More than 75 percent of women don’t meet the daily requirement for at least one vitamin or mineral. Popping a multivitamin is a smart move, but it’s no substitute for a nutrient-rich diet, which can give you the full range of vitamins and minerals that help lower risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease. Here, the nutrients you’re most likely lacking — and easy ways to get them.
Why you need it: Vitamin D helps you maintain strong bones, boosts immunity, and may keep cancer cells from growing, according to a Harvard University study. An expert panel recently stated that women under age 50 may need 10 times more than the currently recommended 200 IUs daily.
How to get it: Drink two glasses of D-fortified milk or O.J. daily, and consider some sun: UV radiation triggers your skin to produce vitamin D, and some studies have linked this form of D to a lower risk of breast cancer. Up to 15 minutes outside between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. twice a week wearing SPF 8 or lower is plenty, says Joan Pleuss, R.D., a nutritionist at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. But don’t overdo it, and if you have a family history of skin cancer, ask your doctor first.
Why you need it: Low levels may cause menstrual migraines and tension-type headaches, and up your diabetes risk.
How to get it: For starters, eat regular meals. In a recent study, adults who ate breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks were more likely to meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium than those who didn’t. “Small amounts of magnesium are in many foods, so eating more meals increases your odds of getting enough,” says Pleuss. A top source: nuts. An ounce of most types offers up to 20 percent of the RDA (320 mg for women over age 30).
Why you need it: Not getting enough iron puts you at risk for anemia and may also lead to fatigue or hair loss.
How to get it: Fire up the grill! Three ounces of beef provides about 20 percent of the RDA (18 mg for women under 50). So does a serving of beans, tofu, or spinach, although the iron from plant foods isn’t absorbed as easily by your body. “Add a tomato salad or a few orange wedges to a vegetarian meal — the vitamin C will help your body better utilize the iron,” says Dee Sandquist, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Why you need it: It’s best known as a bone builder, but calcium also reduces PMS symptoms — such as mood swings and cramping — by about half, according to a Columbia University study. Research shows that those who get enough calcium have a 31 percent lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer and an 11 percent lower risk of high blood pressure.
How to get it: Start your day with cereal and milk, and you’re 51 percent more likely to meet your calcium needs than those who skip breakfast or eat other foods, according to one study. Choose a fortified cereal with 10 percent or more of the RDA (1,000 mg), eat an additional one to two servings of dairy daily, and pick a multi that includes calcium (not all do!), such as One-A-Day Women’s.
5. Folic Acid
Why you need it: You know about its prenatal perks, but all women need folic acid: Research has linked low intake with a higher risk of heart attack and colon cancer.
How to get it: Have a salad: Women who eat one each day are 41 percent more likely to get their RDA of folic acid (400 mcg). If you may become pregnant, take a prenatal supplement with 100 percent of the RDA.