Updated October 2020.
What you should be eating changes as you age. Here's what your body needs in your twenties, thirties, and forties.
Your twenties are usually a blur of working hard and playing hard. Whether you are putting in extra hours at work to build your career or out late with friends, preparing healthy and balanced meals may tend to take a back seat.
Here are the key nutrients to focus on:
Now is the time to fit in extra calcium for strong bones to prevent osteoporosis in the future. Aim for three servings of calcium-rich foods a day. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt are some of the richest sources. Other sources include fish such as salmon and sardines, tofu, seeds, nuts, and leafy greens. Consider these ways to add more calcium into your diet:
- Make a yogurt parfait for breakfast.
- Whip up a fruit smoothie.
- Have a low-fat cheese stick with a piece of fruit as a snack.
- Add some low-fat feta to leafy salads.
- Add raw nuts as a snack.
Not getting enough iron results in fatigue and a weakened immune system. Red meat, chicken, and fish are some of the best sources of iron, with the added benefit of protein and zinc. Smaller amounts of iron can be found in green leafy vegetables and legumes, which should be consumed with foods rich in vitamin C (tomato, broccoli, orange juice) to increase absorption. Try these ideas to increase your iron intake:
- A handful of berries added to breakfast cereal
- Vegetables or a spinach salad with meals
- Fruit as a snack or dessert
- A small glass of orange juice with meals
During this time you may be establishing your career, running kids around, and managing your social calendar. Every day is busy and can leave you feeling totally drained, not to mention the metabolism that once allowed you to consume late-night pizza is slowing down.
Here’s what you may need to focus on:
Keep the carbs
One mistake often made by women in this age group is to cut out carbs, thinking that it’s the quickest and best way to prevent weight gain. Instead of cutting out carbs altogether, concentrate on low-GI (Glycemic Index) carbs, which contain slow-releasing energy and are high in fiber, which keeps you fuller longer and helps to decrease the temptation to snack on the kids’ leftovers. Including whole-grain toast, one cup of whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, or rolled oats each day are great ways to include more whole grains and healthy sources of carbs.
For women in their child-bearing years, folate is extremely important. Rich sources include:
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
For pregnant or breastfeeding women, an iodine deficiency could increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth. Just three servings of low-fat dairy products per day and two to three servings of seafood a week can supply mothers with the iodine needed to keep themselves, their children, or their unborn baby healthy.
A woman’s body will go through significant changes as it approaches menopause. Estrogen production slows dramatically, muscle mass decreases as fat deposits increase and metabolism continues to slow down.
Here's what you may need to focus on:
Speed up your metabolism
Women tend to take good health for granted during these years. After the age of 40, your metabolic rate begins to drop, so it’s extra important to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise to prevent weight gain and maintain lean muscle mass.
Aim to eat a high fiber diet to maintain digestive health and keep you full on fewer calories. Try incorporating more fiber with three servings of whole grains (brown rice, oats, rye, and corn) daily and include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Thought to be of some health benefit to menopausal women, soybeans contain hormone-like substances called phytoestrogens (‘phyto’ meaning plant) known to mimic the action of the hormone estrogen. The health benefits of soy for menopausal women could include fewer hot flashes, protection from coronary heart disease, and lowered risk of osteoporosis. Here are some ways to add a number of soy products to your diet:
- Calcium-fortified soy
- Soy nuts
- Soy patties, cheese, and yogurt
- Soy breakfast cereal
Antioxidants fight to prevent free radical damage and help minimize the impact of aging. Moreover, you can find antioxidants in foods and drinks you may love such as wine, dark chocolate, and even beef which should be enjoyed in moderation.
- Vitamin A: Helps your skin maintain a healthy glow. Milk, yellow-orange fruits, and vegetables (especially spinach and broccoli) are good sources.
- Vitamin C: Boosts your immune function. Good sources include citrus fruits, tomatoes, and berries.
- Vitamin E: Prevents heart disease. Green leafy vegetables, whole grains (rye, brown rice, oats, and barley), and eggs are all excellent sources.
Want specific tips on what to eat? Talk to a nutritionist on Amwell.