A woman in her twenties often has the best of all worlds—getting to dip a toe into the "adult" world of jobs, relationships, and responsibilities while still kicking up her heels like a teen from time to time. But while twentysomethings can bounce back from an evening spent with too much pepperoni pizza more easily than older women, it's never too early to start building health habits that will last a lifetime.

According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, women should focus their diet on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, lean meats, eggs, and healthful fats such as those found in fish, nuts and vegetable oils. They also need to reduce their intake of sodium and foods with saturated fats, such as full-fat dairy, fatty meats, butter, mayonnaise, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. And that's a sound nutrition strategy for anyone, woman or man, of any age. But there are specific foods and nutrients that a woman in her twenties needs.

Calcium, for instance, is a biggie. Women in their twenties still have the potential to build bones, a perk that ends by about age 30. So in this decade, it's extremely important to consume the foods that help you get as strong a frame as possible, which will help guard against bone breaks later in life. Vitamin D also contributes to a powerful frame. A top source of these nutrients? Low-fat dairy, such as milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt. If you're not into cow's milk, try a calcium-fortified alternative such as soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk. Orange juice works, too. Aim for at least 1,000 micrograms of calcium and 200 IU of Vitamin D each day, and add a supplement if you aren't meeting this need through food.

Another important nutrient women in their twenties need is folic acid, also known as folate. A deficiency of folic acid, one of the B vitamins, is a major contributor to neural-tube defects in infants, with as many as 70 percent of these defects being preventable with proper nutrition. Since many women in their twenties are preparing for pregnancy, consuming enough folic acid is crucial. Lots of breakfast cereals are now fortified with folic acid, along with breads and other grains. More great sources include green veggies, legumes and orange juice.

So go ahead, twentysomething—enjoy a slice or two of that pizza, but make sure you eat it with a big leafy salad and some fruit for dessert.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.4woman.gov/faq/heart-healthy-eating.cfm.