Important Nutrients for Women
By Carleton Rivers, MS, RD, LD
A healthy diet is essential for each phase of a woman’s life; however, what defines a healthy diet varies depending on her age and also whether she is pregnant or nursing. This month’s Nutrition Spotlight will address specific nutrients that are needed to help maintain optimum health throughout the stages of a woman’s life.
Folate (aka Folic Acid)
For women of childbearing age, it is imperative to take a prenatal dietary supplement to ensure that adequate amounts of nutrients are included in the diet in case pregnancy occurs. The main nutrient of concern is folate.
FOLATE is an essential nutrient for women of childbearing age as well as during pregnancy. Women who consume insufficient amounts of folate or folic acid (found in supplements) are at greater risk of delivering babies with neural tube defects, low birth weight, and fetal growth retardation. Low amounts of folate can also result in preterm delivery. Listed below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for folate (National Institutes of Health). Folate is naturally found in a wide variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, dairy products, poultry and meat, eggs, seafood and grains. Foods that are fortified with folic acid include enriched grain products. When taking supplemental folic acid, almost 100 percent of the nutrient is available for absorption when consumed without food. That is compared to 85 percent when a folic acid supplement is taken with food. For more information about proper nutrition during pregnancy, read Pregnancy Nutrition Tips from our March 2014 newsletter.
|Recommended Daily Allowances for Folate|
|Birth to 6 months||65 mcg DFE*|
|7-12 months||80 mcg DFE|
|1-3 years||150 mcg DFE|
200 mcg DFE
|9-13 years||300 mcg DFE|
|14-18 years||400 mcg DFE||600 mcg DFE||500 mcg DFE|
|19+ years||400 mcg DFE||600 mcg DFE||500 mcg DFE|
*1 mcg DFE = 1 mcg food folate
Calcium and Vitamin D
Were you ever told as a child to drink your milk so that you can build strong bones? Well it’s true! At the beginning of your life, your body is creating more bone cells than they are losing which allows you to grow taller and build strong bones. Peak bone density usually occurs between 20 and 30 years of age (this is when bones are the strongest). During menopause, many women experience rapid bone loss which will eventually slow during the postmenopausal phase. However, this loss of bone mass can result in osteoporosis. So if you thought you could get away with eating anything you wanted in your twenties, think again. It is crucial for young women to consume nutrient-dense foods and beverages in order to build and maintain strong bones.
CALCIUM is a major player in bone health for a woman of any age. Listed below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for calcium (National Institutes of Health). Calcium is found in dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as nondairy sources such as vegetables, grains, and fortified foods and beverages. However, calcium does not act alone in its job to improve bone health.
|Recommended Daily Allowances for Calcium|
|0-6 months||200 mg|
|7-12 months||260 mg|
|1-3 years||700 mg|
|4-8 years||1,000 mg|
|9-13 years||1,300 mg|
|14-18 years||1,300 mg||1,300 mg||1,300 mg|
|19-50 years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
|51-70 years||1,200 mg|
|71+ years||1,200 mg|
VITAMIN D is essential for calcium to be absorbed in the GI tract and is needed for bone growth and remodeling. Without adequate amounts of vitamin D, bones become thin, brittle, and even malformed. Listed below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin D (National Institutes of Health). Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks, as well as fortified foods like milk, cereals, juice, yogurt and margarine. Food and beverages are not the only sources of vitamin D. This important vitamin can actually be created in the body after the skin receives sun exposure. To learn more about the relationship between calcium and vitamin D, read The Calcium/Vitamin D Connection.
CALCIUM ABSORPTION can be affected by other nutrients consumed within the same meal. Some vegetables like spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, rhubarb and beans can decrease the amount of calcium absorbed at one time. For example, consuming spinach and milk at the same time reduces the absorption of the calcium from the milk. It is also important to remember (especially when taking calcium supplements) that the more calcium you consume, the less your body absorbs. So if you’re planning on running to the store and buying an extra strength calcium supplement, you may want to think twice. You might be better off saving your money and sticking to nutrient-dense foods and beverages.