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I'm a healthy 35-year old. Do I really need a multivitamin?

The question

I am a healthy 35-year old female. Should I take a multivitamin?

The answer

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Yes, I do recommend that women your age take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement for two reasons.

First, women of childbearing age are advised to take a multivitamin supplement that contains 0.4 milligrams of folic acid. It's well established that taking this B vitamin, which is needed for healthy cell division, before and during the early weeks of pregnancy, helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus. (Neural tube defects are serious birth defects caused by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord and/or their protective coverings that occurs around the fourth week of pregnancy.)

You might not be planning a pregnancy, but since half of all pregnancies in Canada are unplanned it's important to ensure you are getting folic acid.

The second reason is iron. Menstruating women require 18 milligrams of iron each day, an amount that's very challenging to get from food alone.

Consider that three ounces of lean beef - one of the very best sources of iron - has 3 milligrams of iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency among women.

And if you follow a low calorie diet or a vegetarian diet, chances are you're not meeting your daily iron requirements. (Vegetarians need 32 milligrams each day since iron from plant foods is harder for the body to absorb.)

Choose a multivitamin that contains 0.4 milligrams of folic acid and 10 to 18 milligrams of iron.

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Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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