While many dietary recommendations are beneficial to both men and women, women’s bodies have different needs when it comes to vitamins.
Vitamins are essential for your overall health. Getting them in the daily recommended intake (DRI) amounts can be easy if you maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Most women can get all the essential vitamins they need by making smart food choices. However, some women may need vitamin supplements.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vitamins and micronutrients are essential for normal cell function, growth, and development. Since we can’t produce all the nutrients we need, we must get many of them from food.
The following vitamins are imperative for the body to function properly:
- vitamin A, which is essential for healthy vision, skin, and skeletal tissue
- vitamin B1 (thiamin), which helps the body metabolize fats and produce energy
- vitamin B2 (riboflavin), which is an antioxidant and protects the body’s cells against free radicals
- vitamin B3 (niacin), which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
- vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), which is essential for hormone production, immune system health, and producing energy
- vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), which helps produce myelin, a protective layer around cells
- vitamin B7 (biotin), which is necessary for the metabolism as well as healthy skin, hair, nails, and cells
- vitamin B9 (folate), which is necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system
- vitamin B12 (cobalamin), which is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and nerve cells
- vitamin C, which is essential for growth and repair in body tissue
- vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption and allows for healthy bones and optimal immune function
- vitamin E, which protects against free radicals and can boost the immune system
- vitamin K, which can help the blood to clot and prevent excessive bleeding, and keeps your heart healthy and your bones strong
- choline, which is important for liver function, nerve function, and muscle movement
Many vitamins perform similar functions. For example, both vitamins A and C promote the health of the teeth and soft tissues. Many of the B vitamins help your metabolism function properly and help with red blood cell production.
Some bodily functions require specific vitamins. For example, vitamin D is essential in helping the body to absorb and maintain the proper levels of calcium. It’s also key for a healthy immune system to protect the body from illness. However, it is difficult to get from your food. Luckily, it’s produced by the skin after exposure to sunlight. Just going outside during the day twice a week for 10-15 minutes will do the trick. Be sure that you don’t wear sunscreen during this time, since sunscreen blocks the production of vitamin D.
Another bodily process you need a specific vitamin for is blood coagulation, which requires vitamin K. Thankfully, vitamin K deficiency is very rare. That’s because the bacteria in the intestines produce about 75 percent of the vitamin K your body needs. Research shows that healthy gut bacteria contribute to the absorption of vitamin K and other nutrients needed for immune health. All you need to do to get the rest of the vitamin K you need, along with the other essential vitamins, is eat a variety of healthy foods.
Below are suggestions of foods you can eat for each vitamin, and the DRI for adults and children over 4 years old:
|Vitamin||Food source||Daily recommended intake (DRI)|
|A||carrots, apricots, cantaloupe||5,000 international units (IU)|
|B1 (thiamin)||lean meats, nuts and seeds, whole grains||1.5 milligrams (mg)|
|B2 (riboflavin)||milk and other dairy products, green leafy vegetables||1.7 mg|
|B3 (niacin)||legumes, fish, poultry||20 mg|
|B5 (panthothenic acid)||broccoli, sweet and white potatoes, mushrooms||10 mg|
|B6 (pyridoxine)||avocado, banana, nuts||2 mg|
|B7 (biotin)||pork, nuts, semi-sweet chocolate||300 µg|
|B9 (folate)||beets, lentils, peanut butter||400 µg|
|B12 (cobalamin)||shellfish, eggs, milk||6 micrograms (µg)|
|C||citrus fruits, strawberries, Brussels sprouts||60 mg|
|D||fatty fish such as salmon, fortified milk and dairy products||400 IU|
|E||mango, asparagus, vegetable oils||30 IU|
|K||cauliflower, kale, beef||80 µg|
|choline||eggs, meats, fish, cruciferous vegetables||400 mg|
Unless instructed by a doctor, most people don’t need additional vitamin intake. However, there are a few exceptions.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more vitamin B6 and B12, as well as folic acid, to prevent vitamin deficiencies that could harm a developing fetus. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of a number of birth defects, such as spina bifida, and can also prevent low birth weight. It’s best to take folic acid daily for at least a year before your planned pregnancy.
Strict vegetarians may need additional vitamin B12. You can also try adding foods, such as bread, that are fortified with the vitamin.
If you follow a vegan diet and don’t consume dairy, eggs, fish, or meat, you may be at risk for vitamin A deficiency. Eating plenty of dark-colored fruits and vegetables can help prevent a vitamin A deficiency. It’s important to make sure you get enough zinc, as well.
Older women and people who avoid sunlight may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D can be harmful in large amounts, so be sure not to exceed the recommended daily amount unless instructed by a doctor. Talk to your doctor about your vitamin D blood levels. Vitamin D helps the immune system fight diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases.
Older adults may also be deficient in B vitamins, which play an important role in digestion and metabolism function.
It’s important to get enough nutrients on a regular basis, or you could experience a nutrient deficiency. These deficiencies can affect your health, and you may experience noticeable symptoms and side effects. Fatigue and headaches are two of the most common side effects of nutritional deficiencies.
Some side effects and symptoms can indicate specific nutrient deficiencies:
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet can indicate a vitamin B deficiency.
- Muscle cramps can indicate deficiencies of magnesium, calcium, or potassium.
- Fatigue, weakness, and muscle aches can indicate a vitamin D deficiency.
- Memory loss can be a sign of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Mouth ulcers, fatigue, or gray hair can indicate a folate deficiency.
- Poor night vision, bumps on the back of the arms, or dandruff can all indicate a vitamin A deficiency.
If you experience the following symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor:
- muscle spasms or tingling
They can run a simple blood test to check your nutrient levels and make sure nothing else is causing your symptoms.
Although the use of multivitamins is still quite popular, recent research has shown that they don’t necessarily prevent certain chronic illnesses. They also won’t reduce your risk for other health issues. According to the American Society for Nutrition, multivitamin supplements are largely unregulated. The claims being made by multivitamin companies exaggerate the actual data on their effectiveness.
It’s partially because of this that many nutritionists recommend getting as many vitamins as possible through foods instead of vitamin supplements. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), foods provide a wider variety of vitamins and other benefits, such as dietary fiber, than supplements do.
Getting all of the essential vitamins your body needs will help you look and feel your best. Getting the recommended daily amounts of each vitamin isn’t just easy, it’s tasty, too.
Getting your vitamins — through supplements or, preferably, food — is essential to maintaining both your short- and long-term health. Add some of the foods from this article to your diet to ensure that you’re getting a wide array of nutrients on a regular basis. You can always consult your doctor or a nutritionist for more information.