1. IronWomen of childbearing age require 18mg of iron in their daily diet. Iron is a mineral found in red blood cells, and the additional intake helps compensate for the amount of iron lost through menstruation. (The average woman loses 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month.) Not getting enough puts you at risk for anemia and may also lead to fatigue or hair loss.
During pregnancy, iron requirements increase to 27mg per day. For pregnant mothers-to-be, iron deficiency can lead to a difficult labor -- the low iron stores can cause preeclampsia (elevated blood pressure and edema), and even death if hemorrhage occurs at delivery.
Rich sources: Get your iron from liver and beef. Other sources include tofu, baked beans, spinach, and fortified cereals, although the iron from plant foods isn't absorbed as readily by your body. Taking vitamin C-rich foods together with your vegetables will aid the absorption of vitamin A, so try adding a squeeze of lemon or green salad to your meal.
2. Folic acidMuch has been stressed about the importance of getting enough folic acid during pre-conception and pregnancy, which is needed for the development and growth of new cells. Insufficient intake of folate at conception and in the first trimester of pregnancy is linked to spina bifida and other neural tube defects in the unborn baby.
What you may not know is that folic acid is essential for all women, not just expectant moms -- a low intake has been linked with a higher risk of heart attack and colon cancer. Preliminary research also suggests that optimal intakes may help prevent depression. The RDA for women of reproductive age is 400mcg, and doubles to 80mcg during pregnancy.
Rich sources: Leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens, lettuces, and peas, as well as fortified breads and cereals are rich sources of folate. If you may become pregnant, take a prenatal supplement with 100 percent of the RDA.
3. CalciumWe need enough calcium (1,000 mg a day) to build peak bone mass during our early years, which helps prevent the development of osteoporosis that can occur later in life. Peak bone mass is achieved during youth (at around age 30), after which it starts to dip when bone loss becomes accelerated. It is vital, therefore, to ensure adequate calcium intake in your early years.
But calcium does more than maintaining your bone health: Recent research also shows that women who get sufficient calcium have a 31 percent lower risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and an 11 percent lower risk of high blood pressure.
Rich sources: Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, as well as fortified cereals. Take a multivitamin that includes calcium to help meet your daily needs. Because the body can only digest so much calcium at one time, divide your dose, consuming no more than 500mg each time.
4. Omega-3 fatty acidsOmega-3 fatty acids are part of a group of essential fatty acids, so-called because our body cannot manufacture them on its own -- they can only be obtained through diet. They're considered "good" fats, boosting good hdl cholesterol and decreasing blood pressure to lower the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Experts recommend consuming 1.1g every day.
Rich sources: Fish such as wild salmon, halibut, non-white tuna, sardines, herring, and anchovies.
5. MagnesiumMagnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body -- from regulating blood sugar levels to supporting a healthy immune system. A deficiency in this mineral may cause menstrual migraines and tension-type headaches, and may increase your diabetes risk. The RDA for women between age 19 and 30 is 310mg a day, and 320mg a day for women over 30. Pregnant women are recommended to consume an additional 40mg magnesium daily.
Rich sources: Green vegetables and most nuts. Eating a wide variety of legumes, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables will help you meet your daily dietary need for magnesium.