Want to eat well for your body composition? These are the most essential nutrients for women which they need in their diets and the best foods to provide them.

You don’t need to own the trendiest pair of leggings or go on a crash diet to be a strong, healthy woman. You just need to give your body the fuel it needs to make you the best possible version of yourself.

The food we eat is much more than just carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat. Healthy food is rich in the essential nutrients our bodies need to repair cells, keep our memories sharp, and prevent disease.

Nutrients from essential fatty acids to vitamins and minerals get to work the moment you eat them. They reduce blood pressure, keep your bones strong, and even ensure your eyes stay bright and healthy.

Not only does everyone need adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals but women need some nutrients at higher levels than men. Certain nutrients help balance our hormones, provide crucial support for fetuses, and make up for the mineral loss during menstruation.

In short, they’re called essential nutrients for a good reason. Read on to discover not just which nutrients you need but where you can find them.

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is one of the essential nutrients that gets a lot of airtime. It’s talked about often because it’s crucial to the proper functioning of your body yet around 6% of adults are deficient and even more in the over-60 age group.

A second reason why B12 is often discussed is the growing prevalence of vegetarian and, particularly, vegan diets. As B12 can usually only be sourced from animal products, those who have reduced or eliminated animal-derived foods have a risk of deficiency.

B12 plays a large role in the creation of DNA and red blood cells (millions are produced each minute). It’s also required for a healthy nervous system and supports brain function.

A deficiency of B12 has serious effects including anemia, neurological issues, depression, and fatigue.

Where can you find it? B12 naturally occurs in animal products like meat, fish, and eggs. Vegans and vegetarians can find B12 in foods fortified with a synthesized version. Commonly fortified foods include cereals and soy-derived foods.

2. Magnesium

This mineral is vital for a healthy body and women over the age of 40 should particularly ensure they get enough. Magnesium plays a part in many functions throughout the body including brain function, keeping bones strong, and regulating blood sugar levels.

Deficiencies in magnesium aren’t uncommon and increase the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. As magnesium enables calcium to be absorbed to maintain healthy bones, women over 40 must get enough to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Women are more prone to bone density loss as a result of hormonal changes during the menopause.

Get your magnesium from leafy green vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fortified cereals.

3. Calcium

Calcium is a rockstar mineral and is found in higher amounts than any other mineral in the body. The vast majority of calcium is stored in our bones to keep them strong and at optimum density. Calcium is also stored in the teeth and plays a big role in dental health.

This mineral is also used in metabolic functions including in the vascular system, muscle function, and the nervous system. Just like with magnesium, women at menopause age and older should ensure their calcium intake is adequate to prevent bone density loss.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium is around 1000mg for adult women rising to 1200mg for women over 50. Excellent sources of calcium include dairy products like milk and cheese as well as dark green vegetables such as spinach and kale.

4. Iron

Iron is partly responsible for creating red blood cells that carry oxygen to your cells. The right iron intake is also important for strong hair, nails, and healthy skin so this is a mineral you don’t want to be deficient in.

Iron deficiency is more common in women than men as women lose small amounts of iron during menstruation. Women with heavier periods can be at increased risk of iron deficiency so it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms and eat enough iron-rich foods.

Symptoms of iron deficiency and anemia include fatigue, pale skin, and breathlessness.

Need an iron boost? You’ll find it in leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, beans, and red meat. Remember that during pregnancy, you may need more iron.

5. Folate

Otherwise known as folic acid or vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient for pregnant women and everyone in general. Getting enough folate can reduce the risk of heart disease while a deficiency can cause mood swings and fatigue.

Folate is particularly important for women trying to get pregnant however, as a deficiency can cause serious and even fatal birth defects. If you’re attempting to get pregnant or are already pregnant, your doctor may recommend taking folic acid supplements. You can also get adequate amounts by eating folate-rich foods.

Foods rich in folate include leafy green vegetables, eggs, legumes, and wheat germ.

6. Boron

Ever been told about the importance of boron? Perhaps not, this mineral doesn’t get talked about much. It does, however, play a role in keeping you healthy. Boron is one of the minerals that help keep your bones strong as well as aiding neurological function.

There is also evidence to suggest that boron can help increase estrogen levels in women past the menopause, which makes it an important mineral for women.

Not sure where to get boron? Eat it in potatoes and apples and drink it in coffee.

7. Vitamin D

One of the essential nutrients for bone health, vitamin D is vital for women of all ages and especially as we reach the menopause. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and without enough, bones may lose density.

Vitamin D deficiency can also cause hair loss, tiredness, and a weakened immune system. The best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is to go outside into the sunshine. Sunlight causes the body to create its own vitamin D and, depending on the light levels, it might take just ten minutes to produce enough.

In the winter months when sunshine might be harder to find, get your vitamin D from oily fish and eggs.

8. Omega-3

Omega-3 is often talked about in regards to health and that’s because it has innumerable health benefits. This essential fatty acid plays a big role in the health of your eyes and can even reduce your risk of macular degeneration.

By raising your levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, omega-3 also helps to reduce your risk of heart disease. It reduces inflammation and helps prevent plaque from forming in your arteries.

Eating a varied diet should give you enough omega-3. If you love to eat out at restaurants, choose eateries that focus on providing healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Visiting a healthy restaurant stops you from feeling guilty about eating out and instead leaves you feeling good about your food choices.

If you’re looking to increase your consumption of Omega-3, it can be found in oily fish, nuts, and seeds.

9. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the essential nutrients that we must consume in our diets and plays a strong role in our immune systems. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce blood pressure as well as other risk factors for heart disease too.

This vitamin also aids iron absorption, helping the production of red blood cells and reducing the risk of anemia in women.

Oranges are a great source of vitamin C and the most famous. You can also find it in herbs like parsley, fruits like papaya and watermelon, as well as kale.

10. Iodine

In pregnant women, iodine is an important nutrient for the healthy development of the baby. Iodine is also vital for the functioning of your thyroid gland, which produces hormones.

If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor about how much iodine you need and the supplements that may be beneficial. Fish, seaweed, and iodized salt are good sources of iodine.

11. Antioxidants

We’ve already talked about vitamin C, which is an antioxidant, but several essential nutrients fall under this category. Antioxidants are important for protecting cells against any damage they sustain from free radicals.

By limiting free radicals and their damage, antioxidants play a role in disease prevention and may reduce your risk of certain cancers. Antioxidants include vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.

Eat them in avocados, nuts, citrus fruits, carrots, and spinach among many more.

12. Zinc

Zinc works its magic on various functions such as growth, DNA creation, and immune function. It’s also important for healthy skin and helps digestion by supporting enzymes.

This mineral plays an additional role in supporting your immune system, healing wounds, and in the synthesis of collagen. If you take iron supplements, they may prevent zinc from being absorbed as easily as it should. To combat this, ensure you include dietary sources of zinc and iron on top of any supplements.

You can find zinc in foods like shellfish, dairy, and seeds.

Stay Healthy with These Essential Nutrients

Getting healthy and staying healthy should be our top priority so we can have the energy and vitality we need in our daily lives. By looking after yourself and ensuring you get the right amount of these essential nutrients, you’ll be reducing your risk of everything from cancer to osteoporosis.

Women’s bodies differ from men’s with hormones and pregnancy so there are nutrients we need in increased amounts. If in doubt about the levels you have, it’s always best to ask your doctor as well as eating a healthy, balanced diet.

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