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Vitamins and minerals for women

Vitamins and minerals for women

Your body needs vitamins and minerals for good health. Each vitamin and mineral has specific benefits and is essential for keeping your body functioning well. Also, there are some vitamins and minerals that women need more of than men do.

What vitamins and minerals are important for women’s health?

All vitamins and minerals are important for good health. Vitamins and minerals often work together in your body. It’s usually best to get your vitamins and minerals from many different types of food in all of the food groups. Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and a variety of protein foods to build a healthy plate.

Folic acid/folate (Vitamin B9)

Why it’s important

  • Helps your body make blood cells and the DNA for new cells
  • Helps prevent certain birth defects called neural tube defects, which happen in the first three months of pregnancy
  • Helps prevent premature births and low birth weight

Who may need it

All women who might get pregnant or are pregnant need to get 400–800 mcg of folic acid each day from either dietary supplements (most prenatal vitamins have this amount) or fortified foods like many breakfast cereals.1 Nearly half, or 45%, of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned,2 so it’s important to make sure you are getting enough folic acid even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant right now.

Where to find it in food

Spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, oranges and pure orange juice, nuts, beans, chicken, lean beef, whole grains, and cereals with added folic acid

Vitamin B-12

Why it’s important

  • Helps your body make red blood cells
  • Helps your neurons (cells in your brain and nervous system) work correctly

Who may need it

Some women may not get enough B-12. Talk to your doctor or nurse about taking a B-12 supplement if you are:

  • Pregnant. Vitamin B-12 is very important for your unborn baby’s development. Without it, your baby may have a low birth weight or other health problems.3
  • Vegetarian. Because vitamin B-12 comes mostly from animal products, you may need to take a supplement to make sure you get enough. Also, talk to your doctor or nurse if you are feeding your baby breastmilk only, because your baby may need to take a supplement too.
  • Age 50 or older. As we age, our bodies cannot absorb vitamin B-12 as well, so you may need to get more vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods, because it is easier to absorb.

Where to find it in food

Low-fat or fat-free milk, eggs, liver, poultry, clams, sardines, flounder, herring, blue cheese, nutritional yeast, and foods with vitamin B-12 added, including some cereals, fortified soy beverages, and veggie burgers

Vitamin D

Why it’s important

  • With calcium, helps build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis
  • Helps reduce inflammation in your cells
  • Helps your immune system fight off germs that can make you sick

Who may need it

Women who:4

  • Do not get much sunlight (you live in the northern part of the country or are homebound)
  • Are African-American, Hispanic, or Asian-American
  • Are postmenopausal
  • Are obese
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease or any other disease that makes it harder for the gut to absorb fat (vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it has to be absorbed by the gut)
  • Have had gastric bypass surgery (weight loss surgery)

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you think you may not get enough vitamin D. Most women do not need testing for vitamin D deficiency.5

Where to find it in food

Fish like tuna and salmon, and fortified foods (low-fat or fat-free milk and some brands of orange juice, cereals, soy beverages, and yogurt)


Why it’s important

  • Helps protect and build strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Your body stores calcium in your bones, so if you don’t get enough calcium from food, your body will take calcium from your bones, making them weak and easily broken.
  • Helps messages go between your brain and muscles

Who may need it

  • Girls ages 9 to 18 need 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. During this time, bones absorb calcium and build strong bones for adulthood and older age.
  • Adult women need 1,000 mg of calcium each day.
  • After menopause, you need 1,200 mg of calcium each day to help slow the bone loss that comes with aging.6

Where to find it in food

Low-fat or fat-free yogurt, cheese, and milk; foods with calcium added, such as some soy beverages, 100% orange juice, tofu, and cereals; canned salmon; and dark green leafy vegetables


Why it’s important

  • Builds healthy blood cells that carry oxygen in your body
  • Helps make certain hormones and connective tissue in your body

Who may need it

  • All women who have menstrual periods. Iron is lost during monthly periods.
  • Pregnant women. Women need more iron during pregnancy to supply enough blood for their growing babies.

Many women, especially pregnant women, do not get enough iron from food alone. This can put you at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. This condition causes your heart to work harder to pump blood so that more oxygen can reach all of your body. Anemia can make you feel tired, weak, and dizzy.

The amount of iron you need each day throughout your life is listed below:

  • Ages 19 to 50: 18 mg
  • During pregnancy: 27 mg
  • Ages 51 and older: 8 mg

Where to find it in food

Lean red meats and chicken, seafood, cereals/breads with iron added, oysters, beans, dark chocolate, liver, spinach, tofu, and canned tomatoes

Should I take a vitamin or mineral supplement?

Most women do not need a vitamin or mineral supplement. You should be able to get all the nutrients you need, including vitamins and minerals, by choosing healthy foods.

But there are three groups of women who might need a vitamin and mineral supplement:

  • Women who are pregnant or could become pregnant. A supplement ensures that you get the folic acid you need daily to lower the risk of certain birth defects, including spina bifida. Check the Nutrition Facts label to make sure the supplement has at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.
  • Postmenopausal women. After menopause women lose bone density faster than men because of hormonal changes. Many women do not get enough calcium and vitamin D from the foods they eat. Calcium and vitamin D, along with weight-bearing exercise, help prevent osteoporosis. You may also need to take supplements with vitamin B-12 (see the chart above).
  • Vegetarians. You can get some vitamins from animal products more easily than from plant sources. For example, vitamin B-12 is found in many animal products, including eggs and dairy, but it is not found in plants. Also, vegans especially may not get enough of vitamins B-2 (riboflavin), B-12, and D from food alone.

Talk with your doctor or nurse about whether you need a supplement and, if so, how much you should take.

Are dietary supplements safe?

Many dietary supplements are safe, especially those recommended by your doctor or nurse. But dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way medicines are regulated.

Companies that make vitamins and other types of dietary supplements (such as minerals and herbs) do not have to get approval from the FDA to sell their products. The companies are required to report any negative side effects from supplements. The FDA can take products off the market if they are found to be unsafe, have false or misleading claims on them, contain harmful ingredients (like heavy metals), or have too much or too little of an ingredient.

You should always talk to your doctor or nurse before taking a dietary supplement. Certain supplements can raise your risk for new health problems, especially if you are also taking other medicines. Some supplements can make prescription medicines not work. For example:

  • If you take prescription medicine, such as blood thinners, certain supplements may interact with the medicine.7 When they interact with medicines, supplements can make medicines not work like they should and can lead to serious health problems.
  • St. John’s wort, an herbal supplement some people take to help with minor depression, can make some medicines break down in your body more quickly than they should, making them less likely to work. These medicines include birth control pills.
  • High doses (more than 3,000 micrograms [mcg] or 10,000 international units [IU]) of vitamin A may cause birth defects, bone loss, and liver damage.8

Did we answer your question about vitamins and minerals for women?

For more information about vitamins and minerals, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:


  1. U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. (2017). Folic Acid for the Prevention of Neural Tube Defects: Preventive Medication.
  2. Finer, L.B. and Zolna, M.R. (2016). Declines in Unintended Pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011. New England Journal of Medicine; 374(9): 843–852. doi:  10.1056/NEJMsa1506575.
  3. Molloy, A.M., Kirke, P.N., Brody, L.C., Scott, J.M., Mills, J.L. (2008). Effects of folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies during pregnancy on fetal, infant, and child development. Food and Nutrition Bulletin; 29(2 Suppl): S101-S111.
  4. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2016). Vitamin D: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
  5. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2016). Screening for Vitamin D Deficiency.
  6. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2016). Calcium.
  7. Gardiner, P., Phillips, R., Shaughnessy, A.F. (2008). Herbal and dietary supplement--drug interactions in patients with chronic illnesses. American Family Physician; 77(1):73-8.
  8. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2016). Vitamin A.