Have you noticed some physical changes since turning 40 (or 50)? Hormone level shifts often lead to increased weight gain, and/or decreased energy and more fatigue. In addition to physical activity, you may need to make some dietary changes to maintain a healthy weight and good energy level, even if you have been eating healthfully for years.
There are many essential vitamins and minerals for women over 40. Read on to learn more!
As most women know, we need calcium for strong bones. Current research indicates it is best to get your calcium from food (1). Calcium can be found in:
If you have 3-4 servings of some combination of these foods, you should be getting plenty of calcium to meet the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 1000 mg for adults or 1200 mg for women over 50.
Because we can’t absorb calcium without Vitamin D, Vitamin D is critical for maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D is a bit harder to get from our diet, but is in the following foods:
The current RDA for Vitamin D is 600 IU for adults and 800 IU for adults over 70. Our ability to make Vitamin D decreases as we age.
Most of us do not live in a location where we get enough sun to make our Vitamin D naturally (plus we are mostly wearing our sunscreen as we should), so a supplement may be necessary. Be sure to purchase Vitamin D supplements from a reliable source. In addition to being important to bone health, Vitamin D supports immune function and may also help with mood (2).
The third leg of the bone health trifecta, magnesium works with Vitamin D and calcium to help maintain bone density (3). In fact, Vitamin D cannot be metabolized without magnesium. In addition, magnesium plays a role in regulating blood pressure, blood glucose, and muscle and nerve function.
The current RDA for magnesium for adults over 30 is 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men. If you have 3-4 servings of some combination of the above foods, you should be getting plenty of magnesium each day.
Protein is the building block of muscle and of bone, and maintaining both of these is key to thriving as we age. Some research indicates that higher consumption of protein may help in maintaining bone mass as we age (6). While research on protein and muscle mass is ongoing, it seems likely that a slight increase in protein intake combined with resistance exercises helps to increase muscle mass (7).
There is also evidence that a higher intake of protein can help with weight management by making people feel more full, and by helping to preserve muscle and bone mass which burn more energy (calories) than fat mass (8).
The current RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight, which is calculated by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36. Therefore, a woman who weighs 140 lbs would need an estimated 50 grams of protein per day. This would be the minimal amount of protein needed to maintain bone and muscle mass.
Those who are active will need a bit more, and, as mentioned above, higher intakes may be beneficial as we age for maintaining bone and muscle mass and managing weight. Somewhere between 1.2 g/kg and 1.6 g/kg of body weight (or 76 to 100 grams per day) seems to be most effective.
Protein is found in:
Protein can be from animal or plant sources, and likely a combination of both is most effective for meeting your protein needs.
Consider what other nutrients you are getting from the protein foods you select. Most Americans get more than enough meat, but foods like fish, nuts, and beans give you a serving of protein together with other healthful nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals.
Research indicates that fiber is vital to longevity. Those who eat the most fiber decrease their risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer (9).
Most of us don’t get enough fiber. On average, Americans get 10-15 grams of fiber in their daily diet, when we need double that. In addition to avoiding disease, fiber can help lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, and help you maintain good bowel health and a healthy weight (10, 11).
Foods that contain fiber include:
The USDA recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories, so, if you eat an average 2000 calories per day, you should be aiming for 28 grams of fiber. If you need to increase the amount of fiber you eat, do so slowly to avoid upsetting your digestion. And be sure to add more water intake as well (see below).
While not actually a nutrient, water is vital to helping your body function at its best. Water is involved in a variety of important activities in the body, including regulating your body temperature, lubricating your joints, and flushing out waste.
There is no RDA for water, however, the National Academy of Medicine recommends 9 (8oz) glasses per day for women, though this could be higher depending on size and activity level.
Besides drinking water, many foods have a high water content that can help you meet your daily intake, including:
Some signs of dehydration include fatigue, dizziness, and dark-colored urine. Try to start your day with at least one glass of water, and drink water regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated.
B Vitamins (or Vitamin B Complex)
B vitamins work together to help your body function in a variety of ways, including the creation of blood cells, metabolism, and synthesis of cholesterol, lipids, and hormones. The table below lists the name of each of the B vitamins, the RDA, and common food sources.
|Name||RDA (for adult women)||Food Sources||Deficiency Symptoms|
|Thiamin (B1)||1.1 mg/day||yeast, sunflower seeds, pork, peanuts||Deficiency uncommon in the US|
|Riboflavin (B2)||1.1 mg/day|
pregnancy 1.4 mg/day lactation 1.6 mg/day
|liver, dairy products, eggs||Deficiencies rare but may result in burning or watery eyes, sensitivity to light, anemia|
|Niacin (B3)||14 mg/day|
pregnancy 18 mg/day lactation 17 mg/day
|beef, poultry, fish, peanuts||Deficiencies rare but may result in muscle weakness, fatigue, memory loss|
|Pantothenic Acid (B5)||5 mg/day|
pregnancy 6 mg/day lactation 7 mg/day
|widely available in food||Deficiencies rare|
|Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)||1.3 mg/day|
pregnancy 1.9 mg/day lactation 2.0 mg/day
51+ years 1.5 mg/day
|yeast, wheat germ, pork, whole-grain cereals, legumes, potatoes, oatmeal, bananas||Deficiencies rare but may result in depression, confusion, decreased immunity|
|Biotin (B7)||No RDA; Adequate Intake (AI) level 30 mcg/day|
Lactation 35 mcg/day
|widely available in foods and created in your GI||dry skin/rashes, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, brittle nails|
|Folate/folic acid (B9)||400 mcg/daypregnancy 600 mcg/daylactation 500 mcg/day||liver, beans, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified grains||poor growth, anemia (very important during pregnancy)|
|Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)||2.4 mcg/day|
Pregnancy 2.6 mcg/day
Lactation 2.8 mcg/day
|seafood, dairy||anemia, GI disturbances, can cause depression and other neurologic disorders|
Deficiencies of most B vitamins are rare because they are widely available in food. However, some need a bit more attention.
- B6 deficiency can occur in conjunction with folate and B12 deficiencies. Those with kidney disease, digestive disorders, alcoholism, or autoimmune disorders may have decreased absorption of B6.
- Folate, if you drink alcohol regularly, increase intake to at least 600 mcg daily since alcohol can impair absorption. Those who are pregnant need increased folate to ensure proper growth and development of the fetus. Digestive disorders and gastrointestinal surgeries may also interfere with the absorption of folate.
- Vitamin B12 can be deficient in vegetarians because it comes only from animal sources. In addition, older adults, and those with gastrointestinal issues or who have had gastrointestinal surgery may be deficient due to decreased absorption.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent cardiovascular disease (12), decrease risk of diabetes (13) and age-related macular degeneration (14) and may decrease inflammation (15) and help with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (16). In addition, omega-3 fatty acids may help with menopausal hot flashes and depression (but research is still mixed on these effects).
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
There is currently no RDA for omega-3 fatty acids, but The Institute of Medicine (IOM) established an Adequate Intake (AI) level of 1.1 g/day for adult women. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 2 servings of fish per week for most adults to meet their omega-3 needs. Speak to your healthcare provider before opting for supplements.
Age Gracefully: Get Your Essential Nutrients
As women age, their bodies undergo significant changes that affect their nutrient needs. Ensuring adequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals is crucial for maintaining optimal health and preventing age-related diseases. By making small changes to your diet now, you can ensure you are getting all the essential vitamins and minerals you need to flourish in the years to come!
Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.