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Women and Nutrition: A Menu of Special Needs

by Dori Stehlin

Therefore, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood, women should increase their food sources of calcium. "The most important time to get a sufficient amount of calcium is while bone growth and consolidation are occurring, a period that continues until approximately age 30 to 35," says Marilyn Stephenson, a registered dietitian with FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "The idea is, if you can build a maximum peak of calcium deposits early on, this may delay fractures that occur later in life."

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium for women 19 to 24 is 1,200 milligrams per day. For women 25 and older, the allowance drops to 800 milligrams, but that is still a significant amount, says Stephenson. "The need for good dietary sources of calcium continues throughout life," she says.

How do you get enough calcium without too many calories and fat? After all, the foods that top the calcium charts--milk, cheese, ice cream--aren't calorie and fat lightweights.

"There are lots of lower fat choices," says Stephenson. "There's 1 percent or skim milk instead of whole milk. There's a good variety of lower fat cheeses, yogurts, and frozen yogurts, and there's a whole flock of substitutes for ice cream."

In addition to dairy foods, other good sources of calcium include salmon, tofu (soybean curd), certain vegetables (for example, broccoli), legumes (peas and beans), calcium-enriched grain products, lime-processed tortillas, seeds, and nuts.

Iron

For women, the RDA for iron is 15 milligrams per day, 5 milligrams more than the RDA for men. Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include pallor, fatigue and headaches.

After menopause, body iron stores generally begin to increase. Therefore, iron deficiency in women over 50 may indicate blood loss from another source, and should be checked by a physician.

Animal products--meat, fish and poultry--are good and important sources of iron. In addition, the type of iron, known as heme iron, in these foods is well absorbed in the human intestine.

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