Eating a nourishing, balanced diet is the foundation to good health and for this reason the food choices you make can have a big impact on staying in shape and ageing well. Milestones in a woman’s life such as menstruation, pregnancy and the menopause will also affect your needs for certain nutrients.


With this in mind, we’ve highlighted five key nutrients important for every woman. Read on to find out more, then discover our iron-rich recipes, high-fibre recipes and tips for a healthy pregnancy.

Spiced salmon with beetroot, feta & wild rice with a fork

1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel and trout, are incredibly rich in one of the most beneficial types of fat: omega-3 fatty acids. They offer genuine health benefits whatever your stage of life – they may help regulate menstrual cycles, are vital for the development of a baby's brain and nervous system and help keep adult hearts healthy plus have the potential to reduce the risk of stroke.

How much omega-3 do I need?

UK guidelines suggest we eat two portions of fish per week of which one should be a fatty variety (cooked weight 140g). Vegetarians, vegans and those with a fish allergy may look to plant sources such as seeds and nuts and vegetable oils, although these supply a less potent form.

  • 100g salmon (wild, raw) = 2.0g omega-3
  • 100g mackerel (raw) = 2.67g omega-3
  • 100g tuna (fresh) = 1.3g omega-3
  • 1 small can sardines = 1.4g omega-3
  • 30g walnuts = 2.6g omega-3
  • 30g flaxseeds = 6.3g omega-3
  • 100g omega-3 eggs = 0.2g omega-3

Discover the best food sources of omega-3.

More like this

Should I take a supplement?

Not recommended for the general UK population, they may, however, be useful if you rarely eat fish. If you choose to supplement look out for the following:

  • Choose an omega-3 fish oil rather than fish liver oil
  • Liver oils also contain fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and D – check the vitamin A content of the product because you should not have more than 1.5mg (1500mcg) of vitamin A per day (from food and supplementation combined)
  • Do not take supplements containing vitamin A if you are planning a pregnancy or are pregnant
  • Check the label for DHA and EPA content and aim for a product that supplies the equivalent dose provided from eating two portions of fish per week (450mg EPA and DHA per day)
  • If you are vegan look for a supplement derived from an algal source

If you have a blood disorder or are taking anticoagulant medications you should refer to your GP or registered dietician before taking a supplement.

Steak, beetroot, horseradish & warm lentil salad on a blue plate

2. Iron

One in four women in the UK have low iron stores. Needed throughout the body, iron is essential for the manufacture of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from your lungs around the body. An iron deficiency may leave you fatigued, unable to concentrate and more susceptible to infection.

How much iron do I need?

Women and girls of reproductive age need 14.8mg per day, while post-menopausal women have a lower need of 8.7mg per day.

Useful food sources include:

  • 100g pork liver (raw) = 14mg iron
  • 100g beef liver (raw) = 7mg iron
  • 1 bowl bran flakes = 5mg iron
  • 100g sirloin steak (rare) = 2.1mg iron
  • 25g sunflower seeds = 1.6mg iron
  • 25g pumpkin seeds = 2.5mg iron
  • 100g spinach = 1.89mg iron
  • 2 slices wholemeal bread = 1.2mg iron
  • 150g baked beans = 2.13mg iron
  • 30g dried apricots = 1.2mg iron
  • 1 egg = 0.98mg iron

Discover our iron-rich recipes.

Should I take a supplement?

Women with heavy periods and potentially those who don’t eat meat should consider supplementation. Iron supplements are widely available, but some forms, such as ferrous sulphate, may cause constipation and stomach upsets.

Iron is toxic in excess and, although there is little risk of getting too much from food, you should consult your doctor before taking iron supplements. An iron supplement is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach or alongside meals or drinks that are rich in vitamin C.

Brown rice tabbouleh with eggs & parsley on a blue table

3. Folate

Folic acid or folate (vitamin B9) is essential during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Because the spinal cord is formed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, folate is critical during this very early stage as well as at preconception or when first planning a pregnancy.

For other women, folate is needed for the immune system, for energy production, to prevent anaemia and to protect against heart disease and stroke.

How much folate do I need?

Adults and children over 11 years require 200 micrograms per day. Women of childbearing age who are considering pregnancy should take a folate supplement of 400mcg a day. If you have a higher chance of your pregnancy being affected by neural tube defects your needs may be greater and you may be advised to take a higher dose.

  • 35g bran flakes = 128mcg folate
  • 115g spinach = 185mcg folate
  • 225ml tomato juice = 22mcg folate
  • 115g black beans = 128mcg folate
  • 1 slice wholemeal bread = 10mcg folate
  • 115g steamed broccoli = 40mcg folate
  • 1 orange = 40mcg folate
  • 115g steamed asparagus = 199 mcg folate
  • 100g wheatgerm = 277mcg folate

Should I take a supplement?

It can be weeks before you realise you are pregnant, which is why women of child-bearing age may be advised to take a daily folic acid supplement.

People suffering from gut conditions, such as coeliac or Crohn’s disease, as well as those on certain medications may be susceptible to deficiency – check with your GP if this is relevant to you.

Quinoa salad with avocado mayo on a white plate with a pink background

4. Choline

This little talked about nutrient is needed by every one of us for the formation of cell membranes and for brain function, including memory. It’s especially important during pregnancy and breast feeding, when an adequate supply is essential for your baby’s brain development.

How much choline do I need?

There are currently no official recommendations for choline levels in the UK, although in Europe Adequate Intake thresholds are set at 400mg per day for adults with higher intakes of 480 and 520mg per day for pregnancy and lactation respectively.

These foods are among the best dietary sources of choline:

  • 1 egg = 147mg
  • 85g salmon = 187mg
  • 85g beef = 115mg
  • 85g chicken breast = 72mg
  • 25g wheatgerm = 46mg
  • 185g quinoa (cooked) = 43mg
  • 80g steamed broccoli = 36mg
  • 100g kidney beans = 31mg
  • 28g almonds = 15mg

Other dietary sources include liver, lecithin, soy, milk, split peas and flaxseeds.

Should I take a supplement?

Supplementation with choline is not recommended for the general UK population, although if you have concerns refer to your GP for guidance.

Talk with your healthcare provider about specific recommendations if you’re planning a pregnancy.

Smoked mackerel kedgeree with soft-boiled eggs

5. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is made in our skin via direct exposure to sunlight – hence its popular name, the sunshine vitamin. Our liver and kidneys then convert it into a form we can use. Vitamin D is essential for us to have strong bones and teeth as it helps us utilise and manage the calcium we eat.

During pregnancy, healthy vitamin D levels may impact other aspects of your baby’s early development including their social skills and co-ordination. As low levels of vitamin D are common in the UK, it may be worth talking to your GP if you are concerned.

How much vitamin D do I need?

It is difficult to give a one-size-fits-all recommendation for sunlight exposure during the summer months. This is because so many other factors affect the amount of vitamin D that's made in the skin, including your skin colour and age, the strength of the sun, the time of day and where you live.

Vitamin D-rich foods

There are a number of foods which contain vitamin D:

  • Kipper (grilled, 140g) = 14µg vitamin D
  • Herring (grilled, 140g) = 22.5µg vitamin D
  • Mackerel (grilled, 140g) = 11.9µg vitamin D
  • Tinned salmon (140g) = 19µg vitamin D
  • Sardines (grilled, 140g) = 7µg vitamin D
  • Branflakes (fortified, 30g) = 1.4µg vitamin D
  • Hen eggs (poached, 2) = 2.9µg vitamin D

Should I take a supplement?

In the UK the guidance suggests that everyone over the age of one needs 10mcg of vitamin D daily in order to protect bone and muscle health. In addition, during the winter months people should consider getting this from supplements, if their diet is unlikely to provide it.

All pregnant women, regardless of their dietary choices, are advised to take a vitamin D supplement to ensure they have enough vitamin D for their baby.

Always check with your GP or a registered dietician before supplementation to ensure it is safe for you to do so.

Enjoyed this? Now read…

Our guide to vital vitamins
Am I at risk of calcium deficiency?
How much fat should I eat a day?
What is magnesium?

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post-graduate diploma in personalised nutrition and nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition.


All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post