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 are essential for normal cell function, growth, and development. As we cannot produce all of the nutrients we need, we must get many of them from food.
The Institute of Medicine has identified 15 vitamins that are imperative to proper body functioning. They include:
- vitamin A
- vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- vitamin B3 (niacin)
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- vitamin K
- pantothenic acid
Many vitamins perform similar functions. For example, both vitamins A and C promote healthy teeth and soft tissues. Many of the “B” vitamins help your metabolism function properly and help with red blood cell production.
Some body functions require specific vitamins. For example, vitamin D is essential to help the body to absorb and maintain the proper levels of calcium. However, it is difficult to get from your food. Luckily, it is 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 this time is without sunscreen, since sunscreen blocks the production of vitamin D.
Another body process you need a specific vitamin for is blood coagulation, which requires vitamin K. Thankfully, deficiency in vitamin K is very rare. That’s because the bacteria in the intestines produce about 75% of the Vitamin K your body needs. 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:
- vitamin A: cantaloupe, apricots, egg yolk
- vitamin B1 (thiamine): lean meats, nuts and seeds, whole grains
- vitamin B2 (riboflavin): milk and other dairy products, green leafy vegetables
- vitamin B3 (niacin): legumes, fish, poultry
- vitamin B6: avocado, banana, nuts
- vitamin B12: shellfish, eggs, milk
- vitamin C: citrus fruits, strawberries, Brussels sprouts
- vitamin D: fatty fish such as salmon, fortified milk and dairy products
- vitamin E: mango, asparagus, vegetable oils
- vitamin K: cauliflower, kale, beef
- biotin: pork, nuts, chocolate
- pantothenic acid: broccoli, sweet and white potatoes, mushrooms
- folate: beets, lentils, peanut butter
- choline: eggs, meats, fish
Unless instructed by a doctor, most people do not 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.
If you are trying to get pregnant, you should begin to take extra folic acid.
Strict vegetarians may need additional vitamin B12, or need to make sure they eat enough food fortified with it.
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. It is important to note that vitamin D can be harmful in large amounts, so be sure not to exceed the recommended daily amount unless instructed by a doctor.
Older adults may also be deficient in B vitamins, which play an important role in digestion and metabolism function.
Although the use of multivitamins is still quite popular, recent research has proven that they do not 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 the multivitamin companies exaggerate the actual data on their effectiveness.
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 is not only easy, it’s tasty too.