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 a 2019 survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, more than 4 in 5 American adults, some 86% of the population, take vitamins or supplements. The most commonly used supplements are multivitamins, which can be a good place to start if you think you’re 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.
Generally, supplements for women should contain the following vitamins and minerals:
- B vitamins.
- Vitamin A.
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin D.
- Vitamin E.
- Vitamin K.
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.
Ages 19 to 30
Calcium builds strong bones, but is also important for healthy muscles, nerves and the heart. Women should be careful to get enough calcium throughout life, but you especially want to build bone density in your 20s because your body loses some of that bone in later years. In other words, the more you start with, the better off you’ll be.
You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day from age 19 through 50. Consider taking a calcium supplement if you don’t receive enough calcium from your diet through dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice and cereals, beans, leafy greens, almonds and salmon.
Vitamin D, like calcium, is essential for bone health. It also promotes calcium absorption in the intestines. Women need 600 IU of vitamin D daily no matter their age.
Good sources of vitamin D include salmon, trout, mushrooms and fortified milk, juices and cereals. With the help of sunshine, most of the vitamin D we get is made in the skin, but if you’re almost always indoors and get little or no sunshine on your skin, you may need to consult your doctor or dietitian about your vitamin D needs.
Iron helps increase the amount of red blood cells in the body and keeps the 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 (non-heme iron). Heme iron (from animal sources) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources. However, the absorption of iron can be improved when these iron-rich foods are eaten in combination with foods rich in vitamin C – such as orange juice, strawberries or green, yellow or red peppers.
- Dark leafy green vegetables.
Women 19 to 50 years of age need 18 mg of iron daily and pregnant women need 27 mg of iron daily. Women 51 years and older need 8 mg every day.
Magnesium is important throughout each stage of life because it supports hundreds of functions throughout the body, including tooth and bone formation, growth, physical and cognitive development and ensuring a healthy pregnancy.
Magnesium needs vary across your lifetime. Women aged 19 to 30 years old need 310 mg, and women aged 31 and older need 320 mg. During pregnancy the need for women aged 19 to 30 rises to 350 mg, but reverts to 310 during lactation.
Ages 31 to 50
Folate, a B vitamin, is naturally present in a wide variety of foods, including:
- Vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables).
- Beef liver.
- White rice.
- Raw spinach.
- Black-eyed peas.
- Fortified breakfast cereals.
- Fortified breads and pastas.
Even if you’re healthy and maintain a diet rich in folate, if you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, folic acid supplements are recommended.
Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate that helps the baby develop and reduces the risk of having a baby born with spinal cord problems, like spina bifida. Women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid every day. This daily amount increases to 600 mcg (0.6 mg) for pregnant women and 500 mcg (0.5 mg) for breast-feeding women.
Magnesium is especially important for women older than 40 years, because it builds strong bones and prevents bone loss that may lead to osteoporosis.
Magnesium needs vary across your lifetime. Women aged 31 and older need 320 mg. Pregnant women who are aged 31 to 50 need 360 mg – and 320 mg while lactating.
Ages 50 and Up
As you approach menopause, your body produces less estrogen, putting you at increased risk for heart disease, osteoporosis and other complications. To build and maintain healthy bones, weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises are important.
In addition to exercise, be sure to get the recommended daily allowance of calcium, which is 1,200 mg for women 50 years and older. If you have a bone condition such as osteoporosis or osteopenia, your doctor may recommend taking more.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium and is the essential companion to calcium in maintaining strong bones. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 600 IU after age 50, and increasing to 800 IU after age 70.
Talk to Your Doctor
Before starting any vitamin or mineral supplement, talk to your health care provider to determine if adding anything is appropriate, especially if you’re pregnant, breast-feeding, taking medications or have allergies to any medications or foods.