Are You Giving Your Body the Nutrition It Needs?

Whether you're a young woman, pregnant woman, or golden girl, nutrition is essential for women's ever-changing bodies. Read on for five important nutrients, essential for women's nutrition.

1) Vitamin D - "the sunshine vitamin," is an essential nutrient that promotes calcium absorption for healthy bones, heart and metabolic processes.  Vitamin D and calcium deficiency lead to osteoporosis and according to research from Loyola University in Chicago, chronic deficiency is a culprit in heart disease and high blood pressure.

The May Clinic advises adults to consume 400-1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, from fortified foods like milk, soymilk and orange juice or as a supplement. A little sunshine won't hurt you either.  Five to 30 minutes of mid-day sun twice a week without sunscreen is usually sufficient for vitamin D synthesis.

2) Calcium - The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is an essential nutrient for bone and heart health. More than 99% of our calcium is stored in bones and teeth.  If you don't get enough through food, our body takes it out of our bones. Pregnancy can deplete calcium if mothers don't consume enough for fetal bone development. Women are vulnerable to bone diseases like osteoporosis and stress fractures.

Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, broccoli and fortified foods like tofu, orange juice and cereal. Calcium intake recommendations vary throughout women's lives.  Log onto the Office of Dietary Supplements for guidelines.

3) Antioxidants - The NIH explains: "Antioxidants . . . may protect cells from free radicals. . . molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. "

The American Dietetic Association says, "The antioxidant process is similar to stopping an apple from browning. Once you cut an apple, it begins to brown, but if you dip it in orange juice, which contains vitamin C [an antioxident], it stays white.

The best way to get enough antioxidents is to eat brightly colored foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, some meats and fish.

4) Folic acid - This nutrient is crucial for women's nutrition.  Folic acid deficiency is linked to serious birth defects called neural tube defects.  Adequate intake may help prevent some forms of cancer and lower risk for heart disease.

Since neural tube defects can occur before many women know they're pregnant, women of childbearing age are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans and peas are all natural sources of folic acid.

5) Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Heart disease is the leading killer of women. The Mayo Clinic says including omega 3 fatty acids in women's nutrition by consuming fish, fish oil supplements, walnuts and some vegetable oils, "lowers triglycerides, slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques, lowers blood pressure slightly, and reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known heart disease."

For healthy adults with no history of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice weekly.  

The best way to insure you get enough nutrients is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods.  Supplements can help but are no substitute for proper nutrition.