Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
Calcium is extremely important after menopause when your osteoporosis risk increases. But it’s actually vital to women’s health at every age, particularly while the body is still making bone. For optimal bone health, you need three daily servings of dairy products (for example, eight ounces of milk or yogurt, or one and a half ounces of cheese per serving), which also provide other nutrients, like protein, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. “If you can tolerate dairy, low-fat sources are extremely important,” says Hincman. Besides low-fat or skim milk, try calcium-rich Greek-style yogurt, which supplies twice the protein with less or none of the sugar of traditional yogurt varieties, she says.
Women often received micronutrient supplements during antenatal and postnatal care (13, 35–42, 51, 60), and, as such, supplementation was often targeted to pregnant and lactating women. The delivery of micronutrient supplementation commonly occurred in health care settings for at-home consumption. Community-based antenatal care that involved home visits by community health workers was also a common delivery platform for supplementation delivery. There were some studies that reported micronutrient supplementation to adolescents, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and women with young children outside of the antenatal care setting. These included primary health care clinics, home visits, community centers, pharmacies, and workplaces (32, 38–43, 45, 52, 53). Adolescent girls were also reached by community- and school-based programs (26, 41, 46). School-based programs were more efficacious in reducing rates of anemia among adolescent girls, compared with the community-based interventions (26, 46). However, many of the reported studies to date involved small samples of adolescents in controlled settings, and additional research is needed on the effectiveness of these programs (59, 62).
Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
It sounds counterintuitive, but fatty fish are actually good for you because they deliver omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fats with cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. While fish oil capsules will help you meet your PUFA needs, studies have found that fish itself offers even more nutritional benefits, including vitamin D, selenium, and antioxidants. Among the best choices are salmon, albacore tuna, herring, and trout. Recommendations are for 1 gram of PUFAs daily for people with coronary heart disease and at least 250 to 500 mg daily for those who want to prevent it.
Protein should provide about 15% of a healthy person's daily calories. As a rule of thumb, people of both sexes and any size will do fine with about 60 grams of protein a day. Athletes who have large muscles and work out hard may need 20% more. But even that's not very much; 8 ounces of chicken or 6 ounces of canned tuna, for example, will fit the bill.
However, many fortification programs in low- and middle-income countries are regional or voluntary and, thus, might have a limited nutritional impact at the national level (76). Although many efficacy trials show benefits of fortification interventions, scaling up fortification is limited by inadequate coverage and resources (13, 77, 78). Evidence for impact is also affected by suboptimal programming, low-bioavailability fortificants (e.g., reduced iron powder), poor consumption rates, weak enforcement mechanisms, and inadequate monitoring (76, 79, 80). More research is needed to evaluate the long-term impact of fortification and biofortification programs (75). In addition, there is also growing concern about fortifying and promoting food vehicles that have adverse health consequences when consumed in excess, such as salt and sugar, given the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease (81–83).
In the past, women have often tried to make up deficits in their diet though the use of vitamins and supplements. However, while supplements can be a useful safeguard against occasional nutrient shortfalls, they can’t compensate for an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. To ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, try to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, and low in processed, fried, and sugary foods.