Age plays an important role in changing nutritional needs throughout a person’s lifespan. In fact, what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet will be subject to slight variations depending on differing stages of life. Nevertheless, the core principles will essentially remain the same; a balance of diverse, nutritious, wholesome foods are focal to helping us look, feel and perform at our best, and to have a deeper, long-lasting impact from a health perspective.
In your 20s and 30s
Healthy eating is not always on the top list of priorities when you are in your twenties. Research often reveals that 20-somethings consume a greater volume of fast food compared to other age ranges and often eat inadequate levels of fruit and vegetables. This is probably due to the fast-paced, frenetic lifestyle most career-oriented 20-somethings lead, where food becomes an after-thought to ensure survival in its most elementary sense, instead of viewing nourishment as being synonymous with health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, the twenties are an ideal time in life to establish a healthy foundation for the rest of one’s life.
Bone density accrual continues until the late twenties, which makes nutrition for bone health crucial to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Skipping breakfast and the over-reliance on quick, convenience foods containing elevated levels of macronutrients may result in an inadequate nutritional status and weight complications. In the long run, these set of circumstances create the perfect storm for increasing the risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure, all representing the major causes of death in modern day society.
Women who are considering starting a family should ensure they are consuming sufficient levels of energy, folic acid and minerals such as iron and calcium.
Making Health and Nutrition a Priority
Calcium: to ensure you are meeting the required calcium levels for health, consume three servings from the dairy group each day. Calcium-rich plant sources such as broccoli, spinach, beans and dairy alternatives are also good options.
Fibre: is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. Fibre can help prevent the onset of chronic diseases and can do wonders for your digestive health. Opt for wholegrain bread, experiment with porridge oats at breakfast and discover whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur and quinoa. Whole grains will also deliver the all-important B-vitamins, which help to convert food into energy, allowing you to stay energised throughout the day.
Fruit and Vegetables: ensure you meet your 5-a-day fruit and vegetable target. This will also contribute to fibre intake and boost your nutritional intake.
In your 40s
In the 40s many take their good health for granted, whereby healthy eating and exercise are often neglected. However, as we advance in age, good nutrition and reversing the sedentary lifestyle trend begin to gain some ground in our list of priorities. A diet rich in antioxidants will promote cellular stability, staving off the ageing process and helping to protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.
The metabolic rate, essentially the rate at which the body burns calories, will drop. However, the drop is minimal; the real reason why many people in this age bracket start to suffer from weight issues is due to the lack of movement. Excess weight, especially around the ‘middle’ is correlated with heart disease and diabetes. So start exercising and make a conscious effort to keep fit and be healthy.
A percentage of women in the 40s age range have low iron stores. Keeping the body well supplied with iron provides vitality, helps the immune system to function optimally and keeps the mind alert.
What to eat?
Antioxidants – a diverse range of differing coloured fruit and vegetables should be on the menu as they are an excellent source of antioxidants.
Iron – lean red meat is one of the most easily absorbed forms of iron. Aim to consume red meat 1-2 times a week. Fortified cereals can be a good option along with lentils, beans, pulses, and plenty of green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, green beans and broccoli.
In your 50s
Health problems, such as raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are on the rise in this age group. As such, a low fat diet incorporating plenty of fruit and vegetables is the best way to counteract these conditions.
Moreover, the menopause will have a significant impact on this category of women. Symptoms will vary greatly and are linked to a decline in oestrogen levels featured in the menopause. This accelerates the loss of calcium from the bone increasing the risk of osteoporosis and brittle bones.
What to eat:
Calcium: consume 3 portions of low-fat, low-sugar calcium rich foods every day to minimise bone loss. The Mediterranean diet comprises lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, delivering a spectrum of heart friendly vitamins and minerals.
Watch the fat: as we age, the body’s energy requirement decreases. Body fat gets deposited when too many calories are consumed and insufficient levels are burned. Include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from nuts, seeds and their oils instead of saturated fat.
Omega-3 fats: aim to eat 2-3 portions of omega-3 rich foods a week as these can help and keep bones and heart healthy due to their potent anti-inflammatory effects.
Hydration: continue to drink a couple of litres of water every day. Moderate caffeine consumption as it can interfere with the amount of calcium absorbed.
Spices: other anti-inflammatory spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and ginger confer many anti-inflammatory health benefits.
Sophie Bruno is a Registered Dietitian living and working in Brussels (Belgium). Read Sophie's foodie blog which will enable you to learn, increase your knowledge & cultivate yourself in the field of nutrition & health directly from Brussels