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Key Nutrients for Women: Are You Getting What You Need?

By: Erin Coleman, B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

key nutrients for women

You know about the importance of diet and nutrition, but are you aware of certain key nutrients for women that you should always be consuming?

Consuming these nutrients in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond is the best way to stay healthy, reduce disease risks, and optimize your quality of life.

Knowing about the following 16 key nutrients for women, and how much of them to consume, is an absolute must.

Here's how to ensure you're getting what you need.

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16 Key Nutrients for Women

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral that's important for girls, teenagers, and women of all ages.

Your body uses it to build and maintain strong bones and teeth.

Calcium optimizes muscle function, nerve transmission, cell signaling, hormone secretion, blood calcium levels, and much more.

Calcium requirements for females of all ages include:

Age Female Pregnant Lactating
0–6 months 200 milligrams
7–12 months 260 milligrams
1–3 years 700 milligrams
4–8 years 1,000 milligrams
9–13 years 1,300 milligrams
14–18 years 1,300 milligrams 1,300 milligrams 1,300 milligrams
19–50 years 1,000 milligrams 1,000 milligrams 1,000 milligrams
51–70 years 1,200 milligrams
71+ years 1,200 milligrams

Calcium-rich foods include the following:

  • 1 cup of plain yogurt: 415 milligrams
  • 1 cup of orange juice: 349 milligrams
  • 5 ounces of cheese: 300-333 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of sardines: 325 milligrams
  • 1 cup of milk or soy milk: 300 milligrams
  • ½ cup of firm tofu: 253 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of canned salmon: 181 milligrams
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese: 138 milligrams
  • ½ cup of soft tofu: 138 milligrams
  • 1 serving of fortified breakfast cereal: 130 milligrams
  • 1 serving of cooked kale or turnip greens: 94-99 milligrams

In addition to eating a variety of calcium-rich foods daily, take a multivitamin supplement containing calcium or an additional calcium supplement if your doctor recommends it.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble, essential vitamin needed to maintain strong bones and optimal calcium levels.

Your body uses vitamin D to reduce inflammation and maintain a strong immune system, intramuscular function, and glucose metabolism.

Daily vitamin D requirements for girls, teenagers, and women are as follows:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
0-12 months 10 micrograms
1–13 years 15 micrograms
14–18 years 15 micrograms 15 micrograms 15 micrograms
19–50 years 15 micrograms 15 micrograms 15 micrograms
51–70 years 15 micrograms
>70 years 20 micrograms

Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil: 34 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of cooked trout: 16 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of cooked salmon: 14 micrograms
  • ½ cup of mushrooms: 9 micrograms
  • 1 cup of milk or soy milk: 3 micrograms
  • 1 serving of fortified cereal: 2 micrograms
  • 2 sardines: 1 microgram
  • 1 large egg: 1 microgram
  • 3 ounces of canned light tuna: 1 microgram

Most multivitamin supplements contain vitamin D. Sunlight is another source of vitamin D for your body.

If your doctor determines your blood vitamin D levels are low, they might recommend you take an additional vitamin D supplement.

Iron

Iron is another one of the key nutrients for women.

Getting enough iron in your diet and from supplements as needed is crucial, to stay healthy and avoid fatigue or other unpleasant symptoms associated with iron-deficiency anemia.

Your body uses iron to make red blood cells, which transfer oxygen from your lungs to other body tissues.

Iron needs for girls and women are as follows:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 0.27 milligrams
7–12 months 11 milligrams
1–3 years 7 milligrams
4–8 years 10 milligrams
9–13 years 8 milligrams
14–18 years 15 milligrams 27 milligrams 10 milligrams
19–50 years 18 milligrams 27 milligrams 9 milligrams
51+ years 8 milligrams

Foods rich in iron include:

  • 1 serving of fortified breakfast cereal: 18 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of cooked oysters: 8 milligrams
  • 1 cup of cooked white beans: 8 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of dark chocolate: 7 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked lentils: 3 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked spinach: 3 milligrams
  • ½ cup of firm tofu: 3 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked kidney beans: 2 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of sardines: 2 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked chickpeas: 2 milligrams
  • ½ cup of stewed tomatoes: 2 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of beef: 2 milligrams
  • 1 medium potato: 2 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of cashews: 2 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked green peas: 1 milligram
  • 3 ounces of chicken: 1 milligram
  • 1 large egg: 1 milligram

Another key component of adding iron-rich foods to your diet is to consider the type of iron you're consuming.

Heme iron found in meats, poultry, and seafood, is better absorbed by your body than non-heme iron found primarily in plant-based foods.

Consuming vitamin C or heme iron with non-heme iron can enhance its absorption.

Zinc

Zinc is important for girls, teenagers, and women of all ages for many reasons.

Your body uses zinc to optimize cell metabolism, boost your immune system, make proteins, heal wounds, and support normal growth and development.

Daily zinc needs for females are as follows:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months 2 milligrams
7–12 months 3 milligrams
1–3 years 3 milligrams
4–8 years 5 milligrams
9–13 years 8 milligrams
14–18 years 9 milligrams 12 milligrams 13 milligrams
19+ years 8 milligrams 11 milligrams 12 milligrams

Foods rich in zinc include:

  • 3 ounces of oysters: 74 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of beef: 7 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of crab: 7 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of lobster: 3 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of pork: 3 milligrams
  • ½ cup of baked beans: 3 milligrams
  • 1 serving of fortified breakfast cereal: 3 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of dark meat chicken: 2 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds: 2 milligrams
  • 1 cup of yogurt: 2 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of cashews: 2 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked legumes: 1 milligram
  • 1 ounce of cheese: 1 milligram
  • 1 cup of milk: 1 milligram
  • 1 ounce of almonds: 1 milligram
  • ½ chicken breast: 1 milligram

You should be able to meet daily zinc needs by eating a well-balanced diet and taking a multivitamin supplement containing zinc.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another one of the key nutrients for women.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble, essential nutrient your body requires to maintain numerous body functions.

It's involved in protein metabolism, collagen production, wound healing, proper immune function, and reducing the damaging effects of free radicals.

Vitamin C enhances iron absorption too. Fatigue and weakness are signs of vitamin C deficiency.

Vitamin C requirements for girls and women include:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months 40 milligrams
7–12 months 50 milligrams
1–3 years 15 milligrams
4–8 years 25 milligrams
9–13 years 45 milligrams
14–18 years 65 milligrams 80 milligrams 115 milligrams
19+ years 75 milligrams 85 milligrams 120 milligrams

Smokers need 35 milligrams more vitamin C daily than nonsmokers.

Vitamin C-rich foods include:

  • ½ cup of red peppers: 95 milligrams
  • ¾ cup of orange juice: 93 milligrams
  • 1 medium orange: 70 milligrams
  • ¾ cup of grapefruit juice: 70 milligrams
  • 1 medium kiwi fruit: 64 milligrams
  • ½ cup of green peppers: 60 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked broccoli: 51 milligrams
  • ½ cup of strawberries: 49 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked Brussels sprouts: 48 milligrams
  • ½ medium grapefruit: 39 milligrams
  • ½ cup of raw broccoli: 39 milligrams
  • ¾ cup of tomato juice: 33 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cantaloupe: 29 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked cabbage: 28 milligrams
  • ½ cup of raw cauliflower: 26 milligrams

Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day!

Folate

Folate is an essential B vitamin your body uses for DNA and RNA synthesis, proper cell division, amino acid metabolism, maintaining a healthy pregnancy, and preventing a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia.

Girls, teenagers, and women should consume the following amounts of folate daily:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 65 micrograms
7–12 months 80 micrograms
1–3 years 150 micrograms
4–8 years 200 micrograms
9–13 years 300 micrograms
14–18 years 400 micrograms 600 micrograms 500 micrograms
19+ years 400 micrograms 600 micrograms 500 micrograms

Foods rich in folate include:

  • ½ cup of boiled spinach: 131 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked black-eyed peas: 105 micrograms
  • 1 serving of fortified breakfast cereals: 100 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked rice: 90 micrograms
  • 4 spears of asparagus: 89 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked Brussels sprouts: 78 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked spaghetti: 74 micrograms
  • 1 cup of Romaine lettuce: 64 micrograms
  • ½ cup of avocado: 59 micrograms
  • 1 cup of raw spinach: 58 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked broccoli: 52 micrograms
  • ½ cup of boiled mustard greens: 52 micrograms
  • 1 slice of bread: 50 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked green peas: 47 micrograms
  • ½ cup of cooked kidney beans: 46 micrograms
  • ¾ cup of tomato juice: 36 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of crab: 36 micrograms
  • ¾ cup of orange juice: 35 micrograms
  • ½ cup of boiled turnip greens: 32 micrograms
  • 1 small orange: 29 micrograms
  • 1 ounce of peanuts: 27 micrograms
  • ½ cup of papaya: 27 micrograms

Folic acid is a form of folate present in dietary supplements. Most multivitamins developed for women contain folic acid.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is another one of the key nutrients for women.

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin your body needs for proper metabolism, red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, optimal neurological functioning, and much more.

Vitamin B12 needs for girls and women are:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months 0.4 micrograms
7–12 months 0.5 micrograms
1–3 years 0.9 micrograms
4–8 years 1.2 micrograms
9–13 years 1.8 micrograms
14+ years 2.4 micrograms 2.6 micrograms 2.8 micrograms

Foods rich in vitamin B12 include:

  • 3 ounces of clams: 84 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of trout: 4-5 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of salmon: 5 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of canned light tuna: 3 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of haddock: 2 micrograms
  • 3 ounces of broiled beef sirloin: 1 microgram
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk: 1 microgram
  • 1 cup of yogurt: 1 microgram
  • 1 ounce of cheese: 1 microgram
  • 1 serving of fortified breakfast cereal: 1 microgram
  • 1 large, hard-boiled egg: 1 microgram

Some people don't properly absorb vitamin B12 and develop a condition called pernicious anemia.

Treatment often includes vitamin B-12 shots or pills.

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient your body uses to enhance metabolism and preserve cell function and structure.

It produces neurotransmitters that optimize your mood, memory, muscle control, nervous system function, and brain health.

Daily choline requirements for girls and women include:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 125 milligrams
7–12 months 150 milligrams
1–3 years 200 milligrams
4–8 years 250 milligrams
9–13 years 375 milligrams
14–18 years 400 milligrams 450 milligrams 550 milligrams
19+ years 425 milligrams 450 milligrams 550 milligrams

Foods rich in choline are:

  • 1 large hard-boiled egg: 147 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of beef round: 117 milligrams
  • ½ cup of roasted soybeans: 107 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of cooked chicken breast: 72 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of lean ground beef: 72 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of cooked cod: 71 milligrams
  • 1 large red baked potato: 57 milligrams
  • ½ cup of canned kidney beans: 45 milligrams
  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa: 43 milligrams
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk: 43 milligrams
  • 1 cup of yogurt: 38 milligrams
  • ½ cup of boiled Brussels sprouts: 32 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked broccoli: 31 milligrams

Eat choline-rich foods and ask your doctor about taking a supplement containing choline.

Other B Vitamins

In addition to the vitamins listed above, other essential B vitamins enhance metabolism and other body functions.

They make red blood cells and help you gain energy from the foods you eat.

A full list of essential B vitamins includes:

  • B1 (thiamine)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin)
  • B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B6
  • B7 (biotin)
  • B12
  • Folate

The Institute of Medicine offers an extensive list of B vitamins and corresponding daily requirements for girls, teenagers, and women.

Foods rich in B vitamins include poultry, fish, meat, dairy products, eggs, leafy greens, peas, beans, and fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties.

Your body uses it to protect against free radicals, such as smoke, pollution, and ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Vitamin E also enhances immune function.

Vitamin E requirements for girls and women are as follows:

Age Females Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months 4 milligrams
7–12 months 5 milligrams
1–3 years 6 milligrams
4–8 years 7 milligrams
9–13 years 11 milligrams
14+ years 15 milligrams 15 milligrams 19 milligrams

Foods rich in vitamin E include:

  • 1 tablespoon of wheat germ oil: 20 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of sunflower seeds: 7 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of almonds: 7 milligrams
  • 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil: 6 milligrams
  • 1 tablespoon of safflower oil: 5 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of hazelnuts: 4 milligrams
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 3 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of peanuts: 2 milligrams
  • 1 tablespoon of corn oil: 2 milligrams
  • ½ cup of boiled spinach: 2 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked broccoli: 1 milligram
  • 1 tablespoon of soybean oil: 1 milligram
  • 1 kiwifruit: 1 milligram
  • ½ cup of sliced mango: 1 milligram
  • 1 medium tomato: 1 milligram
  • 1 cup of raw spinach: 1 milligram

Many multivitamin supplements for women contain vitamin E, but eat a variety of vitamin E-rich foods too!

Magnesium

An essential mineral, magnesium is naturally present in numerous foods.

Your body uses it to regulate biochemical reactions.

Magnesium optimizes muscle and nerve function, protein synthesis, blood pressure regulation, blood glucose control, heart rhythms, and energy production, as well as bone structure and RNA and DNA synthesis.

Magnesium requirements for girls and women include:

Age Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 milligrams
7–12 months 75 milligrams
1–3 years 80 milligrams
4–8 years 130 milligrams
9–13 years 240 milligrams
14–18 years 360 milligrams 400 milligrams 360 milligrams
19–30 years 310 milligrams 350 milligrams 310 milligrams
31–50 years 320 milligrams 360 milligrams 320 milligrams
51+ years 320 milligrams

Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds: 156 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of chia seeds: 111 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of almonds: 80 milligrams
  • ½ cup of boiled spinach: 78 milligrams
  • 1 ounce of cashews: 74 milligrams
  • ¼ cup of peanuts: 63 milligrams
  • 1 cup of soy milk: 61 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked black beans: 60 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked edamame: 50 milligrams
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 49 milligrams
  • 5 ounces of baked potato: 43 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked brown rice: 42 milligrams
  • 1 serving of fortified breakfast cereal: 42 milligrams
  • 1 cup of yogurt: 42 milligrams
  • ½ cup of cooked kidney beans: 35 milligrams
  • 1 medium banana: 32 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of cooked salmon: 26 milligrams
  • 1 cup of milk: 27 milligrams
  • 3 ounces of cooked halibut: 24 milligrams

Eat a variety of these foods and take a multivitamin supplement containing magnesium if your doctor recommends it.

Protein

Protein is another one of the key nutrients for women.

Protein is a key nutrient for women you require to maintain body structures and generate new tissues.

Protein keeps your metabolism going strong and boosts satiety.

Protein recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for girls, teens, and women are:

  • Ages 9-13: 34 grams daily
  • Ages 14 and older: 46 grams per day
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 71 grams daily

These are minimum daily needs. Your personalized protein requirements might be more than this — especially if you work out regularly, have a lot of muscle mass, or want to lose weight or maintain your weight.

Examples of protein-rich foods include:

  • Lean meat
  • Chicken, turkey, and duck
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Setein
  • Milk and plant milk
  • Yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese
  • Peas, beans, lentils, and other legumes
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Protein bars and protein shakes

Eat high-protein foods at each meal and snack.

In this video, we help you sort the myths from the facts to find out how much protein you need depending on your goals.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for brain development, cognitive functioning, mental health, fetal development during pregnancy, heart health, and much more.

These fatty acids are abundant in:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, herring, tuna, etc.)
  • Fish oil
  • Walnuts
  • Walnut oil
  • Flax seeds
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Canola oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Soybean oil

Daily omega-3 requirements for women include:

Life Stage Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Birth to 12 months 0.5 gram
Children 1–3 years 0.7 gram
Children 4–8 years 0.9 gram
Girls 9–13 years 1.0 gram
Teen girls 14–18 years 1.1 gram
Women 1.1 gram
Pregnant teens and women 1.4 gram
Breastfeeding teens and women 1.3 gram

Taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is often helpful, especially if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommends adults consume at least 500 milligrams of DHA plus EPA daily.

Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria present in your gut and offer an array of health benefits.

These bacteria maximize digestive health, boost your body's immunity, aid in healthy weight management, keep your heart healthy, reduce diarrhea, and optimize mental health.

Probiotics-rich foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Pickles
  • Buttermilk

Probiotics are widely available as supplements too.

Fiber

Following daily fiber recommendations for women can optimize digestive health, keep cholesterol levels in check, reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions, and aid in healthy weight management.

Women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily. Examples of fiber-rich foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Water

Water is an important nutrient too, as the majority of your body tissues consist of water.

Women need about 12 cups of total fluids daily.

You might need more or less than this, depending on your size and activity level.

Your urine should be clear or light yellow in color, not dark yellow.

To learn more about key nutrients for women and receive custom meal plans, as well as fat-burning workouts and health coaching support, sign up for the Fit Mother Project today!

Erin Coleman

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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