When you're 20, there's lots to think about between school, work and social life, and proper nutrition might not be the first thing on your mind. But it should be. Eating a healthy diet and getting the best vitamins for a 20-year-old woman will help you feel great and slay whatever comes your way.
B12, folate and vitamin D are the most important vitamins for 20-year-old women.
Importance of Vitamins
Any person of any age, whether male or female, needs the 13 essential vitamins. Each nutrient plays specific roles in physiological functioning. When you don't get enough of a particular nutrient, optimal functioning is compromised, causing mild to severe side effects.
- Vitamin A is required for healthy vision, skin and immune function; it also supports bone and tooth growth.
- Vitamin D aids absorption of calcium for strong bones.
- Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage that can cause disease.
- Vitamin K is responsible for blood clotting.
- Vitamin C acts as antioxidant and is required for protein metabolism, immune system health and iron absorption.
- Thiamin aids metabolism and nerve function.
- Riboflavin is required for metabolism and healthy vision and skin.
- Niacin aids metabolism, supports the nervous system, the digestive system and skin health.
- Pantothenic acid supports metabolism.
- Biotin is needed for metabolism and supports healthy bones and hair.
- Pyridoxine is involved in protein metabolism and helps create red blood cells.
- Folate aids the formation of DNA and new cells, particularly red blood cells.
- Vitamin B12 helps make new cells and supports nerve function.
Vitamins for a 20-Year-Old Woman
Some vitamins are particularly important for women's health, including vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate, according to the Office on Women's Health. These are nutrients that women sometimes don't get enough of, or that they need for specific purposes.
Vitamin D is critical for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis, a condition that results in weakened, fragile bones that break easily. Women have a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 100 million Americans have osteoporosis and 80 percent of those are women.
Peak bone mass occurs in the early 20s, but after that, bone cells begin to dissolve bone matrix, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. New bone cells are deposited in a process called remodeling. Osteoporosis occurs when bone loss outpaces new bone growth. While the condition is most common among women over the age of 50, it can affect women in their 20s. Having low bone mass can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Vitamin B12 plays a major role in metabolism and energy production, and one of the most common symptoms of B12 deficiency is fatigue. Your early 20s isn't the time to be slowed down by feeling tired all the time. And, if you want to stay on top of your game, vitamin B12 will also help your brain cells work properly.
Many young women are going vegetarian or vegan these days; although a plant-based diet can be good for your health, it can increase your risk for low B12 because animal foods are the only reliable source of the nutrient.
Folate, or folic acid — the synthetic form of the vitamin — is the most important vitamin for preventing birth defects due to its role in the creation of genetic material. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all women of childbearing age take a folic acid supplement.
You may not be thinking about starting a family now — or even anytime soon — but the facts are that almost half of pregnancies are unplanned. If you are sexually active, it's important to keep healthy just in case the unexpected happens.
Getting What You Need
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine determines recommended dietary intakes estimated to be adequate for the general population. These vary by age and gender, and there are different requirements for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Many things can affect nutrient needs, but aiming to get at least these amounts of the best vitamins for 20-year-old females will keep you covered:
- Vitamin D: 5 micrograms/day
- Vitamin B12: 2.4 micrograms/day
- Folate: 400 micrograms/day
The best source of these vitamins is a healthy diet. In addition to vitamins, foods provide other nutrients that supplements do not, such as protein and fiber. You can get vitamin D from foods such as swordfish, salmon, tuna fish, eggs and fortified cereals and breads. Foods rich in B12 include clams, liver, trout, salmon, milk and fortified cereals. Folate can be found in liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, avocado, broccoli and rice.
You can often get most of, if not all, of the most important vitamins for 20 year olds by limiting your intake of unhealthy junk foods, sweets, and fried and fast foods, and by increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, lean meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, beans and low-fat dairy.
However, if your doctor advises it, supplemental vitamin D, B12 and/or folate can boost your stores of these important nutrients. Your physician may suggest a single-nutrient supplement or a daily multivitamin for women, depending on results of a blood panel.
Don't Go Overboard
If you aren't deficient in a nutrient, taking a supplement won't have any added benefit. You may have seen high-dose B12 marketing claiming that it boosts energy; this is misleading. If you are deficient in B12 and feeling fatigued as a side effect, taking a supplement can increase your energy simply because it is restoring normal blood levels.
High doses of nutrients can also cause mild to severe side effects. Getting more than the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin D of 4,000 IU can cause symptoms of toxicity, including anorexia, weight loss, polyuria and heart arrhythmia, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can also increase calcium blood levels, which can cause vascular and tissue calcification and damage to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys.
Although it's important for women in their 20s to get enough folate, there's a fine line between the right amount and too much. The UL is 1,000 micrograms per day of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods; there isn't a risk with dietary folate. The main concern with exceeding this limit is that high blood levels can hide a B12 deficiency which, if allowed to persist, can result in permanent neurological damage.
Additionally, according to Harvard Health Publishing, some research shows that too much folic acid in the bloodstream can actually prevent folic acid from entering cells where it is needed, which can contribute to the formation of certain cancers, including breast cancer.
- C.S. Mott Children's Hospital: "Vitamins: Their Functions and Sources"
- Office of Women's Health: "Vitamins and Minerals for Women"
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Women Need to Know"
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Is Osteoporosis?"
- John's Hopkins Medicine: "Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia"
- CDC: "Unintended Pregnancy Prevention"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes"
- NIH: "Vitamin D"
- NIH: "B12"
- NIH: "Folate"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Folic Acid: Too Much of a Good Thing?"