The basics of eating well remain the same throughout life: Think moderation, minimal processed stuff and a wide variety of whole foods, fruit and vegetables.
As we age, however, our dietary needs become more complex. In my job as a nutritionist, I see firsthand the improvements women make to their health simply by syncing their diet to their body’s needs. Want to hear something even more heartening? It’s never too late to start. Here are my tips for staying healthy throughout your defining decades.
IN YOUR 30S
With career, kids, mortgage and relationship responsibilities all potentially vying for attention, you’ve got a lot on your plate. The key is making sure, nutrition-wise, it’s a beautifully balanced plate. Think colour, variety and a plethora of plant-based foods.
If you’ve spent your 20s fretting over carbs, now’s the time to stop. Low carb diets make you miserable, tired and not much fun to be around. Seriously, don’t be that person.
We need carbs for fuel, serotonin production (your happy hormone) and fibre. They’re also your brain’s preferred energy source. You want good quality, slow release, unrefined sources like oats, potatoes, squash and whole grains such as brown rice. If the occasional eclair creeps in, so be it. The 80:20 approach makes a lot of sense.
Low carb diets make you miserable, tired and not much fun to be around. Seriously, don’t be that person.
If you’re not already, start tuning into your periods. Tracker apps like Clue and Moody Month chart your cycle, majorly helpful when perimenopause hits later down the line. Balancing oestrogen is also key. High levels tend towards PMS type symptoms. A couple of fist sized portions of cruciferous vegetables each day will help metabolise excess hormones and excrete them safely. Get creative: sauté brussels sprouts, roast cauliflower, add shredded cabbage to salads, sprinkle garden cress or alfalfa sprouts over meals and blitz kale into your smoothie.
Include exercise, fermented foods and a probiotic (Symprove and Optibac are backed by clinical research) to ensure your digestion is optimal. Oh and pay attention to your adrenal glands now, as during your 40s they’ll be tasked with trying to produce extra hormones. Best way to do this? Setting time aside for yourself and loading up on B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C.
Focus on getting some calcium reserves in the bank as we start losing bone mass after the age of 35. The recommended daily intake is 700mg daily (rising to 1,200mg in your 50s) from a variety of sources, including dairy, kale, watercress, broccoli, cooked spinach, tofu (check on the label that it’s calcium set), dried figs, almonds and fortified plant milks. Vitamin D is important for bones too, as well as for warding off anxiety and depression. The Government says take 10 mcg daily between October to March. I say opt for a D3/K2 combo or D2 if you’re vegan.
In your 40s
Your booze tolerance is woeful, your metabolism is waning and your waistbands are suddenly snug. Welcome to midlife! Don’t fret, it’s not game over. Some well thought out changes will make all the difference.
Keeping hormones, happiness and energy piqued is crucial. Phytoestrogens mimic oestrogen – albeit in a much weaker way – so add edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, ground flax seeds, beans and peas to your diet. Make a point of eating good quality protein (animal and plant varieties) with every meal and snack to balance blood sugar and help stabilise mood. Luckily, protein also helps you feel full, handy if fat loss is one of your goals.
Hot flushes and night sweats are exacerbated by spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol so it’s time to start consuming responsibly. You don’t need me to tell you alcohol messes with sleep, anxiety and mood. Save it for special occasions and start getting your head around alcohol-free brands such as Ecology+Co, Atopia and Seedlip.
Hot flushes and night sweats are exacerbated by spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol so it’s time to start consuming responsibly.
Bone tired? Get your thyroid tested to rule out deficiencies then start working on your iron stores. Ensure you have plenty of reserves via high quality, lean red meat (once a week), poultry, green leafy veg, beans, lentils, dried apricots and pumpkin seeds. Plantbased iron sources are notoriously hard to absorb. Help the process along by using lemon juice in dressings or adding fruits to salads to enhance their bioavailability.
Osteoporosis affects one in two women over the age of 50. One of the best ways of investing in future bone health is through a combination of weight bearing exercise – walking, dancing, skipping and running – and resistance training. Carry your shopping, get a personal trainer on board or start lifting at the gym – your bones will thank you.
In your 50s and beyond
Having pretty much sussed what life is all about, now’s the time to start enjoying it. Not before putting some final touches to your nutrition and lifestyle regime, mind you.
Keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check by upping your fibre with wholegrain bread, grains, fruits, vegetables and monitoring your salt intake (no more than 5 mg/one teaspoon a day and that includes ‘hidden’ salt in processed food).
Joint, collagen, skin and vaginal health all require plenty of lubrication with omega 3s from oily fish and good fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and good quality olive oil. Yoga and pilates are also unbeatable when it comes to keeping muscles mobile. Shop around until you find a type and teacher that fires you up.
Joint, collagen, skin and vaginal health all require plenty of lubrication with omega 3s from oily fish and good fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and good quality olive oil.
Whether you’ve given birth or not, pelvic floor exercises are non-negotiable. In her book, The Pelvic Floor Bible, Jane Simpson suggests squeezing, lifting and holding for 10 seconds then releasing for a count of five. Repeat five times. Do this three times a day. Then once a day do a series of 10 short, sharp contractions. Consistency is everything. Need reminding? Stick red dots on everyday objects (rearview mirror, laptop screen, back of phone) to give you the nudge or, alternatively, check out the NHS app, Squeezy.
Quality shuteye is the cornerstone of health and happiness. Make sure you practise good sleep hygiene by shutting down screens a couple of hours before bed, dimming the lights, decluttering your bedroom (any excuse to watch Marie Kondo on Netflix) and investing in a huge tub of epsom salts and some lavender essential oil for your bath.
It also helps to avoid caffeine after lunch and have a three hour window between your last meal and bedtime. Magnesium, often referred to as nature’s valium, is vital to muscle relaxation and a great antidote to stress. Find it in green leafy veg, bananas, cashew nuts and apples and if you’re thinking of supplementing, opt for magnesium glycinate (it’s the most absorbable form) and take in the evening.*
This last bit goes out to everyone. No matter what your age, focus on reducing stress, drinking more water, voicing gratitude and spending time with people who make you laugh. A good guffaw goes a long way.
*Always check first with your GP or a registered nutrition professional. Find Emma on Instagram @emma.bardwell and to book a consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org