Your body’s nutritional needs will change throughout life…
THE core principles of a healthy, balanced diet remain the same whether you’re 20 or 60. However as we grow older various physiological and psychological changes occur that have a direct effect on nutritional requirements. So how do you eat for your age?
Adolescence is a time when boys and girls can gain or lose significant amounts of weight, both of which can have harmful effects on health.
“It’s a difficult time for this age group because they have more flexibility in food choices and many are drawn towards fast food, containing lots of saturated fat which can lead to obesity,” says Anna Raymond of the British Dietetic Association (BDA).
“Conversely, faddy diets are often shared among pupils at school, putting teenagers at risk of deficiencies in micro-nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins and iron. It can also lead to eating disorders which increase the risk of osteoporosis in later life.”
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, approximately 40 per cent of teenagers have low iron stores which can result in a lack of energy and amenorrhoea (absence of menstrual periods in girls).
“It’s important that red meat is consumed to provide essential haem iron which is the most easily absorbed type of iron. This should be eaten with vitamin C-containing foods such as oranges to aid the iron’s absorption,” says Anna.
She adds that parents should encourage their teenagers to eat a diet that is low in saturated fat and have healthy snacks accessible at all times rather than crisps and chocolate.
Calcium-rich foods such as cheese, yogurts and milk should be increased, adds dietician Azmina Govindji. “During adolescence bone development and calcium requirements are at a peak.”
The work-hard, play-hard lifestyle of many 20-somethings can set the foundations for ill health if good nutrition is ignored.
Breakfast is often missed among this age group even though it is the most important meal of the day. “Choose foods such as wholegrain cereals or bread that are low in glycaemic index (GI) and therefore release energy more slowly and keep you feeling fuller for longer,” advises Azmina.
Celebrity crash diets and bad publicity around dairy foods often leads to cutting out milk among this age group, she adds, yet calcium continues to be essential for preventing osteoporosis in later life.
Alcohol may play a big part of life in your 20s, says nutritionist Claire Harper. “It’s also a time when many people start relying heavily on caffeine to get through the day.
“Along with nicotine and sugary foods these types of stimulants cause the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones and this compounds the effect of any emotional stress that is going on, whether at work, pressure from family, relationship trauma or needy friends.”
As you enter your 30s your metabolism slows down, says nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche. “So you need less food but with a higher nutritional value. This means fewer takeaways and more healthy meals.”
Fertility may be at the forefront of women’s minds during this decade, adds Kate Butler, nutritionist for health food chain Holland & Barrett.
A diet that includes five portions of fruit and vegetables a day has been shown to aid fertility. Women are also advised to take 400mcg of folic acid daily, as well as consuming a folate-rich diet both before conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to help reduce the incidence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies. Good sources of folate include green vegetables, yeast, nuts and pulses.
“For men the mineral zinc has been found to improve fertility by increasing the production and activity of sperm,” says Kate.
Studies have also shown vitamin E can improve fertility by increasing sperm activity in men and stimulating blood circulation in women. Good food sources are wheatgerm, soya, maize, nuts and vegetable oils.
Bone density peaks at 35 so ensuring good bone density now through a calcium-rich diet will reduce the risk of brittle bones in later life. Lost bone density can’t be replaced so if you fail to achieve a high density now you enter middle age with a genuine risk of osteoporosis particularly if you are female.
You may find your cholesterol levels and blood pressure start to creep up during this decade. “Consuming less saturated fat may help to lower levels,” says Anna. “You should also eat at least one to two portions of oily fish per week such as kippers, mackerel, fresh tuna, salmon and sardines to provide you with essential omega 3 oils which offer cardiovascular benefits, critical to this age group. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2010 shows men and women consuming well below this recommendation.”
Sleeplessness often occurs in your 40s, says nutritionist Marilyn Glenville. “This can increase your risk of stress, anxiety and fatigue. To encourage a good night’s sleep boost your calcium and magnesium intake by eating more green, leafy vegetables, wholegrains and nuts and seeds during the day.”
Signs of ageing start to appear after 40, says Anna. “Eating a diet very high in antioxidants is a great way to counteract cell damage in the body. Do this by consuming an array of differently coloured vegetables and fruits: the deeper the colour, the more antioxidants. Try berries, red peppers, kale and butternut squash.”
If menopausal symptoms are starting, she adds, increase your intake of phytoestrogens which are mild plant oestrogens that help boost waning levels. High amounts of these can be found in soya beans, legumes and flaxseeds. Increasing your vitamin E intake may also help to lessen menopausal symptoms.
High blood pressure is one of the biggest health risks, especially for women. One in every four women over 50 is estimated to have high blood pressure which can put an incredible strain on your heart.
Cut down on your salt intake, which can send blood pressure soaring. The recommended maximum intake of salt per day is 6g. Replace it in cooking with herbs and spices and remove the salt cellar from the dinner table. Also bear in mind the British Heart Foundation estimates three-quarters of the salt we eat can come from processed foods and basic foods such as white bread and cereals.
Watch out for storing too much fat around your middle as it can put you at risk of impaired glucose tolerance and lead to Type 2 diabetes.
“This is because the extra fat around the abdomen increases insulin resistance and therefore means we are less able to utilise the glucose in our blood,” explains Anna. Avoid a lot of starchy carbohydrate and large portions, she advises.
“Don’t skimp on meals though. Three meals a day are more important than ever at this age but choose wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice which is lower GI and is broken down more slowly, thus providing the body with a steady stream of glucose into the blood which is then moved into our cells to be used for energy. It also makes us feel fuller for longer and therefore less likely to snack in between meals.”
Combat menopausal symptoms by eating more soya. “It has been shown to mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body,” says Azmina. “Women living in Japan, who have very high intakes of soya, tend not to suffer from mood swings and hot flushes at all during menopause.”
Men should up their intake of tomatoes, watermelon or papaya as all are rich in lycopene which studies show may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
By your 60s the absorption of minerals and vitamins from the gut becomes increasingly inefficient, reports Professor Robert Pickard of the Meat Advisory Panel.
“It is especially beneficial to include red meat in your diet because of its high concentrations of micro-nutrients. Vitamin B12 for instance is vital because it cannot be obtained from vegetables.”
The immune system starts to weaken over 60 but you can help strengthen it through your diet. Increase your intake of vitamin C by drinking more fruit juice, particularly as this vitamin is also important for boosting collagen, production of which naturally diminishes with age.
Collagen helps maintain structure of cells, skin, bones, teeth and connective tissue. “Vitamin C also helps with healing wounds and fractures,” adds Anna.
It’s not uncommon to consume less fluid at this stage in life but be aware this can lead to dehydration, constipation and an increased risk of urinary tract infections, she warns. “It’s important to drink at least 1.5 to two litres per day and this should be increased in the summer months as we lose more fluid to keep cool.”
A yearning for food containing more saturated fat found in biscuits, cakes and ready meals may increase in your 60s. “It’s important to still make healthy food choices and cut down on saturated fat intake,” says Anna. Iron becomes essential at this age, she adds, because it is required to support energy metabolism and improve resistance to infection.
70s and beyond
By now our energy and protein requirements are significantly reduced and we don’t need to eat anywhere near as much as we did in our 20s and 30s.
People often lose their appetite for other reasons such as deteriorating health or sense of taste, says Anna. “It is not uncommon to start losing weight as a result of this reduced intake, although if it’s significant you should see your GP.”
Foods can be fortified with monounsaturated fat such as adding olive oil to mashed potatoes. You should also drink milky drinks to provide extra calories, says Anna.
A surprising number in this age group are malnourished, reports nutritionist Vanessa May. “They exist on what has been called the ‘tea and toast diet’. The lack of nutritious food undermines their health leaving them vulnerable to illness.”
Soups and salads are simple to make and help contribute to your daily antioxidant intake which is important at this age when the immune system continues to decline.
Digestive problems such as constipation, piles and diverticular disease are more common in this age group. A high-fibre diet can help, coupled with plenty of water to help with food absorption
-With express.co.uk input