The food you need at 20, 30, 40 +
Don't fear the changes that come with
aging. We know more about the benefits of nutrition than ever before. You can put this
knowledge to good use as you hit those "milestone birthdays". Instead of
dreading the slowdown that comes with the passing of time, fight it! Feed your bones, skin
and muscles the nutrients they crave to stay strong, healthy and vibrant.
Which food should be your priority as you hit each decade? Check out this easy-to-use
guide--and eat your age.
The 20's… Setting the Stage
- Eating Habits
Ah, the metabolically-blessed twenties.
Some lucky young women can eat as much as they want without showing much change in body
fat or weight. Unfortunately these carefree types may mistake thinness for nutritional
health, overindulging in fat calories and underindulging in other nutrients. Over twenty
something women go to the opposite extreme-calling a diet soda and a small green salad a
meal. The risk: anemia, fatigue, and long term metabolic slowdown, which make it harder to
burn calories later on. Or they splurge on junk food at night. They try to make up for it
by skipping breakfast. Fight the urge to binge by giving yourself a small bowl of a treat
food instead of nibbling straight out of the bag or box. Or stock up on "fun"
healthy snacks, such as low-fat corn chips and a low-sodium salsa, which provides complex
carbs and vitamin A & C.
- High Fat, Low Fat
If you're chowing down on a high fat diet,
youth is a good time to start paying attention to labels. How much fat is too much? For a
food item to claim it is "low fat", it must contain 3 grams or less per serving
based on at least a 100 calorie serving. An easier rule: Just remember that the calories
of fat (1 gram equals nine calories) should be less than 30 percent of the total calories
in the food. The type of fat you eat matters, too. Check out food labels for
"partially hydrogenated oil" --- a classic man-made dietary villain also known
as trans-fatty acid. Research has shown that this type of fat can raise bad serum
cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL).
- Complex Carbs
Another important goal for your twenties:
Reduce simple carbohydrates and increase complex ones. Simple carbohydrates are junk foods
such as white bread and sugary baked goods. These filling-but-empty taste treats are made
from overly processed flour or other refined nutrients. Instead of grabbing another donut,
learn to savor complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread and brown rice. Another tip:
Eat potatoes with their skin on. Most pastas are also considered complex carbs, but
they're relatively low in fiber and, when top with high calorie sauce, can add up to plate
load of fat. A high fiber diet will help you normalize blood sugar and lower blood
cholesterol, giving you a head start on disease prevention.
- Calcium Concerns
Up until age 25, your body is still
building bone that must last you for the rest of your life. How much calcium do you need
and how do you get it? The National Research Council and the Food and Nutrition Board
recommends 1,200 mg. of calcium per day, a sum you can get naturally by including yogurt,
skim or soy milk, part skim cheese, broccoli, oranges, beans and tofu in your diet daily.
The 30's… Shifting Gears
- Calories & Metabolism
By now, you may have established some
healthful eating patterns in your daily routine (such as eating dark leafy green salads on
most days, lots of fresh fruits, only whole grain breads, and limited fatty foods), plus a
reasonable amount of exercise. So why are you gaining weight? One contributing factor is a
small but predictable decline in your metabolic rate that starts when you turn 30. The
unfortunate result: a gradual reduction in your lean body mass… a.k.a. muscle tissue.
Since muscles account for the bulk of our energy needs, less muscle means lower calorie
requirements. Working out can help you maintain the optimum level of muscle you want, but
you should also eat fewer, though more efficient, nutrient rich calories.
- Bone Mass
Another big change as you turn 30: you stop
building bone. What's more, you can start losing bone mass, unless you get the calcium you
need to head off osteoporosis. Supplements can help, but it's important to make sure you
get plenty of calcium-rich foods such as almonds, parsley, and dried fruit --- especially
if your diet is low in dairy products. Calcium-supplemented orange juice is another
excellent way to get the nutrients you need.
- Raging Hormones
Women who suffer from PMS may notice it
getting more severe as they hit their thirties. Recent evidence hints that the estrogen in
soy products may even out the symptoms, reducing the need for chemical remedies like
ibuprofen. Soymilk, tofu and soy nuts are all great choices. Pour soymilk on your granola
in the morning: chop up some tofu and stir-fry it with some of your favorite crisp
- Aging Skin
Moisturizer companies know who their market
is: women in their thirties who are just starting to experience the result of sun damage,
stress, and a genetic predisposition to aging, wrinkling skin. Drinking water can help
hydrate, and wearing sunscreen is key. But your diet can also help you preserve the skin
on your face and body. Fortify yourself daily with natural antioxidants --- molecules
which help fight the "free radicals" that contribute to the aging process ---
such as orange juice, melon and green leafy vegetables like spinach and chard. Vitamin A
and beta-carotene (in carrots and squash) are also crucial skin-boosters. A big, tasty
salad full of romaine, diced carrots, and chopped up oranges can be as much a part of your
skin regimen as your cleanser and toner.
The 40's… Staying Strong
As you hit forties, you may become
increasingly aware of the health risks in your family history. How can you get the best
disease prevention from your diet? If heart disease runs in your family, you may want to
pay close attention to the fat content of your food. What's more, you should make sure you
get folic acid, which is present in orange juice, leafy green vegetables, dried beans, and
wheat germs, especially if you have a high homocysteine level. If you have family history
of breast cancer, you'll also want to cut fat from your diet; research is still tentative,
but there's evidence that a high fat diet can exacerbate already present risk factors. If
someone in your family has had colon cancer, you should pay special attention to the fiber
you get. Take in at least 25 grams a day, ideally in high-quality, high nutrient foods
like kidney beans. If diabetes is a concern, keep your diet low in concentrated sweets,
exercise regularly, and make sure to keep your weight at a healthy level.
- Fatigue Factor
Tired? The increased responsibilities of
adulthood can take their toll, whether you're raising up a passel of kids, organizing city
council, or both. Sixty percent of your diet should be complex carbs --- the most
efficient source of energy in the form of glucose. If you do not get enough high quality
carbs (such as brown rice), you burn protein, which is less efficient. High protein diets
are all the rage right now, but too much protein can affect your kidneys, in some extreme
cases causing headache, bad breath, dizziness, fatigue and nausea (not to mention that
most high protein diets are also high in fat). Another important priority for energy is to
get your B vitamins. You can get these key nutrients in many grains, fruits and
vegetables, including baked potatoes, watermelon, banana, soybeans, and sunflower seeds.
Or you can take a supplement to make sure you're getting enough.
- Eat your Breakfast
It's the high-schedule diet mistake: A
rushed morning, and no breakfast. Or if you do get breakfast, you're grabbing a donut or
pastry --- yummy, but low in vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein. Instead, prep your
kitchen with quick-to-make oatmeal, whole grain cold cereals, grapefruit, banana, skim
milk, low fat yogurt, whole wheat bread, and low fat cream cheese. Foods like these will
give you fiber, protein, calcium, and a good carbohydrate source, as well as B6, C, and
potassium --- and provide the energy to help you resist the roller-coaster energy-boost
temptation of coffee or snacks.