From vitamin D to folate to protein, the list of nutrients essential for the optimal function of the female body is long and varied. To narrow down the essentials, we turned to Naturopathic Doctor Erin Stokes. Stokes is the Medical Director of MegaFood, a vitamin and supplement brand expertly pairing key nutrients with real food. She shared with Clean Eating the six absolute essential nutrients she believes every female body needs.
According to Stokes, naturopathic medicine strives to treat the whole person and address the underlying cause of what a person is experiencing, rather than simply the symptoms.
“It is valuable,” she said to CE. “Because it works with each individual from a more holistic viewpoint.”
Diet, as our primary source of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients, is a key element in holistic healthcare. That’s why we not only list Stokes’ top six essential nutrients required by the female body, but also their respective dietary sources. “Food always comes first for vitamin and mineral intake, no matter what the nutrient,” she said.
Erin Stokes: Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to all of the tissues of our body. Consequently, iron is required for energy production. Not surprisingly, one of the most common symptoms of low iron is fatigue. According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world! It’s most common in the female body during menstruating years. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for premenopausal adult females is 18mg/day.
Where to find it: There are two kinds of naturally occurring iron: Heme and non-heme. Heme iron is more easily absorbed and is found in animal-based food sources such as oysters, beef, turkey, tuna and shrimp. Non-heme iron is found in vegetarian food sources like beans, lentils, tofu, cashews and leafy greens like spinach and kale.
Try CE‘s Spiced Beef Tenderloin with Shrimp:
ES: It’s important to get the macronutrient protein at each meal. Why? Regular protein intake is essential, since our bodies don’t naturally store amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Protein plays an important role in stabilizing blood glucose levels, which in turn helps to balance our energy and our ability to focus. How much protein to ingest varies depending on activity level.
Where to find it: Obviously, protein is found in meat such as chicken breast and lean beef. But also consider animal byproducts as a protein source. Not only are whole eggs among the most nutritious foods in the world, but egg whites are also almost entirely pure protein. Also, dairy products such as cottage cheese, greek yogurt and kefir are rich sources of protein. For plant-based eaters, popular sources are nuts, such as almonds and pistachios, and legumes, like lentils and edamame. You can also consider vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
Try CE‘s Shishito Pepper & Edamame Mockamole.
3. Vitamin D
ES: Because vitamin D deficiency is so widespread, it’s ideal to have your blood levels checked, if possible. Many doctors are now routinely ordering vitamin D along with other standard labs. Optimal levels of vitamin D support bone health and immune health.
Where to find it: One of the best ways to get vitamin D is through sun exposure, but this can be particularly challenging for people who spend most of their days indoors. Food sources of vitamin D include foods such as salmon and other fatty fish, eggs and cheese. Also, opt for vitamin D fortified foods like cow milk, dairy alternative plant-based milks and cereals.
ES: Folate is an important nutrient for the female anatomy because it helps the body make healthy red blood cells. It’s also needed for the healthy development of a baby. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women planning or capable of pregnancy take a daily supplement containing 0.4 to 0.8 mg (400 to 800 mcg) of folic acid.
Where to find it: Everybody knows that you can’t go wrong with leafy green vegetables in general. Many of these leafy greens, including spinach, cabbage, kale and spring greens, are an excellent source of folate.
ES: Zinc plays an important role in supporting healthy immune function. The RDA for adult females is 8 mg. According to the National Institutes of Health, the chances of being deficient in zinc are fairly low if you’re regularly consuming zinc-rich foods. However, many Americans are not consuming these foods. Furthermore, pregnant people are at increased risk of becoming zinc insufficient. Babies in the womb require high levels of zinc, depleting the stores required by the carrier’s body. Lactation can also contribute to depletion of zinc stores. Therefore, the zinc RDA for pregnant and lactating female bodies is higher, at 11 to 13 mg.
Where to find it: Zinc is primarily found in animal foods such as shellfish, crustaceans, milk and eggs. Oysters are by far the best food source of zinc! If you’re a plant-based eater, you can also get it from legumes, nuts and pumpkin seeds.
Try CE‘s Warm Cheesy Lobster Dip with Greens.
ES: Iodine deficiency is something many people may not be aware of, but it’s worth paying attention to. Iodine is a trace element that’s a key component of thyroid hormones. The CDC’s 2nd National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition noted that young women (20-39 years old) bordered on having iodine insufficiency. This is of particular note for females of reproductive age, due to the importance of iodine in brain development, in addition to being a crucial building block of thyroid hormones.
Where to find it: Iodine is found naturally in some foods and is also added to salt that is labeled as “iodized”. Foods containing iodine include fish, seaweed, shrimp and dairy products.