Mar 8, 2011


As we grow older our interests, priorities and eating habits all change, so it's no surprise that our nutritional needs do also. The core principles of a healthy, balanced diet remain the same at 25 or 65, but we do need specific nutrients as we go through different life stages.
It's important to have a healthy, balanced diet throughout life, but different nutrients can help maintain health at specific ages. 


START MAKING TIME Life is busy for most women aged 20-30 and healthy eating is often way down the list of priorities. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that a high percentage of women in this age band failed to meet the recommended daily intake for several key nutrients, including calcium, folic acid and iron - and only 4% of women aged 19-24 consumed their 5-a-day target for fruit and vegetables.

Our bones continue growing until our late 20s, so a lack of calcium at this stage will greatly increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. It's also not uncommon for people in this age group to skip breakfast, meaning that fibre intake is usually low, which can lead to diverticular disease later in life.

This group may often eat salt-laden processed foods, which can increase the risk of blood pressure problems. Folic acid is especially important for women planning to become pregnant too, because it helps to prevent spina bifida.


CALCIUM To ensure you're getting the required amount of calcium, you need to eat 3 servings from the dairy group each day (1 serving = 200ml milk, 1 small pot yogurt, 30g cheese). If you don't eat dairy, you should include products like Tropicana calcium-enriched orange juice.

FIBRE Make time for breakfast. Fortified wholegrain cereal with semi skimmed milk and a glass of fruit juice will provide fibre and several key vitamins.

LOW SALT Check information on the back of the pack before you buy ready meals or sandwiches - for a main meal you should aim to eat no more than 2.5g salt (and no more than 6g a day). If you have ready meals, add an extra serving of vegetables.

FOLIC ACID Good sources of folate include fortified breakfast cereals (which also include iron), dark green leafy vegetables and oranges.


EXERCISE AND IRON ARE IMPORTANT At this time of life many people still take their good health for granted and healthy eating and exercise are often put on the back burner. But as we grow older, good nutrition and regular exercise become even more important - now is the time to invest in your future good health. A diet rich in antioxidants will help protect against problems like heart disease, Alzheimer's, cataracts and certain types of cancer.

After the age of 40, the metabolic rate (the speed at which the body burns calories) drops, but the drop is very modest and the real reason many people in this age bracket start to suffer from middle-aged spread is a lack of exercise. 

Excess weight will increase the risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis and the longer you wait before you tackle the problem the harder it becomes - nip any weight gain in the bud now before it becomes a serious problem.

One in four women in their 40s have low iron stores, which can contribute to the 'tired all the time' syndrome. 


ANTIOXIDANTS Fruit and vegetables are the best source of antioxidants - make sure you eat at least 5 a day and a good variety of different produce.

IRON Liver and lean red meat are the best and most easily absorbed form of iron, so try to eat red meat at least twice a week (you don't need to eat huge portions, 100g is enough). If you don't eat meat, choose a fortified breakfast cereal and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables.


WATCH YOUR FAT LEVELS Health problems, such as raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are more common in this age group. A low-fat, low-GI diet, which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, is the best way to prevent and treat all of these problems.
The decline in oestrogen levels that accompanies the menopause accelerates the loss of calcium from bone, which increases the risk of osteoporosis or brittle bones. To counteract this, it's important to eat at least three servings of low-fat, calcium-rich foods each day. Working some regular weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, into your routine will also help to keep bones strong.

In your 50s, your joints may also start to become a bit stiff and sore. Studies have shown that taking a supplement of glucosamine combined with chondroitin can help to relieve joint pain and prevent further damage.

If you don't eat at least one serving of oil-rich fish each week, you should also think about taking an omega-3 supplement to help thin the blood and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.


CHOLESTEROL-LOWERING FOODS Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked. If you have high cholesterol, swap to a cholesterol-lowering spread or one of the mini drinks or yogurts.

SOYA Eating 25g of soya protein a day can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Phytochemicals in soya beans, and products made from them, may also help reduce many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with the menopause. Use tofu instead of chicken in stir fries and pour calcium-enriched soya milk on your cereal.

OMEGA-3 FATS To keep bones and heart healthy, go for canned salmon rather than canned tuna as salmon is rich in omega-3 fats and calcium.

60 & OVER:

VITAMINS ARE VITAL As we grow older, various physiological and psychological changes occur which have a direct effect on nutritional requirements. The body becomes less efficient at absorbing and using many vitamins and minerals. Long-term use of prescription drugs can reduce the absorption of certain nutrients.

At the same time, many people find that as they get older their appetite decreases. Since the need for vitamins and minerals stays the same, or in some cases increases, it becomes even more important that the food we eat is healthy and nutritious.

Digestive problems, like constipation, piles and diverticular disease, are more common in this age group. A high-fibre diet can help, but in addition to upping your fibre intake you need to make sure you're drinking plenty of water, otherwise the fibre can't work. Some types of probiotic yogurt can also help with constipation.

Our sense of smell and taste becomes less acute as we get older, but don't fall into the trap of adding extra salt to your food - use herbs, spices and other flavourings such as garlic, lemon juice, flavoured vinegars or mustard.

You need to ensure that you include plenty of foods rich in B12. If you've suffered a heart attack, you should increase your intake of oil-rich fish so you're having at least two servings a week, and talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.

Like calcium, vitamin D is important for good bone health. The body can make vitamin D by the action of sunlight on the skin, but as people get older they tend to spend less time outside, so make sure your diet contains at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D.


FIBRE Choose a wholegrain breakfast cereal, like porridge or whole meal or whole wheat bread and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. 

VITAMIN B12 Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and fortified breakfast cereals all contain vitamin B12.

VITAMIN D Small amounts of vitamin D are found in margarine, eggs and oil-rich fish. Vitamin D can also be made by the action of sunlight on the skin so when the weather is warm, expose your arms and face to the sun for at least 20 minutes a day. 

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