 IU (international units) per day.

Food sources of calcium:

  • Dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese; milk and some yogurts fortified with vitamin D
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage
  • Most grains (such as breads, pastas, and unfortified cereals) are not rich in calcium, but add significant amounts of calcium to the diet because people eat them often or in large amounts.
  • Calcium is added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, and nondairy beverages (almond, soy, coconut, etc.)

Food sources of vitamin D:
While very few foods naturally have vitamin D, fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in American diets.

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Fortified foods including breakfast cereals, some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy beverages.

Bone up on calcium and vitamin D:

  • Breakfast on the go: Whip up a smoothie with low-fat milk or yogurt for breakfast.
  • Sweet treat: Top yogurt with berries and fruit for a quick dessert.
  • Lactose-free: Try calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk.

Why iron is important:
Specifically for women during pregnancy, iron helps the body maintain a sufficient level of blood supply to the growing baby and the placenta. Getting too little iron during pregnancy increases a woman's risk of iron deficiency anemia and her infant's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and low levels of iron. Getting too little iron might also harm her infant’s brain development. Since the recommended amount of iron for pregnant women is twice the amount recommended for non-pregnant women at 27 mg per day, an iron supplement may also be recommended.

How much is recommended?

  • During pregnancy: 27 mg per day
  • After birth: 9 mg per day

Food sources of iron:
Iron is found naturally in many foods and is added to some fortified food products. You can get recommended amounts of iron by eating a variety of foods, including the following:

  • Lean meat, seafood, and poultry
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads
  • White beans, lentils, spinach, kidney beans, and peas
  • Nuts and some dried fruits, such as raisins

Iron in food comes in two forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. The heme iron, predominantly found in meat or seafood, is more absorbable than the nonheme iron found in plant foods and iron-fortified food products. Combining the two at one meal helps, as does consuming iron with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus. Separate iron-rich foods from those high in calcium, such as milk and cheese; the two minerals compete for absorption.

Iron up your diet:

  • Look at the big picture: The best way to ensure you are getting enough iron is to eat a well-balanced diet—one that includes breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products.
  • Check out the food label: Look for breads and cereals that contain 20% or more of the Daily Value (DV) for iron.
  • Make your own trail mix with cereal, nuts, and raisins.
  • Add beans to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles.
  • Winning combination: Have fortified cereal (iron), such as oatmeal, with orange juice or strawberries (vitamin C).

Why folate is important:
Folate is a B vitamin that is naturally present in many foods. A form of folate called folic acid is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods. Our bodies need folate to make DNA and other genetic material. Women who don't get enough folate may be at risk of having babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Folate deficiency can also increase the likelihood of having a baby prematurely or with a low birth weight.

How much is recommended?
The recommended daily amount of folate is 400 mcg for most individuals from the age of 14 and up. Pregnancy, however, increases the need to 600 mcg per day. It is recommended to consume folic acid before getting pregnant in order to prevent birth defects. Most prenatal vitamins have folic acid.

Food sources of folate:

  • Vegetables, especially asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens
  • Fruits and fruit juices, especially oranges and orange juice
  • Nuts, beans, and peas, such as peanuts, black-eyed peas, and kidney beans
  • Grains including whole grains, fortified cold cereals, rice, and enriched flour products such as bread, bagels, cornmeal, and pasta

Tips to increase your folate intake:

  • Make a smoothie with strawberries, bananas, and a splash of orange juice for breakfast.
  • For lunch, have a spinach salad topped with canned beans and unsalted sunflower seeds.

Why omega-3s are important:
Omega-3 fatty acids can have positive effects on pregnancy, labor, and post birth. Increased intake of two types of omega-3s—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—have been shown to prevent preterm labor and delivery and lower the risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).

If a mother is deficient in omega-3s, the risk for postpartum depression increases. Omega-3s also have benefits for the baby, showing a positive effect on visual and cognitive development. Additionally, studies have shown that higher consumption of omega-3s may reduce the risk of allergies in infants.

Types of omega-3s and food sources containing these nutrients:
Our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, so we must get them through food.

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA is found primarily in fish and fish oil.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found primarily in fish.
  • A note about fish: Several groups, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, recommend that women who are pregnant eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish and seafood a week to help get an adequate amount of EPA and DHA for their babies. Yet, women often shy away from doing so because of concerns about contaminants in fish, primarily mercury. Too much mercury in the body during pregnancy could harm a developing baby's brain and nervous system. Fish rich in omega-3s and considered lower risk for contaminants include salmon, anchovies, herring, tuna, and sardines.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): ALA is found mostly in seeds, vegetable oils, and leafy green vegetables. It is converted into EPA and then into DHA in your body.

Tips to get more omega-3s:

  • Sprinkle ground flaxseed on your cereal.
  • For a quick and easy meal, open a can of salmon or tuna to add to a sandwich, casserole, or salad.

 

Pre/Postmenopausal

Why calcium and vitamin D are important:
Peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) occurs around age 30. If women don’t consume enough calcium from foods, it is taken from their bones. Over time, this can potentially lead to low bone mass (osteopenia) and possibly increase the risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures. About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women aged 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

As women age and reach menopause, bone loss can occur because decreases in estrogen production both increase bone breakdown and decrease calcium absorption. Vitamin D helps to maintain strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium from food and supplements. The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun, and most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way. However, as women age, their bodies are not as able to efficiently produce vitamin D.

How much is recommended?

  • Calcium: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women around the age of 51 is 1200 mg per day.
  • Vitamin D: The RDA is 600 IU (international units) per day.

Food sources of calcium:

  • Dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese; milk and some yogurts fortified with vitamin D
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage
  • Most grains (such as breads, pastas, and unfortified cereals) are not rich in calcium, but add significant amounts of calcium to the diet because people eat them often or in large amounts.
  • Calcium is added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, and nondairy beverages (almond, soy, coconut, etc.)

Food sources of vitamin D:
While very few foods naturally have vitamin D, fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in American diets.

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Fortified foods including breakfast cereals, some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy beverages.

Bone up on calcium and vitamin D:

  • Breakfast on the go: Whip up a smoothie with low-fat milk or yogurt for breakfast.
  • Sweet treat: Top yogurt with berries and fruit for a quick dessert.
  • Lactose-free: Try calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk.

Why omega-3s are important:
Supportive—but not conclusive—research shows that consumption of eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Since estrogen protects against heart attacks and stroke, a woman's risk for coronary artery disease increases after menopause.

Types of omega-3s and food sources containing these nutrients:
Our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, so we must get them through food.

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA is found primarily in fish and fish oil.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): DHA is found primarily in fish.
  • A note about fish: Several groups, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, recommend that women who are pregnant eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish and seafood a week to help get an adequate amount of EPA and DHA for their babies. Yet, women often shy away from doing so because of concerns about contaminants in fish, primarily mercury. Too much mercury in the body during pregnancy could harm a developing baby's brain and nervous system. Fish rich in omega-3s and considered lower risk for contaminants include salmon, anchovies, herring, tuna, and sardines.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): ALA is found mostly in seeds, vegetable oils, and leafy green vegetables. It is converted into EPA and then into DHA in your body.

Tips to get more omega-3s:

  • Sprinkle ground flaxseed on your cereal.
  • For a quick and easy meal, open a can of salmon or tuna to add to a sandwich, casserole, or salad.

 

Sources:

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