Iron deficiency develops gradually. Anemia from iron deficiency may be caused by too little iron in the diet, inadequate absorption of iron or excessive blood loss, the ODS says. The type of iron you eat influences how well you absorb iron. Heme iron, which comes from meat, is absorbed efficiently. Nonheme iron, which is found in rice, corn, black beans, soybeans and wheat, is not absorbed as completely. Absorption of this type of iron also is affected by other foods in the diet.
The remedy: You absorb iron best from meat and fish, so adding grilled chicken to a salad is a plus. Non-meat eaters can opt for iron-rich combos. Try kale or beet greens tossed with raisins, nosh on dried apricots and nuts, and lace enriched cereals with blackstrap molasses. To boost absorption, combine iron-rich foods with orange juice and other foods that contain vitamin C. Don't take an iron supplement without a doctor's guidance, because excess iron can harm the heart, liver and other organs.
Why you need it:Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin. It helps make red blood cells, prevent birth defects such as neural tube defects and spina bifida, and lower homocysteine levels.
What you need: 400 micrograms a day; 500 micrograms a day for women who are pregnant; 600 micrograms a day for women who are breastfeeding.
The problem: Although many foods are now fortified with folate, certain medical conditions and medications may increase the need for this B vitamin, the ODS says. (Folate is the form of this vitamin found naturally in food; folic acid is the form found in dietary supplements and fortified foods.) Medical conditions that increase the need for folate include pregnancy and breast-feeding; alcohol abuse; kidney dialysis; liver disease; and anemia. Medications that interfere with folate include drugs to treat epilepsy, diabetes, colitis and rheumatoid arthritis. Barbiturates also may interfere with folate.
The remedy: Dark greens provide the highest amounts of folate. A cup of cooked spinach provides 200 micrograms. Other foods rich in this B vitamin include navy beans, oranges and fortified grains. Ask your doctor about supplements.
Why you need it: To help make connective tissues, strengthen blood vessels and gums, and boost infection-fighting cells.
What you need: 75 mg per day; 85 mg a day for pregnant women; 120 mg day for women who are breastfeeding; and an additional 35 mg for smokers.
The problem: Many busy women find it tough to eat enough fruits and vegetables, as recommended by USDA dietary guidelines.
The remedy: Think fresh and raw, then plan ahead to include citrus fruits and dark veggies for every meal and snack. On the run, grab salads and fruit bowls that feature cantaloupe, papaya, kiwi, green peppers or broccoli.
Why you need it:Magnesium helps produce the energy in your cells, keep your muscles and nerves working, keep heart rhythm steady, keep your immune system healthy and build bone, the ODS says. It regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.
What you need: Women need 310 to 320 mg; 350 to 360 mg if pregnant.
The problem: Americans tend to fall 100 mg short. That may tip the scales against bone strength. Processed food junkies miss out on magnesium.
The remedy: Switch to whole, fresh, nutrient-dense foods. Trade iceberg lettuce for spinach (a half cup provides 65 mg); chips for nuts (an ounce of almonds provides 86 mg), and white bread for bran (134 mg per slice).