What Vitamins and Minerals are Essential for Women’s Health?

A healthy diet is the best way to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. A balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, healthy proteins, healthy oils, and lots of fluids are usually enough to keep you healthy. However, many women experience nutritional deficiencies.

As women go through various stages of their life, their nutritional needs change.

According to research from the University of Belgrade, Serbia, up to 30 % of pregnant women suffer from vitamin deficiencies. Without supplementation, this figure would be around 75 % (1). In this article, you will learn about the different vitamins and micronutrients that women should take to stay healthy.

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1. Vitamin A (Retinol)

Why is it important?

It is essential for healthy vision, growth, cell division, reproduction, and immunity. It is a powerful antioxidant and acts like a hormone in the body. Pregnant women and those living in developing countries are at a higher risk of developing vitamin A deficiency.

Recommended dosage and food sources

The recommended amount of vitamin A for women is 700 mcg per day. Pregnant women need 750 mcg while breastfeeding women need 1200 mcg of vitamin A. Spinach, dairy products, and liver are good sources of vitamin A. Other sources of vitamin A are foods that are rich in beta-carotene like leafy greens, carrots, and cantaloupe. Our body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A.

Deficiency

A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness, infections in throat, chest and abdomen, follicular hyperkeratosis, and fertility issues.

2. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

Why is it important?

Our body needs ascorbic acid to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen in bones. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects the body from free radicals. It also helps in the absorption of iron. According to new government regulations, women should get 90 mg vitamin C per day.

Recommended dosage and food sources

The recommended daily intake of vitamin C for healthy women is 75 mg per day. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, it is 120 mg. Berries, citrus fruits, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach are good sources of vitamin C.

Deficiency

Vitamin deficiency leads to scurvy, a disease characterized by swollen joints, bleeding gums, loose teeth, anemia, and tiredness.

3. Vitamin E

Why is it important?

Vitamin E is a group of fat-soluble vitamins with antioxidant effects. It helps prevent heart diseases, diabetes, reduces the risk of cancer, and prevent diseases of the brain and nervous system.  For women, vitamin E prevents complications during pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome, painful periods, menopause symptoms, and hot flashes linked to breast cancer and breast cysts. It also helps prevent cataracts, asthma, skin aging, cystic fibrosis, infertility, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Recommended dosage and food sources

The recommended dietary intake of vitamin E is 15 mg per day for women. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, juices, and margarine.

Deficiency

Vitamin E deficiency can lead to muscle weakness, coordination and walking difficulties, vision deterioration, peripheral neuropathy, and immune system problems.

4. Vitamin D

Why is it important?

Vitamin D is considered a pro-hormone and not a vitamin. The body produces vitamin D in response to sun exposure. It keeps bones and teeth healthy and can also prevent cancer, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D supports the immune system, brain, and nervous system.

Recommended dosage and food sources

The daily Vitamin D intake is recommended at 600 mcg for women. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 800 mcg of vitamin D. Though sunlight is the most efficient source of vitamin D, you can also get it from fish oil and fatty fish like salmon, sardines, swordfish, and herring.

Deficiency

Both men and women are at a high risk of vitamin D deficiency as we don’t get enough sunlight. The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include falling sick often, depression, fatigue, painful bones, slow wound healing, muscle pain, and hair loss.

5. Vitamin K

Why is it important?

Vitamin K is a group of vitamins that our body needs to grow and develop normally. Our body needs vitamin K to produce a protein called prothrombin, which is vital for blood clotting and bone metabolism.

Recommended dosage and food sources

Women aged 19 years and above should consume 90 mcg of vitamin K a day. Green vegetables such as kale and Swiss chard are good sources of vitamin K1. Sources of vitamin K2 include meat, eggs, dairy products, and natto.

Deficiency

Many women fall short of this valuable vitamin. People who have been taking antibiotics or cholesterol-lowering drugs, and suffer from inflammatory bowel syndrome can also develop a deficiency. The main symptom of a deficiency in vitamin K is an inability to form clots.

6. B vitamins

Why are they important?

The eight B vitamins are known as the vitamin B complex. They are vitamin B1(thiamine), vitamin B2(riboflavin), vitamin B3(niacin), vitamin B5(pantothenic acid), vitamin B6(pyridoxine), vitamin B7(biotin), vitamin B9(folate), and vitamin B12(cobalamin).

Together they play an essential role in promoting cell growth, maintaining healthy skin, supporting metabolism, boosting immunity, easing stress, and improving mood. Folate plays a vital role during pregnancy as it helps to build the baby’s brain and spinal cord to prevent congenital disabilities.

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Recommended dosage and food sources

Cage-free eggs, fish, meat, milk, whole grains, legumes, and dairy products are some excellent sources of the vitamin B complex. Green vegetables like spinach, asparagus, beans, citrus fruits, and melons are rich in folate.

The recommended daily intake for women is:

  • B1: 1.1 mg
  • B2: 1.1 mg
  • B3: 14 mg
  • B5: 5 mg (RDA not established)
  • B6: 1.3 mg
  • Biotin: 30 mcg (RDA not established)
  • Folic acid: 400 mcg
  • B12: 2.4 mcg

Deficiency

Older women with anemia, vegans, and vegetarians are at the highest risk of developing vitamin B deficiency. A deficiency in B vitamins can result in anemia, fatigue, depression, hair loss, eczema, muscle cramping, loss of appetite, and tingling in arms and legs.

7. Calcium

Why is it important?

Calcium is essential for building strong bones when you’re young and keeping them healthy as you age. This mineral also enables our blood to clot, our muscles to contract, and our heart to beat. Calcium, when taken along with vitamin D and magnesium, protects against heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer.

Recommended dosage and food sources

Women who are 50 years or younger need 1,000 mg of calcium per day, while women over 50 need 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, and green vegetables are rich sources of calcium. Some juices, cereals, soy milk, bread, and snacks are also fortified with calcium.

Deficiency

Most adults don’t get enough calcium in their diets, which is why calcium deficiency is widespread in both men and women. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include fatigue, anxiety, brittle fingernails, poor appetite, muscle cramps, tingling in fingers, lips, and feet, headache, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.

8. Iron

Why is it important?

Iron is a mineral that serves many vital roles in the body. Though all the cells in our body contain iron, it is mostly found in red blood cells. Iron helps to boost the immune system, treats anemia, and increases hemoglobin and much more.

Recommended dosage and food sources

Women over the age of 19 years need 18 mg of iron per day. Pregnant and lactating mothers need 27 mg and 9 mg of iron per day, respectively. Women who are 51 years or more need 8 mg of iron per day. Our body absorbs more iron from animal sources than from plants. Some good animal sources of iron are lean beef, chicken, oysters, and turkey. Some of the best vegetarian sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, beans, lentils, tofu, baked potatoes, cashew, breakfast cereals, and enriched bread.

Deficiency

Women need to be more careful of their iron intake as their demand for iron increases when they menstruate. Adolescent girls are also at high risk of iron deficiency. The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and difficulty in concentration.

9. Magnesium

Why is it important?

Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including blood glucose control, protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium also helps transport calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is vital for impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm.

Recommended dosage and food sources

The recommended daily intake for women in the age of 14 to 18 years is 360 mg a day. For women above the age of 19, the recommended daily intake is 310 to 320 mg a day. During pregnancy, women should consume between 350 to 400 mg of magnesium per day, and during breastfeeding, they should consume 310 to 360 mg of magnesium per day.

Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are rich sources of magnesium. Foods that contain dietary fiber contain magnesium. Soil depletion has lowered the magnesium content of many foods.

Deficiency

Though less than two percent of the American population suffers from iron deficiency, almost 75% do not meet their required intake. The symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle twitches and cramps, mental problems, irregular heartbeat, and osteoporosis.

10. Iodine

Why is it important?

Iodine is a type of mineral that is naturally found in the earth’s soil and ocean waters. Iodine regulates hormones and fetal development. It also plays a vital role in thyroid health and may also be a treatment for thyroid cancer.

Recommended dosage and food sources

The recommended daily intake of iodine is 150 mcg per day for women. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more. Some excellent sources of iodine include seaweed, cod yogurt, iodized salt, shrimp, egg, tuna, and dried prunes.

Deficiency

Women in the age of 20 to 39 years have the lowest urine iodine levels as compared to the other age groups. Iodine intake is especially important for pregnant women as it plays an essential role in the brain development of the fetus. Symptoms of iron deficiency include a visible goiter, painful thyroid gland, breathing difficulties, difficulty in swallowing, fatigue, hair loss, and brain fog.

11. Omega-3 fish oil

Why is it important?

Fish oil is one of the most commonly consumed supplements as it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for health. They have many powerful benefits for the body and brain, including fighting depression, improving eye health, boosting brain health during pregnancy and early life, reducing the symptoms of ADHD and lowering the risk of heart disease.

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Recommended dosage and food sources

The daily reference intake of omega-3 is between 250 to 500 mg. Mackrel, herring, tuna, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, and seal blubber are especially rich in omega-3 fish oil.

Deficiency

If you don’t get enough vital fatty acids in your diet, it can lead to poor sleep, dry skin, and even an increased risk of heart disease.

What causes vitamin and mineral deficiencies in women?

Inadequate nutrient intake is one of the main reasons for nutritional deficiencies. Some other factors that can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies in women are:

  • Being a vegan or vegetarian
  • Consuming too little calories and being underweight
  • Eating more processed foods and fewer vegetables and fruits
  • Being of reproductive age
  • Being older than 65 years
  • Lack of education and poverty

Final thoughts

As women go through various stages of life, their nutritional needs change. According to a study, up to 30 % of pregnant women suffer from vitamin deficiency. Without supplementation, this figure would be around 75 %. Vitamin A, C, D, E, K, and B vitamins are the best vitamins for women. They should also take calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, and omega-3 supplements. Consuming too little calories, being a vegetarian or a vegan are some of the reasons for nutrient deficiencies in women. Often women of reproductive age or those above 65 years also develop nutrient deficiencies.

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