During the actual menstrual cycle, women tend to lose iron in the red blood cells; there are also tendencies to lose calcium and zinc. Copper levels usually increase, as they do with the use of birth control pills, which contain estrogen. During and after menstruation, women can take a little extra iron, magnesium, calcium (vitamins D and C will help absorption), zinc, and vitamin B6. Copper should be avoided above dietary levels or above the usual 1–2 mg. in a general supplement. A good protein diet with extra B complex and vitamin C is recommended also. Extra calcium and magnesium, ideally in the citrate or aspartate forms, may be helpful for menstrual cramps. Niacin (50–100 mg.) might also be beneficial. Though it may not be easy, women should try to avoid too many sweets during the pre- and postmenstruation times.
When women become pregnant or breastfeed, they have greatly increased requirements for calories, protein, and many vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and iron. If birth control pills are taken (not recommended), many nutrients are needed in greater amounts. More zinc and less copper and iron, more vitamin B6, a basic B vitamin formula, and vitamins E and C should be taken.
Menopause can be a very stressful time, filled with changes, stresses, and various symptoms—fatigue, irritability, hot flashes, headaches, cramps, and depression are a few. Continuing to take estrogen hormones helps reduce these symptoms, but there are also many possible aids to be found in diet, lifestyle, nutritional supplements, and herbs. Vitamin E, A, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins may help. Female herbs such as dong quai (angelica root) have been shown to reduce symptoms too. After menopause, calcium needs and bone health are the greatest concern unless extra hormones are taken. (See the following programs for Pregnancy, Lactation, Birth Control Pills, and Menopause for further discussions of these subjects. )
In my experience, most women do best on a low- to moderate-calorie diet that includes a good amount of protein and vegetables, some whole grains, and fairly few fruits and sweet foods. Milk products are tolerated by some, but they can be weight-increasing foods, especially with lots of cheese. Some low- or nonfat milk and plain yogurt seem to be the best utilized.
Women also need to exercise and stay fit, especially if they are thinking of having babies, working at a high-stress job, or working at all regularly out in the world. A good exercise program maintains energy, vitality, and figure better than TV and munchies.
Women have different nutrient needs than those of men. They may need fewer calories but only slightly less protein and the same amount or more of many of the essential nutrients. That is why they need a more compact (good nutrient/calorie ratio), nourishing diet of high-quality foods. The requirements for most minerals are the same, but women need more iron, almost double men’s level. Vegetarian women must focus more intently than others to get adequate iron in their diet, since the foods containing the most available iron are meats and liver. But it can be obtained from many other foods, supplements, or cooking in cast-iron cookware. Women need a little less magnesium than men, but I find that many women actually require even more calcium-magnesium, especially when they exercise. The following table lists the nutrients needed by the average active, healthy woman as insurance to maintain her health. The amounts shown range from the RDAs to optimum levels, and include a combination of dietary intake and additional supplements. Nutrients such as protein, fats, vitamin K, chloride, fluoride, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium are not usually taken above dietary levels. Most others will be part of basic supplements.