The Ultimate Guide To Micronutrients For Women At Every Life Stage
Micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals, are essential for good health. Each micronutrient has a specific role in the body, and they work together to keep a well-functioning system. For women, vitamin and mineral requirements are different from men's and vary depending on life stage. Knowing which nutrients to focus on can help you make more educated choices of foods and supplements. In this guide, you will find a breakdown of essential vitamins for women and micronutrients for women at different life stages. We'll break down their function in the body and how to best meet daily requirements.
A woman's reproductive age, also known as the childbearing age, is the period when the body is most suitable for pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a woman's reproductive age is from 15 to 49 years. There are specific nutrients for women at this life stage that require close attention as they play a role in health before and during pregnancy and for years to come.
Folate is a B vitamin (B9) involved in protein metabolism and the formation of genetic material such as DNA and RNA. It also indirectly lowers homocysteine levels, a compound that plays a role in maintaining heart health. Folate is a critical vitamin throughout all life stages, but most notably during pregnancy for proper fetal development as it assists with the production of healthy red blood cells. In fact, a folate deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk for birth defects such as neural tube defects, so supplementing with folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) is essential during this period. However, folic acid is not easily converted into its active form, folate, when consumed in the form of supplements. At Blueshift, we use L-methylfolate calcium, a highly bioavailable type of folate that it's readily available for the body to use.
- 19-50 years: 400 mcg
- Pregnant: 600 mcg
- Breastfeeding: 500 mcg
- 51+ years: 400 mcg
In order to meet the nutritional needs of folate during this life stage, a combination of food and supplementation is recommended. The best dietary sources of folate include:
- Dark green and leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnip greens, and romaine lettuce
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and peanuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, and farro
- Animal proteins such as beef liver, seafood, and eggs
- Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and orange juice
Vitamin B12 is essential for women of all ages to maintain a well-functioning nervous system as it assists with the formation of red blood cells and DNA. A vitamin B12 deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, a condition where blood cells don't develop normally, causing severe fatigue and weakness. Vitamin B12 is also crucial during pregnancy to support the proper development of the baby's brain and nerve cells.
- 19-50 years: 2.4 mcg
- Pregnant: 2.6 mcg
- Breastfeeding: 2.8 mcg
- 51+ years: 2.4 mcg
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods, and it is also added to fortified foods. For those consuming a vegan or vegetarian diet, B12 supplementation is needed. Foods containing vitamin B12 include:
- Red meat such as beef and pork
- Poultry such as chicken and turkey
- Seafood and fish
- Milk and dairy products
- Fortified foods such as breakfast cereal, protein powders, and nutritional yeast
Iron is an essential mineral the body needs for growth and development. It plays a crucial role in producing blood cells and the transport of oxygen throughout the body. Low iron levels can cause iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which there are too few red blood cells in the body, resulting in fatigue and weakness. In their reproductive years, women lose iron during their monthly periods, so requirements are higher. Iron requirements are even higher during pregnancy to meet the demand for blood for the growing fetus. An iron deficiency during pregnancy can pose developmental risks for the baby. Dietary iron is available in two forms – here and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal-based foods and is more readily absorbed by the body, while non-heme iron is found in plants and is not as bioavailable. One way to increase iron absorption from plants is to pair it with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and avoid consuming coffee with iron-rich foods.
- 19-50 years: 18 mg
- Pregnant: 27 mg
- Breastfeeding: 10 mg
- 51+ years: 8 mg
- Animal protein such as red meat, organ meats, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish
- Leafy greens such as collard greens, spinach, and kale
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and peas
- Seeds such as sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds
Menopause is a natural transition in a woman's life when her menstrual cycles come to an end. During this stage, women experience many hormonal changes that cause symptoms such as hot flashes and poor sleep. Although nutrition plays a vital role in ameliorating these symptoms, nutritional requirements remain the same. After menopause, nutrient requirements change. For example, iron requirements drop because women at this stage no longer lose blood through their cycles. However, requirements for other nutrients increase as the body loses some of its ability to absorb or metabolize them. Here are the most important nutrients to consider:
Calcium is a mineral that supports the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth. It also helps the body with muscle contraction, heart rhythm regulation, and nerve function. Conversely, inadequate calcium intake causes the body to take calcium from the bones, where calcium is stored, making them weaker. The degree to which calcium is absorbed and utilized by the body is referred to as calcium bioavailability. Some plant-based foods have higher calcium bioavailability than animal foods, but they usually provide less calcium per serving size and may contain substances known as phytates that reduce calcium absorption.
In older adults, especially post-menopausal women, bone is broken down at a faster rate than it is built. This happens due to a decrease in estrogen production that in turn reduces calcium absorption and increases urinary calcium loss. This puts them at a higher risk for osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and increases the risk for sudden fractures. In fact, women are four times more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men. Therefore, calcium requirements are highest during this life stage. However, it is recommended that women be proactive when it comes to bone health in early adulthood. They can do so by ensuring their calcium consumption through diet and supplementation as well as incorporating resistance training into their routine.
- 19-50 years: 1,000 mg
- Pregnant: 1,000 mg
- Breastfeeding: 1,000 mg
- 51+ years: 1,200 mg
- Dark leafy greens such as bok choy, collard greens, and kale
- Milk and dairy products
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds
- Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Fish such as salmon and sardines
- Fortified plant milk and orange juice
Vitamin D has many important roles: It helps the body absorb calcium, making it essential for bone health, modulates immune function, and plays a role in reducing inflammation. The body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, aging can lower the body's ability to make vitamin D, which can consequently reduce the absorption of calcium and increase the risk of bone fractures in older women. Similar to calcium, vitamin D requirements are higher for women post-menopause. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight, some foods, and supplements. There are two types of vitamin D – vitamin D2, which is found in plant sources and fortified foods, and vitamin D3, which is found in animal-based foods and is more effective at improving vitamin D status.
- 19-50 years: 15 mcg
- Pregnant: 15 mcg
- Breastfeeding: 15 mcg
- 51-70 years: 15 mcg
- 70+ years: 20 mcg
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Milk and dairy products
- Cod liver oil
- Beef liver
- Egg yolk
- Fortified foods such as plant milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereal
As we age, the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 is reduced. Although daily requirements are not higher for this life stage, women over the age of 50 should pay special attention to this nutrient and may consider supplementing it to ensure proper absorption.
The Role of Multivitamins for Women
Health supplements can be an important part of women's health. Even if you are consuming a balanced diet, your body may not be able to absorb nutrients efficiently. Additionally, it may be challenging for women to consume a nutritious diet consistently. Therefore, supplements can play an important role in helping women meet the increased nutrient needs at different life stages and bridge any nutrient gaps safely and conveniently.
Blueshift Nutrition's drinkable supplements support women in different life stages in the right doses. Our AM Foundation No. 21 blends for women under 50 are designed to supplement iron to meet increased needs due to women's menstrual cycle, while our AM Foundation No. 31 blends for women over 50 provide bone-supporting nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin K. Blueshift's Foundation AM, and PM formulas are complementary to one another to ensure nutrient delivery all day without overwhelming the body. They are available for both omnivore and vegan women, helping you meet your needs without sacrificing your dietary choices.
As women go through different life stages, their bodies and nutrient needs change. Vitamins and minerals are strong determinants of health, especially for women in their reproductive stage and post-menopause. Meeting nutritional needs through food and supplements can help women thrive throughout all life stages. Blueshift's drinkable supplements are an effective, safe, and tasty way to do that. What's more? Our Foundation formulas are carefully designed to include essential micronutrients based on your age, diet, and gender and are split into an AM and PM blend to more effectively deliver these nutrients and support your overall health.
About the Author
Carolina Schneider, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and a writer specializing in plant-based nutrition. Carolina is the founder of Hungry for Plants, a company dedicated to offering nutrition consulting services to health and wellness brands, primarily in the plant-based food and beverage space.