Studies have shown that women’s nutrient intake is highly dependent on factors like their economic status, social and cultural environment, and personal habits.
An alarming finding is that even the children of malnourished women who experience vitamin or mineral deficiencies are more likely to face cognitive impairments, developmental problems, lower resistance to infections, and a higher risk of disease and death throughout their lives. Chances are if a woman is low in antioxidants and important nutrients herself — such as vitamin A (retinol), carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E, which are critical for both developing children and adults alike — the rest of her family is going to be also.
Risk factors that make a women more likely to have a vitamin or mineral deficiency include:
- eating a highly processed diet (one low in things like fresh vegetables and fruit)
- being a vegetarian or vegan (10)
- being underweight or consuming too little calories in general (“underweight” is generally considered below a body mass index of 18.5 for women)
- being of reproductive age (the World Health Organization estimates that in poorer countries 27 percent to 51 percent of women of reproductive age are deficient in key nutrients) (11)
- being over the age of 65
- low socioeconomic status, a lack of education, and poverty
Researchers have pointed out that for women of “reproductive age” who are preparing to have children, proper nutritional status before, during and after pregnancy is an important element of overall reproductive health.
Preventing nutritional deficiencies helps maintain the health of the mother-to-be, lowers the risk of having a difficult pregnancy, prevents birth defects in the fetus/infant and even helps lower the risk for certain chronic diseases developing later on in the child’s life. Breast milk production is also highly influenced by a woman’s calorie, vitamin and mineral intake, which is why supplements are considered crucial for both pregnant and lactating moms.
This is why it’s vital for pregnant women in particular to ensure they get enough of the best vitamins for women that often women fall short in.
When a Healthy Diet Is Enough vs. When It Might Not Be
How do you know if you’re covering your bases and getting enough of the best vitamins for women that they absolutely need? You have the best protection against nutrient deficiencies if you eat enough calories in general, avoid crash or fad dieting, don’t overexert yourself or start overtraining, and if you focus on eating a varied diet that’s low in “empty calories.”
This means avoiding things like added sugar, refined grain products, packaged snacks and most refined vegetable oils. Try to get the most “bang for your buck” by making your calories count, eating plenty fresh plant foods, clean protein foods and healthy fats. These foods provide the best vitamins for women.
Even if you feel you do eat a pretty nutrient-dense diet, some women are more susceptible to running low in important vitamins than others. Here’s some special circumstances that make a women a good candidate for taking a high-quality, food-based multivitamin supplement daily (not the processed kinds of vitamins filled with many additives!):
- If you’re a vegetarian or vegan: Plant-based eaters who avoid meat are more likely to be low in B vitamins, such as vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods. A lack of calcium, amino acids (protein), omega-3s, zinc, iodine and iron are also more common in women who don’t eat any animal products, which is why supplements are recommended. In 2009, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommended that vegans and vegetariansmake sure to cover their nutritional needs of the vitamins and minerals listed above, most easily by taking a daily multivitamin and omega-3 supplement. (12)
- If you’re pregnant: Likely more than any other time in a woman’s life, pregnancy creates a special metabolic demand for high-quality nutrients, both to support the growing baby and the mother. Requirements for many micronutrients increase during pregnancy — especially nutrients like folate, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iodine. (13) Studies show that fetal growth and development are strongly linked with the mother’s supply of essential nutrients.
Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies can cause detrimental effects to both the pregnant mom and her unborn or newly born baby, raising the risk for miscarriages, preterm pregnancies, birth defects, and low breast milk production or consumption. Research has shown that, globally, iodine deficiency is the most preventable cause of mental retardation in the world. Therefore, the American Thyroid Association recommends all prenatal vitamins contain 150 micrograms of iodine and that the same amount be taken both during pregnancy and afterward while breast-feeding.
- If you’re over the age of 55: B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and iron are all especially important for aging women. Consuming plenty natural food sources of these nutrients — such as leafy greens, cage-free eggs, grass-fed meat and organic/unsweetened dairy products (ideally those that are raw) — can help prevent a deficiency that raises the risk for problems such as bone loss/osteoporosis, fractures, heart problems, diabetes and cognitive decline.