When it comes to living life to its fullest, age is just a number. But along a woman’s lifespan, some nutrients are more essential than others. Next time you’re shopping for supplements, here’s what to prioritize based on your age.
When women are busy going to school, working hard to establish their careers, and—let’s be honest—playing hard, there’s a real need for nutritional upkeep.
During this time, women’s metabolisms are still pretty active, which may make it easier to fall into not-so-healthy habits like eating poorly (hello, “skinny fat”). As with anyone at any age, it’s important to exercise frequently, limit alcohol intake (the CDC defines heavy drinking as eight or more drinks a week, which puts a person at risk of psychological and physical harm), and avoid excessive amounts of non-nutritious food. But on top of that, there are some vits and supps that can help a 20-something stay healthy as they go full-force.
Women in their 20s are busy building their careers and personal lives, all of which require vitamins for sustainable energy. Low levels of B vitamins can cause issues from irritability to fatigue and trouble concentrating, so women will do well to stock up on this family of nutrients (there are eight B vitamins total).
Women in their 20s benefit from consuming potassium, since, according to the USDA, older women tend to get substantially more potassium in their diets. Potassium is crucial for bone, blood pressure, and kidney health. And, for super-active young women, it can help prevent muscle cramping post-workout.
Foods high in potassium include vegetables, fruits, milk, yogurt, and foods high in protein—but supplements can also help fill in any gaps. According to Guidelines: Potassium Intake For Adults and Children, the recommended dosage of potassium starts at 90 ml/day (higher doses than 99 ml/day require a prescription).
According to the journal Nutrition, magnesium deficiency is most common in 20-something women, putting them at risk for metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and wonky cholesterol levels), heart palpitations, and mood issues.
There’s a simple fix, however: Magnesium deficiency can be avoided by either adjusting the diet (for instance: adding more almonds, tofu, bananas, or spinach to your plate) or taking a magnesium supplement to obtain optimal levels of the nutrient. “The recommended number for adult women for magnesium is 320 mg,” says Alpert.
Women of childbearing age are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia because of blood loss during their monthly periods. And pregnant women need extra iron for increased blood volume and the fetus’ growth.
In general, being low on iron is no good—it can strain your muscles and lead to fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, dizziness, and mood issues.
The good news? There are plenty of yummy foods high in iron, including dark greens, lentils, black beans, dark chocolate (yay!) sardines, pistachios, raisins, and grass-fed meats. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can increase your iron absorption of by eating it with foods loaded with vitamin C (broccoli, melons, oranges, and tomatoes). It’s a good idea to have your doctor check your iron levels every year, from your twenties on up.
If you’re trying to conceive, Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, and founder of Shaw Simple Swaps, says choline is key: “Choline is essential for memory, heart health, metabolism, as well as a healthy pregnancy and baby.” And, she says, “Less than nine percent of the adult population actually meets their needs for this nutrient.” According to the Annual Review of Nutrition, choline is critical during fetal development, influencing stem cell growth and brain development.
Eggs, liver, and peanuts are particularly high in choline—but you can supplement with it, as well.
For all women—especially women who want to conceive, folate (or folic acid) is also critical. This powerhouse vitamin promotes healthy hair, skin, nails, and mood—but it also plays a role in healthy pregnancies. In fact, according to the Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it’s responsible for DNA replication and helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in fetuses.
Women should aim for about 400 mcg per day, but reach for 500-600 mcg when pregnant or breastfeeding.
40s and Beyond
Women in their 40s and up are likely more focused on ensuring hormone balance and preventing or supporting the management of age-related diseases. In these decades, women hit perimenopause and menopause—dealing with fatigue, mood swings, mild hot flashes, irritation, brain fog, and weight gain.
These healthy fatty acids are crucial for almost every major system of the body, but especially help support heart, mood, and joint health. According to research, women in particular have a lot to gain from omega-3 fatty acids.
D levels begin to take a nose-dive as women reach their 40s. A daily supplement of Vitamin D is a great way to ensure women are getting enough of this key nutrient, which helps the body absorb calcium, bolsters the immune system, and even helps protect against hearing loss.
“I like women to have at least 1000IU of vitamin D, and more if it’s during the winter or they have very little sun exposure,” says Alpert.
Calcium becomes even more important as estrogen starts to decline, which decreases the body’s ability to build bone. In their 40s, women also absorb less calcium from food, notes research in the Journal of Ayub Medical College, which found that both pre- and post- menopausal women in their 40s were deficient in calcium.
1,000 mg daily is the recommendation, so reach for dairy products, or you can take a calcium supplement.