Healthy eating can be confusing. Here we take it right back to basics with five important nutrients for women and how to reach your daily needs.
Calcium is the main building block of your bones. It keeps your skeleton strong.
Up until the age of 50 (or until menopause), women need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. After the age of 50 (or after menopause), calcium needs increase to 1,300 mg per day.
Good sources of calcium include dairy foods (like cheese, milk and yoghurt) as well as tinned salmon and sardines (with the bones in). It is also found in lesser amounts in broccoli, beans and almonds.
This fact sheet from Healthy Bones Australia lists the calcium content of common foods. Find out if you reach your daily calcium quota.
Iron helps to keep your energy levels up, your immune system healthy and your cells supplied with oxygen.
Good sources of iron include red meat, chicken and fish. It’s also found in plant (vegetarian) foods such as spinach, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. To improve how much iron you absorb from plant foods, eat them alongside vitamin C-rich foods such as capsicum, tomato and citrus.
Iron is important for everyone, but if you have periods – in particular, heavy periods – you need more iron than other people. Being pregnant also increases your iron needs.
Check out this chart from Healthdirect Australia for iron-rich foods and meal ideas to meet your needs.
Magnesium is needed for healthy muscles and nerves. It also helps with blood pressure and bone health.
Women need around 320 mg of magnesium per day. In pregnancy, this increases to 360 mg per day.
Foods high in magnesium include green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale), nuts, seeds and whole grains, as well as legumes (like peas, beans and chickpeas).
As an example, 30 g each of pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and almonds will provide around 347 mg of magnesium.
Read more on magnesium via Healthdirect Australia.
Protein is a powerhouse nutrient that helps to build muscle, hormones and healthy brain chemicals (neurotransmitters).
Good sources of protein include meat and fish, dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes and soy products.
How much daily protein you need is different from person to person.
As a general rule, at each meal aim to eat a portion of protein that’s roughly the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. For vegetarian sources of protein such as beans or tofu, double this to two palms.
Be aware that you’ll need more protein than other women if you’re very physically active, pregnant, breastfeeding, aged 70+ or have a high body weight.
Read this Jean Hailes article for more facts on protein and five protein-rich vegetarian recipes.
Vitamin B is not a single nutrient. It’s actually a collection of eight nutrients – there’s vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. Together they’re called ‘the B-group vitamins’ or as a supplement ‘vitamin B complex’.
The B-group vitamins are team players. They work together and even help each other get absorbed by the body.
Vitamins B5 and B6, for example, are both involved in making energy from the food you eat. Vitamin B9 (also known as folate) works closely with vitamin B12 to build cells. It also depends on vitamin B12 for absorption.
The B-group vitamins often occur together in the same food. Many of them are found in protein foods such as chicken, fish, meat and dairy products. Others are found in wholewheat bread, green leafy vegetables and nuts.
Each vitamin in the group has an important part to play for your health. That’s why eating a wide variety of unprocessed foods (such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, dairy, meats and other proteins) is your best bet for covering all your nutritional bases.
Learn more about the Bs from Healthdirect Australia.
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Words by Jess Gleeson. Illustrations by Tam Bower.
Published September 2023
This article is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Government.