Women have special nutritional needs at various stages of life. Starting early in the reproductive years, there are certain nutrients that are key to overall health. Pregnancy and breastfeeding bring so much joy, but also come with their own nutritional demands. As women enter their mature years, they endure physical and physiological changes in their body.
Nutrients Young Women Need to Support Reproductive Health
Many women fall short with these important nutrients that help support overall health. Iron is necessary to transport oxygen to red blood cells. It is important to maintain healthy iron status during this time when menstruation is present.
In fact, low iron status, which can progress and become iron deficiency, is prevalent among specific populations in the U.S., including adolescent girls and women of child-bearing age. According to the CDC, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency.
Learn More: Is Vitamin C Safe During Pregnancy?
Nutrients Women Need During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are special times during a woman’s life and require special nutritional care. Be sure to look for certain amounts of key nutrients in foods and prenatal vitamins to support the unique nutritional needs before and during pregnancy.†
Iron needs increase for pregnant women and is necessary to deliver oxygen to blood cells, tissues, organs and support the growth of the developing baby.
Folic acid is critical during the early stages of pregnancy, even before most women even know they are pregnant. A healthy and balanced diet, along with adequate folic acid, are essential before and during pregnancy to reduce a woman’s risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect.
Learn More: Folic Acid vs Folate: What’s the Difference?
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that may help support fetal brain and eye development.
Vitamin D is also an essential nutrient for overall health, which includes during pregnancy.† [3-6]
Learn More: What is Vitamin D Deficiency?
After delivery of your baby, postnatal supplements can help to fill in nutrient gaps and support the nutrition needs of nursing moms. Continue your prenatal supplement regimen or consider a postnatal dietary supplement to help meet the increased nutritional demands while nursing your baby. †
Learn More: Is It Safe To Take Melatonin While Pregnant?
Vitamins and Supplements Middle-Aged Women Need
As women approach midlife, a main focus should be on heart health. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease remains the #1 killer of women causing 1 out of 3 deaths annually. In addition to regular exercise, it is important to consume a heart healthy diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat and low in cholesterol. Show love for your heart by including these nutrients in your diet and supplement regimen:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Plant sterols and stanols
EPA and DHA omega 3 fatty acids are commonly found in fish and fish oil supplements. Wondering why you should take fish oil? Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.†
Learn More: How Does Fish Oil Help Heart Health?
Products containing at least 400 mg per serving of plant sterols and stanols, taken twice a day with meals for a recommended daily intake of at least 800 mg as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Learn More: The Best Supplements for Heart Health
As we age, a multitude of changes occur in our body. Changes in our gastrointestinal system may affect the absorption of some nutrients. For example, our ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods declines with age.
Physical and sensory changes that occur with age may affect our ability to chew and swallow food, as well as our taste for healthy food options. It remains important to support bone health in our mature years, as well. With all of these changes occurring, nutritional status may suffer over time.
Here are some key nutrients to be sure to include in our “mature” years to help support good nutritional status and overall health:†
Learn More: Vitamin D Sun: How Much Do You Get?
For women, supporting their health through diet and nutrition is key. It’s best to take a balanced approach and try to include foods from every food group. That means focusing on whole grains, plant foods and green leafy vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, dairy and lean proteins. By consuming a diet that’s well-rounded, you increase your odds of getting the nutrients your body needs to function at its best.
Healthy foods in each food group to consider include:
- Whole grain bread, oats, brown rice, or pasta
- Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese; or fortified non-dairy products
- Lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds
- Veggies of any variety, the more colorful the better
- Fruits of any variety, whether they are frozen, fresh, or canned
Learn More: The Best Folate Sources
The Bottom Line
When asking what vitamins women should take, it's important to understand that a woman’s nutritional needs change as she ages. The supplements you may have needed when you were 12 are not what you need when you’re in your 20s and likewise, what you need in your 20s will not be what you need when you’re in your 50s or 60s. Yes, there will be key nutrients that remain the same but the recommended daily intake will alter as you age. Always strive to eat well and when necessary, don’t hesitate to use nutritional supplements so that you know you’re giving your body all that it needs to thrive, not merely survive.†
Learn More About Women's Health Supplements:
- When Should You Take Prenatal Vitamins?
- Best Collagen Sources
- How Much Collagen Per Day Should You Take?
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your healthcare provider for more information on what supplements meet your specific nutrient needs.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Recommendation Statement: Screening for Iron Deficiency Anemia—Including Supplementation for Children and Pregnant Women. Rockville, MD: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; 2006.
- Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (IOM). Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2011.
- Hermoso, M., et al. Critical micronutrients in pregnancy, lactation, and infancy: considerations on vitamin D, folic acid and iron, and priorities for future research. Ann Nutr Metab 2011;59:5-9. Epub 2011 Nov25.
- Bischoff-Ferrari HA. Vitamin D: role in pregnancy and early childhood. Ann Nutr Metab 2011;59:17-21.
- Thandrayyen K, Pettifor, JM. Maternal vitamin D status: implications for the development of infantile nutritional rickets. Rhem Dis Clin North Am 2012;38:61-79.
- Wagner et al. Does Vitamin D Make the World Go ‘Round’? Breastfeeding Medicine, 2008; 3 (4): 239 DOI: 10.1089/bfm.2008.9984
- American Heart Association. Facts about Heart Disease. Internet: https://www.goredforwomen.org/home/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts-about-heart-disease/ . Accessed 12 May 2016.
- Healthy Eating for Women Published March 8, 2021. Reviewed January 2021