As we get older, the nutrients our bodies need change. Nutritionist Sophie Murray, head of nutrition and hydration at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, reveals what you should be adding to your shopping list for a healthy boost at different stages of your life.
In your 30s:
- Think about prevention
What you do at this age will affect your future health, but risks from lifestyle-related health conditions including some forms of dementia, heart disease and type-2 diabetes can be reduced by cementing good dietary habits now.
Use homemade dressings with good quality Omega-3 rich oils, such as linseed or rapeseed. Omega-3 fatty acids have a number of benefits from keeping your heart healthy to protecting brain health. Fish and fish oils are two other sources of Omega-3.
- Cement healthy habits
Breakfast is the essential building block of a healthy diet; make sure it is nutrient-rich and made with good quality, fresh food. For a wholesome breakfast try an egg on toast with mashed avocado blended with olive oil, pepper and garlic on toast. Alternatively, live yoghurt with nuts and dried fruit(e.g. 2-3 apricots) provides a healthy blend of nutrients
- Find healthy energy sources
As you focus on your career, make sure you get into a healthy routine as long working hours can take its toll. First of all, limit caffeine as it can interfere with sleep and our internal body clock. Wherever possible, use fresh ingredients as they are unprocessed and unseasoned, which means they are likely to have better nutrient profiles. Also try and make your meals from scratch. Strike a balance through the week with two portions of red meat, plus a variety of fish - including oily fish - at least once. Use protein bases such as beans and nuts, as well as a variety of carbohydrates, including quinoa and sweet potato, for sustained and nutritious energy sources.
In your 40s:
- Prioritise rest and recovery
Now your body's ageing mechanisms are becoming more active, you may notice your energy levels declining. Sleep is essential; protect a healthy sleeping pattern by reducing dependency on tea and coffee. This will calm your adrenal glands and allow a more stable sleep cycle. If you drink alcohol then be sure to have a few days where you don't drink. Aside from other health implications, alcohol can inhibit sleep.
- Minimise left-over bad habits
It's time to recheck the food habits you are in once again. Age-related factors mean many functions begin to naturally decline, even without any additional health conditions. Maintaining good health requires a little more effort for many of us. I find keeping a close eye on your blood sugar balance useful as excess sugar, if stored as fat, can affect weight. Much evidence also suggests this affects some hormone levels in women, too.
Women also describe a thickening around the middle and one way of addressing this is to keep an eye on sugar intake, so stick to three nutritious meals a day so that the body has a space between meals when metabolism can rest. Meals containing fibre, protein and healthy fats are recommended, as is drinking plenty of fluids.
The new Eatwell plate introduced in March 2016 helps guide on this, striving for under 30g of 'free' (added) sugars per day and healthy fats within your choice. You need to digest and absorb the nutrients, too – so eat in a relaxed setting. As we age we can produce less stomach acid and saliva, slowing digestion. Relaxing helps to stimulate saliva production.
In your 50s:
- Consider hormonal changes
Be ready for the hormonal changes accompanying ageing; women approaching menopause may notice a marked weight shift, so make sure you keep your energy levels constant during these changes. Keep free sugar intake to 30g per day and avoid high sugar snacks.
- Look after your bones
Many women will also be more vulnerable to conditions like osteoporosis. Make sure you eat plenty of dairy (as long as your system can digest it well) and leafy vegetables to get calcium and vitamin D into your system. Get out in the sun for 15 minutes a day in the Summer months to boost your vitamin D levels – important at any age but especially now.
Men in their 50s (from their 30s, in fact) also experience a degree of bone loss and so calcium and vitamin D is essential for them too.
- Think about heart health
Heart problems can occur with increasing age and a balance of essential fatty acids (walnuts, salmon, sardines, soy beans, tofu, sprouts, cauliflower, flaxseed, etc) has been well documented to support cardiovascular health. Saturated fats can be lowered by eating alternatives to meat and processed fatty foods such as cakes, biscuits and fried foods.
Eating sufficient fibre through foods such as peas and baked beans can support in achieving a healthy gut and, in addition to a reduced fat intake, can support in reducing heart disease risk.
In your 60s:
- Give your diet a review
This is a good juncture to review and reset your dietary patterns, ensuring you are getting three square meals and a good breakfast to bolster your energy levels throughout the day, and keeping an active lifestyle. Low energy and susceptibility to illness may be tell-tale signs of a poor diet.
- Prioritise digestion
Many people in their sixties may also need digestive support, as digestive function may continue decline due to reduced saliva production and stomach acid. Probiotic foods include live yoghurts and fermented foods such as sauerkraut
Oats can support healthy digestion as a probiotic. At this stage, you will want to keep up your intake of B vitamins from wholegrains and seeds (these have a variety of healthy benefits) and keep a richly varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
In your 70s and beyond:
- Keep eating little and often
You will be more aware of the ageing process in your seventies and eighties, but you can still manage a healthy diet to support you through the change. Your appetite may decline over these years, and physiological functions will be slowing down. Recovery from illness may be slower and you may also be taking long-term medications to protect you against a variety of health risks associated with old age.
Nutrient rich food is essential, and eating times become more important than earlier in life. To support digestion, avoid eating too late at night and eat plenty of vegetables such as turnips, kale and broccoli. Avoid raw foods, as stomach acid can decline with age too. Homemade soups and stews can be fantastic for retaining nutrients and easy to digest foods. If dentures pose an issue, easy-to-chew foods like soft vegetables, eggs, mashed potato, cottage cheese, yoghurt, etc, may help.
Food first approaches (as opposed to supplementation) such as homemade vegetable soups daily can support this, including a minimum of three vegetables and a low salt, natural stock cube. If digestive ability continues to reduce, cooked foods instead of salads can be beneficial as they have been partly been broken down into more easily digested parts. Good soups and stews made with vegetables as well as protein are convenient solutions for many.