Moms are all about their children's nutrition. But when it comes to their own, many moms fall short. Don't let yourself be one of them! Prioritizing your own nutrition is vital to caring for your family, and it enables you to be the healthy, happy person that your children love. Here's how to fuel your health with the right nutrition as you age, decade by decade.
During Your 20s and 30s …
1. Folate and Folic Acid
Why you need it: Folate and folic acid should be a priority in a healthy diet for women, especially since your intake years (and even decades) before pregnancy may affect your fertility. During early pregnancy, adequate intake of this nutrient reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) — serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain that often occur before a mother even knows she's pregnant.
In the U.S., most women should take a daily multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before they get pregnant. During pregnancy, women need around 600 mcg.
Where to find it: Folate is found naturally in vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts and dark, leafy greens like spinach. Folic acid is found in vitamins and fortified foods, such as bread and pastas.
Why you need it: Iron plays the crucial role of helping your red blood cells transport oxygen to all of the tissues in your body. During your childbearing years, you may need to consume more iron to make up for what's lost during menstruation. Plus, during pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body can increase by about 50 percent, boosting your need for iron along with it.
While women who are trying to conceive need 18 milligrams, and moms who are breastfeeding need 9 milligrams of iron per day (due to the absence of menstruation), pregnant women require a full 27 milligrams per day due to increased blood volume.
Where to find it: Meat, nuts, white beans, dark, leafy greens and tofu.
Why you need it: Iodine helps to regulate thyroid hormones and during pregnancy also supports your baby's brain development. It can be tricky for moms-to-be to get the right amount in their diet, however, because many might shy away from iodine-rich foods (like fish) or reduce their sodium intake to improve heart health.
"In that case, it's easy for a deficiency to occur," explains Carolyn Alish, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian with Abbott. To get enough iodine while keeping your sodium levels in check, Alish recommends using iodized table salt when cooking and avoiding heavily processed foods.
Where to find it: Ocean-caught fish and shellfish, eggs, iodized salt and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Why you need it: Omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health at every stage of life and are a key part of a healthy diet for women. For pregnant and breastfeeding moms, it's critical to their children's cognitive development, too.
"For pregnant women, the third trimester is a time of important brain development where the need for omega-3s is the greatest," says Alish.
Choose foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as the following to make sure you are getting enough of this brain-nourishing nutrient.
Where to find them: Fatty fish, fortified milk, eggs, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and canola oil.
During Your 40s and 50s …
Why you need it: Around age 40, people may lose muscle mass at a rate of up to 8 percent each decade. Later in life, those losses may accelerate — by age 70, muscle mass can decline by upwards of 15 percent every 10 years.
Protein is key to building and repairing muscle. And maintaining muscle mass is incredibly important for sustaining your energy levels, your ability to recover quickly from injuries or hospitalization and your metabolism, and that's just scratching the surface.
Give your body the muscle-building fuel it needs by incorporating protein-rich foods into every meal and snack. Current recommendations suggest the average healthy adult eat 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per day for every pound they weigh. That's about 56 grams for men and 46 for women. But some experts recommend getting almost twice that amount as you age, especially if you're recovering from surgery, battling an illness or are malnourished.
Aim for 25-30 grams at every meal and get regular physical activity and strength-building exercises to maximize results.
Where to find it: Fish, lean meats, eggs, quinoa, beans and protein drinks like Ensure® Max Protein which has 30 grams of protein in a serving.
6. Vitamin B12
Why you need it: Vitamin B12 supports the health of both your red blood cells and your nervous system and is vital to keeping you energized throughout the day. However, your body's ability to absorb and use the B12 you eat may wane over time, cautions Alish, and deficiency can result in severe fatigue and anemia.
To make sure your levels are where they were in your younger years, go for a simple blood test at your doctor's office.
Where to find it: Meat, eggs and milk.
Why you need it: While calcium can help strengthen your bones in every stage of life, after age 50, your daily recommended intake increases from 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day.
"It's important to talk to your doctor to evaluate your bone density, family history and calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis or to help slow the loss of bone density as you age," says Alish.
Where to find it: Dairy products, collard greens, kale, soybeans and fatty fish like salmon or sardines.
During Your 60s and Beyond …
Why you need it: A woman's risk of coronary heart disease increases after age 55. "Fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health, which is why getting enough of it in your diet becomes increasingly important for good nutrition as you age," says Alish. To increase your levels, look for sources rich in soluble fiber and increase your intake gradually to prevent stomach upset.
Where to find it: Oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, fruits and vegetables.
9. Vitamin D
Why you need it: Vitamin D, often called the Sunshine vitamin, is important for bone health and even supporting immune function. While you can get vitamin D in limited quantities from foods such as fortified milk, salmon and mushrooms, the vast majority of people's intake comes from sun exposure.
Unfortunately, many people don't get enough of this important vitamin. In one study of adults over 70 years of age, 47 percent of women were deficient in vitamin D throughout the winter. "
"For that reason, after age 70, the recommended daily intake of vitamin D increases from 600 to 800 IU per day," says Alish.
Talk to your primary care physician to have your levels checked.
Where to find it: Eggs, oysters, shrimp and fatty fish like salmon, sardines and herring.