Among other things, you need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly. Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis. Women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis, so it’s important to get plenty of calcium, in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, to support your bone health.
Iron helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do—even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many of us aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
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Fiber is an important part of an overall healthy eating plan. Good sources of fiber include fortified cereal, many whole-grain breads, beans, fruits (especially berries), dark green leafy vegetables, all types of squash, and nuts. Look on the Nutrition Facts label for fiber content in processed foods like cereals and breads. Use the search tool on this USDA page to find the amount of fiber in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
Men who choose to drink and can do so responsibly may benefit from one to two drinks a day, counting 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits as one drink. But women face an extra risk: Even low doses of alcohol can raise their risk of breast cancer. So women who choose to drink might be wise to limit themselves to half as much as men.
All youth need calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass during their early years of life. Low calcium intake is one important factor in the development of osteoporosis, a disease in which bone density decreases and leads to weak bones and future fractures. Women have a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis. During adolescence and early adulthood, women should include good food sources of calcium in their diets This is when bone growth is occurring and calcium is being deposited into the bone. This occurs in women until they are 30 to 35 years of age. Women 25 to 50 years of age should have 1,000 mg of calcium each day, while women near or past menopause should have 1,200 mg of calcium daily if they are taking estrogen replacement therapy; otherwise, 1,500 mg per day is recommended. Women older than 65 years of age should have 1,500 mg per day.
Nutrition is particularly important when you are pregnant. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal—and it's not just because of the growing fetus; your body is storing fat for lactation. The National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine (NAS/IOM) has determined that a gain of 25 to 35 pounds is desirable. However, underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain at least 15 pounds. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional. Remember that pregnancy isn't the time to diet. Caloric restriction during pregnancy has been associated with reduced birth weight, which can be dangerous to the baby.