Individual nutritional needs usually vary according to a woman’s age and health status and can change during the lifespan. In the US, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) sets the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and adequate intake (AI) for all nutrients. The difference between RDA and AI is that the RDA is set when a vitamin has been proven to meet the nutritional needs of 97–98% of healthy people in a specific group. In contrast, AI is determined if the FNB lacks scientific evidence to suggest that a particular daily dietary intake is beneficial.
We’ve put together the best vitamins and minerals with their recommended daily allowance for women at different stages of life so that you can choose the most suitable supplements at any age. Let’s look at what we’ve got.
The Reproductive Years Period
The reproductive years period lasts from puberty to menopause, while menstruation and hormonal changes remain the main factors affecting the nutritional needs at this time. To date, a health age test and various diagnostic procedures allow assessing the patient’s state of health and making a list of vitamins and supplements necessary for the proper functioning of all body processes. The recommended vitamins for this period include:
Vitamin D and Vitamin B6
In one 2017 study published in the Nutrients journal examining the data of 15,000 people, it was found that women aged 19-50 years and those who are breastfeeding or pregnant are more likely to be nutritionally deficient than other groups. Most often, this included low levels of vitamin pantothenic acid (B6) and vitamin D. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 15 mg for women aged 19-50. At the same time, the requirements for vitamin B6 are 1,3 mg per day for women aged 19-50 years, 1,9 mg per day for women during pregnancy, and 2 mg per day during breastfeeding.
Many women experience iron deficiency during the reproductive years period. Iron is referred to as one of the most important minerals for our health, which is essential for:
- Reproductive organs;
- Wound healing;
- Energy production;
- Growth and development;
- Immune function;
- Red blood cell formation.
The RDA for iron for women during their reproductive years is 18 mg. At the same time, the recommended dose of iron is 27 mg per day during pregnancy and 9 mg while breastfeeding.
Iodine is a crucial mineral for the healthy development of the fetal brain during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that women aged 20-39 years – an age group that is the most likely to become pregnant, had lower iodine levels compared to any other age group in the study. The RDA for iodine is 150 mcg for women 20-39 years, 220 mg during pregnancy, and 290 mg while breastfeeding. However, you shouldn’t take iodine supplements without a doctor’s recommendation, as unnecessary iodine supplementation may negatively affect thyroid health.
Folate (Vitamin B9)
Folate, also widely known as vitamin B9, is essential during the reproductive years. It aids protein digestion, reduces the risk of fetal complications, and helps create red blood cells. Often people use the terms folate and folic acid interchangeably, although there is a difference between these supplements. Folate is a general term for vitamin B9, which occurs in foods like beans, citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables. Folic acid is a synthetic (manmade) form of folate and is usually present in supplements and some fortified foods.
The recommended daily allowance for folate supplements is 400 mcg per day for women aged 18 and older who aren’t pregnant, 600 mcg per day during pregnancy, and 500 mcg per day for breastfeeding women.
Although menopause is a natural part of female reproductive ageing, it is often a defining period in a woman’s life. Not only do women age faster in the perimenopausal period, but the ageing process and falling estrogen levels can also increase the risk of different types of vitamin deficiency. The best vitamins and minerals for this stage of life include:
Vitamin B6, B9 and B12
B group vitamins are crucial to overall women’s health, and after menopause, the need for these vitamins may increase. Vitamin B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 are essential for:
- Energy production;
- Cognitive development;
- Protein metabolism;
- Red blood cells production;
- Nervous system functioning.
B vitamins also support the immune system and lower the risk of many other conditions that impact women more frequently as they age. The RDA for the B6 vitamin is 1,3-1,5 mg per day after 50 years. The requirements for vitamins B9 and B12 for postmenopausal women are 2,4 mcg and 400 mcg per day.
Calcium is widely considered one of the essential supplements for bone health, although the research results are contradictory. One 2015 review published in The BMJ journal confirms that increasing calcium intake by taking supplements or making specific dietary changes might increase bone mineral density. At the same time, a 2017 review published in the Wiley Online Library suggests that getting too much calcium might lead to adverse effects and affect the cardiovascular system. Some studies also call for further research before making final recommendations about calcium supplements for particular age groups. Today, the recommended daily calcium intake for women aged 50 and older is 1,200 mg per day.
Vitamin D helps maintain muscle mass and is essential to bone health. People naturally begin to lose muscle and bone mass as they age, and their need for this vitamin is higher than in younger people. Most vitamin D is provided by sunlight, although it can also be taken in a supplement form.
It is true that vitamin D deficiency is a common issue for women in the post-menopause period. However, it is still recommended to undergo a test to see whether you need to take vitamin D supplements and not start taking them without a doctor’s recommendation. According to the FNB, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for women under 70 is 15 mcg per day, while women over 70 should take 20 mcg of this vitamin per day.
Vitamins For Specific Groups of Women
Women’s lifestyle, activity level and overall health status can also affect their dietary needs. Thus, women who exercise a lot or have physically demanding jobs may need to consume more vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. These women usually have a higher risk of iron, vitamin D and calcium deficiency.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women also require higher amounts of nutrients. For example, women need around 100 mcg of vitamin D per day to maintain the optimal levels of this vitamin during pregnancy and up to 160 mcg per day while breastfeeding. The RDA for choline, folate and iodine are also higher for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Women who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet should also need to plan their meals to ensure they are getting enough of each nutrient. For example, vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal products. Therefore, women following a plant-based diet may need to take supplements of this vitamin or eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as some breakfast cereals and milk alternatives. Women from this group also tend to have lower levels of iron, zinc, protein and calcium, and the best way for them to prevent deficiencies of these nutrients is to eat a balanced diet that includes foods such as:
- Whole grains;
- Beans, peas and legumes;
- Soy products;
- Nuts and seeds;
- Dark green, leafy vegetables (kale, mustard greens and spinach);
- Nutritional yeast products;
- Fortified breakfast cereals, milk alternatives and drinks.
The nutritional needs may change depending on the woman’s overall health status, stage of life and activity levels. The best method to meet these needs is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, although sometimes, it may be necessary to take supplements. In case you are concerned you may not be getting enough vitamins or minerals and want to include supplements in your diet – it is highly recommended to consult with a doctor or dietitian to prevent vitamin overdose and not cause harm to your health.