Essential Nutrients for Women, Decade By Decade

As a woman ages, her diet must evolve with her. If you're a mother — or if you want to be — prioritizing your own nutrition is vital to caring for your family. If you're past child-bearing age, it's crucial to fuel your body properly so that you'll be happy and healthy for years to come.

Here's a decade-by-decade look at how to fuel your health with the right nutrition as you age.

During Your 20s and 30s

1. Folate and Folic Acid

Why you need it: Folate and folic acid should be a priority in a healthy diet for women, especially since your intake years before pregnancy may affect your fertility. During early pregnancy, adequate intake of this nutrient reduces the risk of neural tube defects — serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain that often occur before a mother even knows she's pregnant.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare recommends that pregnant women take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid.

Where to find it: Legumes, bananas, beets, beans and dark leafy greens like spinach. Folic acid is also found in vitamins and fortified foods such as rice, wheat, bread and pasta.

2. Iron

Why you need it: Iron plays a crucial role in helping your red blood cells transport oxygen to the tissues in your body. During a woman's childbearing years, she may need to consume more iron to make up for what's lost during menstruation. And during a pregnancy, the amount of blood in a woman's body can increase by about 50 percent, boosting iron needs significantly.

It's key for women in this age group — especially those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant — to add more iron to their diet to avoid blood-related health concerns such as anaemia. The Ministry of Health and Welfare recommends that pregnant women get at least 30 micrograms of iron every day — or 60 mg if there's a risk of anaemia.

Where to find it: Lentils, brown rice, meat, nuts, white beans, dark leafy greens and tofu.

3. Iodine

Why you need it: Iodine helps to regulate thyroid hormones and supports a baby's brain development during pregnancy. But pregnant women are frequently advised to avoid iodine-rich foods such as fish and seafood.

"In that case, it's easy for a deficiency to occur," said Carolyn Alish, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian with Abbott. To get a healthy dose of iodine, Alish recommends using iodized table salt when cooking and avoiding processed foods.

Where to find it: Ocean-caught fish and shellfish; eggs; iodized salt and dairy products such as milk, cheese and curd.

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Why you need it: Omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health at every stage of life and are a key part of a healthy diet for women. For pregnant and breastfeeding moms, it's critical to a child's cognitive development, too.

"For pregnant women, the third trimester is a time of important brain development where the need for omega-3s is the greatest," said Christina Sherry, PhD, RD, a research scientist in prenatal nutrition with Abbott.

Where to find it: Fatty fish, fortified milk, eggs, flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans.

During Your 40s and 50s

5. Protein

Why you need it: Around age 40, people can lose muscle mass at a rate of up to 8 percent each decade. By age 70, a woman's muscle mass can decline by about 15 percent every decade.

Protein is key to building and repairing muscle. Maintaining muscle mass helps you sustain energy, recover quicker from injuries or illnesses, and boosts your metabolism.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India says that most women should aim for 55 grams of protein every day. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of protein each meal, paired with strength-building exercises.

Where to find it: Fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and nutritional supplement shakes.

6. Vitamin B12

Why you need it: Vitamin B12 supports the health of your red blood cells and your nervous system. Deficiency can result in fatigue and anemia, and as you age, your body's ability to effectively use B12 could decline. Your doctor can check your B12 levels through a simple blood test and can help you create a plan of action to avoid fatigue and anemia.

Where to find it: Meat, eggs and milk.

7. Calcium

Why you need it: Calcium helps strengthen your bones during every stage of your life; the National Institute of Nutrition says that women should get between 600 and 1,200 milligrams every day. That amount should increase after age 50 to 1,200 milligrams daily, according to Harvard Health, to help prevent osteoporosis or to slow the loss of bone density.

Where to find it: Dairy products; lentils; beans; fruits such as orange, guava, papaya and soybeans; and fatty fish.

During Your 60s and Beyond

8. Fibre

Why you need it: Fibre helps to lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health, which is why getting enough of it in your diet becomes increasingly important for good nutrition as you age. Look for sources rich in soluble fibre, and increase your intake gradually to prevent upsetting your stomach.

Where to find it: Oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, fruits and vegetables.

9. Vitamin D

Why you need it: Vitamin D is important for bone health and immune function. While you can get vitamin D in limited quantities from foods, the vast majority of people's intake comes from sun exposure.

Across different age groups, Indian women have been found to be deficient in vitamin D, so it's especially important to keep an eye on your levels if you're in this age group. Get with your doctor to check your levels and to make sure they stay in a healthy range.

Where to find it: Mushrooms, soy milk, eggs, shrimp and fatty fish.


Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.