A nutritional guide… your 20s to your 50s and beyond

From your carefree twenties through to the busiest decades of your life, here is a nutritional guide for a healthy body and mind at any age

Here are some pointers from Candice Smith, Head of Vitality’s nutrition strategy, on the best ways for women to pack in nutrients for a healthy body and mind.

In your 20s 

Now is the time to foster healthy eating habits for life.

  • Learn about portion control – look up a serving-size comparison chart online.
  • Stock up on affordable healthy foods, like eggs, canned beans, lentils, pilchards and tuna. Buy whole grains (like brown rice, barley and oats) in bulk, and seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  • You can still increase your bone density up till your mid-20s, so get in three cups of calcium-rich dairy each day. For example, blend fresh fruit and plain yoghurt together for a daily smoothie, cook oats in milk and mix plain cottage cheese into mashed veggies.
  • Cut out sugary drinks and drink water instead.
  • If you must drink alcohol, moderation is key. Too much can lead to unwanted weight gain and increase your risk for developing high blood pressure, stroke and breast cancer later in life. Binge drinking is toxic, so stop at the recommended limit of one alcoholic drink a day.Iron-deficiency anaemia is common among pre-menopausal women, as you lose a lot of iron through menstruation.

In your 30s

  • Keep your iron levels up by eating foods like liver, lean meats, legumes, nuts, dried fruit, whole grains, eggs, fortified foods, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Plan meals for the week and give online shopping a try to save time and effort.
  • Prepare healthy meals in advance for days when you’ll be too busy to cook from scratch. For example, cook in bulk on weekends and freeze portions separately for the week ahead. Packing a healthy lunchbox will lower the temptation to buy unhealthy foods at work.
  • Keep a bottle of water on your desk and finish it by the end of the day. Staying hydrated aids concentration. If plain water is too bland, throw in fresh fruit or vegetable chunks for flavour, or try unsweetened herbal teas.
  • If you’re trying to get pregnant, speak to your doctor about folic acid supplements to prevent birth defects.As you age, you’re more likely to pick up weight. This is due to hormonal changes and because your energy needs lessen as you lose muscle mass.

In your 40s

  • Choose nutrient-dense foods and avoid processed foods high in saturated fats and added sugar.
  • Eat oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines) at least twice a week to reduce your chances of developing heart disease and to slow down cognitive decline.
  • Eat less than a teaspoon of added salt a day, or none. Eating too much salt increases your risk for high blood pressure, and consequently for heart attacks and strokes. Cut down on or avoid sodium-rich foods, like cured meats, crisps and salty snacks, and opt for potassium-rich fruits and veggies (like banana, dark greens, mushrooms and potato) instead, which support your kidneys and normalise blood pressure.
  • Include calcium-rich foods in your diet to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones).As you grow older, you’re more likely to develop deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.

In your 50s and beyond

  • Consider consulting a dietitian to help avoid nutritional deficiencies and use fortified foods or supplements if required.
  • Reduce your cancer risk by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables (these are high in phytochemicals – plant compounds that help protect against cancer) and less or no processed meats.
  • Immune function decreases with age. Help counter it with zinc-rich foods (like lean meats, oysters, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds) and folate-rich foods (like liver, yeast, spinach and brussels sprouts).
  • Choose high-fibre foods over refined products to help prevent constipation.
  • Flavour foods with a variety of salt-free spices, fresh or dried herbs and lemon juice to counter any loss of taste and smell.Source: All4Women

“One of the best things you can do for your body is to make vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones, a priority in your diet,” says Smith, “This one change can make a world of difference to your health, and that of your family.”

Source: All4Women