During early childhood, the nutrition recommendations for boys and girls are similar, but then that begins to change.
“If you look at nutrient recommendation tables, they start to diverge at age 9 for girls and boys, with a clear separation at age 14,” says Jennifer Frediani, PhD, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory.
With the tween years comes menstruation. “Iron requirements increase during puberty to make up for blood loss and increasing blood volume with normal growth,” Frediani says.
From ages 9 to 13 girls should shoot for 8 milligrams of iron a day, and 15 milligrams starting at age 14. The best foods to get it from are lean meats, seafood, nuts, and beans, as well as iron-fortified cereals and breads.
As women age, they’re prone to bone loss, so it’s important to build a strong skeleton early on. Adolescence is the prime time for girls to do that, Frediani says.
Girls between the ages of 9 and 18 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. So they should load up on dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, plus calcium-rich greens like kale, cabbage, and broccoli.
Pregnancy and Motherhood
It’s important to look again at your eating habits around the time you conceive or are thinking about getting pregnant. Your nutrition during this time affects not only your own health, but your baby’s development as well.
During pregnancy this B vitamin is crucial for lowering the risk of certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Women in their childbearing years should aim for 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, and 600 micrograms a day after conceiving.
Eat lots of whole grains, fortified cereal, and leafy greens -- and if you’re expecting, take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid.
It's crucial for your baby’s growth. Pregnant women need 88 grams a day, while breastfeeding women should aim for 100 grams.
Get your protein from lean meat, chicken, and fish. You can substitute beans and legumes if you’re a vegetarian.