Decade by decade, how to eat the right food for the changing needs of your body
Be age-appropriate: Eat cheese in your twenties and avoid sausages if you are over 60
You are at the peak of physical health, but may be taking your body for granted — drinking too much, skipping meals, losing sleep from partying and grabbing convenience foods.
EAT MORE . . . CHEESE
The intensive bone growth that happens in your teens continues into your 20s, making this your final opportunity to lay down new bone before the inevitable thinning process starts in your 30s.
So aim to get 700mg of bone-building calcium a day — equivalent to a pint of milk or 100g of Cheddar cheese, says nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker.
But don’t ruin it with too many fizzy drinks, she warns — the phosphoric acid they contain impedes calcium absorption.
AVOID . . . COCKTAIL HOUR
Avoid alchorexia: Don't eat less to allow for extra calories in alcohol
Dietician Sian Porter, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, warns against ‘alchorexia’ — common among women in their 20s, where they restrict their daily food intake to allow for the extra calories in alcohol.
‘Alcohol provides empty calories, so you can end up with a very poor nutritional intake which will swiftly show up in the poor condition of your hair, nails and skin.’
Binge drinking can cause internal weight gain that you can’t see, says Dr Schenker. ‘Alcohol leads to the laying down of dangerous visceral fat around the internal organs, linked to heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, in later life.’
Don’t be seduced by celebrity crash diets, which statistics show often ultimately result in weight-gain. Establishing good habits now sets you up for the coming decades.
Have a healthy breakfast such as porridge, scrambled eggs on toast or fruit. ‘Missing breakfast is a sure trigger for unhealthy eating patterns — it will leave you hungry mid-morning when healthy food choices are limited,’ says Dr Schenker.
You’re juggling work, a partner, possibly young children and despite all your best intentions you probably grab meals on the go, or pick off your children’s plates, rarely sitting down to properly stock up on nutrients your body needs. You’re also likely to be sleep deprived.
EAT MORE . . . DRIED APRICOTS
If you’re tired, don’t seek a false energy hike from coffee, tea or cola which will only ever give a really short-term lift.
Dr Schenker recommends a diet packed with low-GI slow-release carbohydrates (with a little protein in every meal). ‘Try dried apricots — they release their energy very slowly — an apple, or a slice of nutrient-rich pumpernickel bread.’
All women who are planning to have children should be taking a 400mcg (0.4mg) supplement of folic acid each day. This nutrient is vital to prevent miscarriage and spina bifida) in an unborn baby.
‘Folate is also essential for blood health, and some studies have linked a poor folate intake to increased risk of breast, pancreatic and colon cancers,’ says Dr Schenker.
Boost your intake of folate-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lentils, pulses, and Marmite.
AVOID . . . GRAZING
Snack on apricots: Dried fruit releases energy very slowly
With a hectic lifestyle you run the risk of grazing on high fat, high salt, high sugar snacks to get you through the day — meaning you’ll put on weight and lack the nutrients you need to protect yourself from viruses and worse.
Snacking should be restricted to a handful of mixed nuts, an oatcake with a scrape of peanut butter, or carrot sticks dipped in hummus.
Sian Porter emphasises the importance of setting an example: ‘Children pick up healthy eating cues very early.’
Metabolic rate — for both men and women — is up to 10 per cent lower now than it was in your 30s, meaning you could put on weight, and be at increased risk of weight-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Women will be experiencing at least some of the hormonal upheaval of the peri-menopausal years, such as mood swings, hot flushes, and anxiety.
EAT MORE . . . STEAK
For women, if the menstrual cycle becomes erratic you could very easily become anaemic. ‘The signs of iron deficiency — lethargy, listlessness, inability to concentrate — are so frequently ignored,’ says Dr Schenker, ‘but you can very easily boost your natural iron levels through diet.’
She recommends lean red meat three to four times a week, along with plenty of eggs, beans, pulses and whole grains. Take some vitamin C (orange juice, kiwi fruit, tomato) at the same time to increase your absorption of iron.
Foods rich in plant oestrogens such as soya, lentils, chickpeas and linseeds can help balance hormone levels. In Asia, where the average woman has a high daily intake of isoflavones in the form of tofu, miso and soy sauce or lentils, hot flushes are reported by only 14 per cent — compared with 80-85 per cent in the West. Choose tofu, soya and linseed bread and soya milk.
Tuck in: Boost your natural iron levels with a juicy steak
As age starts to take a toll on your skin, get plenty of brightly coloured fruit and veg which contain skin-nourishing betacarotene, plus vitamin E (in avocados and wholegrains), and essential fatty acids in olive oil, nuts and seeds.
AVOID . . . THE BISCUIT TIN
With a slower metabolism, you will need to cut back by around 200 calories a day (or burn 200 more off through exercise). Small sacrifices (one KitKat, that extra glass of wine, the bread roll and butter with the starter . . .) will keep your body’s equilibrium.
Men and women are at higher risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.
EAT MORE . . . OATS
By adding soluble fibre to your diet in oats and pulses, and considering switching to specific brands of cholesterol-lowering milk, margarine and yogurt (such as Flora Active or Benecol), you can help lower your cholesterol levels.
AVOID . . . SALT
One of the main risk factors for heart disease is high blood pressure, caused by inactivity, too much alcohol, and salt. Cut down on salt and salty foods, and eat more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, fruit juice and dried fruit. ‘Potassium helps counteract the damaging effects of excess sodium (salt),’ says Dr Schenker.
SIXTIES AND OVER
Your metabolic rate will be 20-40 per cent lower than it was in your 20s, so weight gain can be an issue, and the risk of cancers significantly increases.
EAT MORE . . . PROBIOTICS
As you get older you increase the chance that you might end up in hospital, and if you do, according to Dr Schenker, your best line of defence is a daily probiotic. ‘Many experts believe probiotics provide a better line of defence for hospital patients than hand gels and washing,’ she says.
Studies have shown patients who take a daily probiotic drink in hospital reduce the risk of catching Clostridium difficile (C.diff).
DRINK MORE . . . TEA
We gradually lose the thirst sensation as we get older (the mechanisms of thirst lose their effectiveness with age) and we can easily become dehydrated, leading to tiredness, headaches, lack of concentration, kidney problems and cystitis. Water is always best — aim for eight glasses a day — but contrary to popular belief, coffee and tea count, too.
AVOID . . . SAUSAGES
Eighty per cent of bowel cancers arise in the over-60s, so cut back on processed meat (sausages, salami, ham, bacon, paté) which have been linked with the disease.
Scientists say a diet rich in folate — green and leafy vegetables — can lower the risk and will also keep your weight down, further decreasing your risk of cancer