Your body needs different nutrients at different times throughout your life to help keep you healthy, says Michele O'Connor
In Your Twenties And Thirties
A hectic time when healthy eating might be low on our list of priorities, but it’s the time for laying down a healthy foundation.
Calcium: Because it helps build bone.
‘By the time you reach 30 your bone density is pretty much set,’ explains nutritionist Jane Mitchell (janeplan.com). ‘Calcium and vitamins K and D are vital and can be obtained through dairy products, green leafy veg, egg yolks and salmon.’
‘Good’ carbs: Ditch processed breakfast cereals and eat oats in the form of porridge and oatcakes – the fibre fills you up and balances blood-sugar levels for sustained energy.
Whole grains: A good source of magnesium, which many women this age lack.
It’s vital for fertility, eases symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and provides energy.
‘Eat more brown rice and quinoa, and sprinkle sesame or sunflower seeds over salads,’ advises nutritionist Sarah Schenker (sarahschenker.co.uk).
Folate-rich foods: Increase your intake of green leafy veg, fruit, Marmite and take a folic acid supplement if you’re considering getting pregnant – to help protect against neural tube defects in the growing foetus.
Alcohol: Don’t reserve calories for booze – alcohol contains no nutrients and affects hair, nails and skin.
It can also lead to harmful visceral fat around your internal organs.
Tip: Eggs are the ultimate meal in minutes. Studies show that if you eat eggs for breakfast, you’re less likely to snack.
In Your Forties
The perimenopause begins now, and the transitioning hormone shift happens alongside a natural decline in metabolism, so it can become harder to stay in shape.
Protein: We start to lose muscle now, so increase your lean protein intake – chicken, fish and eggs.
If you usually have toast for breakfast, try eggs or granola with nuts, seeds and natural yogurt.
Phyto-oestrogens: These are foods with hormone-like properties that mimic the effect of oestrogen and can help with perimenopausal symptoms. Include soya beans, flaxseed, whole grains, bran and beans.
Nuts: Sarah explains: ‘To look after the skin and boost immunity, increase your intake of vitamins C (citrus fruits, kiwi, red peppers) and E (a handful of nuts) and beta-carotene (cantaloupe melon, mango, carrots).’
Iron-rich foods: Increased menstrual blood loss? Green leafy veg, such as spinach and broccoli, dried fruits and red meats will help.
Refined carbs: A slowing metabolism means you can’t eat like you did.
If you’re gaining pounds, look at your portion sizes, cut down on white carbs and snacks, and up your activity levels.
Tip: Get snack savvy and carry protein-rich nuts and seeds or slow-release oatcakes in your handbag.
In Your Fifties
Falling oestrogen levels, the natural metabolic slowdown and decreasing muscle mass can make weight maintenance challenging.
Unfortunately, abdominal weight gain is closely linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which makes insulin resistance more common now.
Anti-inflammatory foods: Fruit, veg and whole grains will provide antioxidants that help to protect the heart and fight cancer.
Include two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily – mackerel, salmon or trout.
The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids help protect against heart disease, alleviate some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, preserve eye health, prevent cognitive decline and improve immune function.
Fortified foods: The ability to digest and absorb nutrients can diminish with age, so fortified foods that contain added vitamins and minerals, such as iron and B vitamins, can be valuable now.
‘These include breakfast cereals, such as Weetabix and Optivita, and malted drinks like Horlicks,’ says Sarah.
Natural yogurt: It’s calcium-rich to help minimise bone loss, while the ‘bio’ kind is also rich in ‘friendly’ bacteria, for improved gut health.
Sugar: It can raise blood fats and, as well as weight gain, health problems such as raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can be more common now.
Tip: Stiff joints? Take GOPO food supplement – a natural anti-inflammatory compound derived from rosehips – it’s clinically proven to reduce joint inflammation and pain.
In Your Sixties
Now’s the time to continue eating well to stave off any potential health problems.
B vitamins: Low levels of vitamin B6 are associated with an increased risk of dementia. Sarah says, ‘Boost your intake of B vitamins by eating whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds, and look out for fortified foods such as cereals, Marmite and probiotic yogurt.’
Brazil nuts: Packed with selenium, which may help boost your protection against cancer (most cancers appear in the over-65s), so aim for a handful, five times a week.
Prunes: They not only help maintain a healthy digestive system but can protect your heart and promote a healthy nervous system too.
They’re also rich in iron, which lessens the chances of anaemia.
Processed meat: Your risk of bowel cancer escalates over 60, so cut back on processed meat, such as sausages, salami, ham, bacon and pâté, which have been linked with the disease.
Tip: The body’s ability to synthesise vitamin D from sunlight reduces with age, so take a daily 10mcg supplement.
In Your Seventies And Beyond
The slowing down of the digestive system now means we become prone to constipation.
It’s also common for appetites to decrease, so to avoid low energy levels
and weight loss, it’s important to make every calorie count.
Probiotics: ‘Good bacteria in the gut declines with age, yet this is a time in our lives when we’re more likely to be prescribed antibiotics, which can adversely affect our ‘friendly’ bacteria, explains Sarah.
Taking a simple probiotic in a yogurt drink will not only keep your bowel healthy, but has been shown to have a positive effect on immunity.
Veg and whole grains: Keep yourself regular with a high-fibre diet (whole grains, pulses, veg, oats and bran).
It will also boost ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. And drink plenty of fluids to help keep your system moving.
Meat, fish and dairy: Gram for gram, fat provides more energy than any other nutrient, so increase your intake of foods like oily fish, cheese, avocado and nuts.
Seafood, eggs and red meat are also good sources of protein, which is needed for building and repairing body tissues – vital at this time of life because wounds and tissues heal more slowly.
These foods are also rich in zinc – important for supporting the immune system.
Low intakes of zinc – and vitamin C – are associated with susceptibility to pressure sores and infection.
Nightshade foods: Potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine, sweet peppers, paprika and all other types of pepper – except black pepper – can trigger joint pain in those with arthritis.
Tip: Soup is a filling, nutritious, quick and easy meal, and it’s a great way to use up leftover veg if you make your own.