Catherine Matthews

Whether you are a sprightly 20 year old without a care in the world or a 60 year old with reduced mobility the way you eat dictates the way you live

Neglect to meet your nutritional requirements now and it will catch up with you sooner or later. If you don’t eat sufficient calcium when you are young, you will suffer the consequences in middle age. Forget to take a folic acid supplement when you are of child bearing age and you have an increased risk of delivering a baby with birth defects.

Eating correctly for your age can improve your lifestyle, reduce the risks of chronic health problems and keep you living well into your twilight years.

Your 20’s

Socialising, getting married, working your first post college job, even starting a family are just some of the excuses that can come between you and healthy eating in your 20’s. At this age you might think you are invincible but you may already be a prime candidate for chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Aging begins much earlier than people realise so the sooner you make diet and exercise changes to promote health, the more likely you are to avoid premature aging and age-related diseases.

In your 20’s start choosing low fat, low salt and lower sugar foods to help prevent the risks of suffering a heart attack or developing Diabetes later in life.

What changes can you make?

• Switch from refined, white bread to 100 percent whole wheat bread.
• Fill your plate with dark, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, which is a rich source of iron and folate, as well as calcium and vitamin K essential for bone health.
• Use olive oil for dressings on salads to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
• Take a packed lunch to work with you and nibble on healthy snacks such as trail mix, popcorn, yoghurt and dried fruit throughout the day.
• Plan your shopping budget at the start of the week and stick to it. Allow yourself a little money for treats but limit yourself to no more than one or 2 per week, for instance perhaps allow yourself one take away at the weekend.
• Drink sensibly. A culture of ‘alcohol and intoxication tolerance’ has become established in the UK with the increasing focus on alcohol as a social crutch, especially for young adults. All sorts of social and physical problems stem from binge drinking so be a little savvy the next time you go out for a drink.
1. Space your drinks with a non-alcoholic drink in between.
2. Don't drink on an empty stomach. Have something to eat first.
3. Don't drink every day. Have two or three alcohol-free days in the week.
• There may be a temptation to stop exercising in your 20’s due to a busy lifestyle but try incorporating exercise into your social scene. Start a tag rugby team with a group of friends or join a fun dancing class that will improve your moves on the dance floor. Regular exercise is one of the best preventative measures you can take against age-related diseases.

A general healthy eating plan that is in keeping with government guidelines while still being convenient and tasty to follow is perfect for the average 20 year old.

Your 30’s

In your 30’s you are probably busy juggling family demands with your career so nutrition tends to slip down the priority list. Eating on the run is commonplace among this age group and how many of you are guilty of scoffing the kids leftovers?

The first signs of heart disease, osteoporosis may become noticeable at this age and unless you are careful about what you eat you will find that you gain weight more quickly than you did when you were in your 20’s. Middle age spread is no longer a phenomenon of the over 50’s, men and women in their 30’s are increasingly experiencing weight gain due to inactive lifestyles, sedentary jobs, drinking too much alcohol and eating in excess of their calorie needs.

What do you need to be aware of in your 30’s?

• More women are choosing to wait until their 30’s to have children so adequate vitamin and mineral intake are even more important for this age group. Ensure you are taking your folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy. Iron intake is also essential for women in this age group. National survey data shows that in Britain, 41% of 25-34 year olds have an intake below the lowest reference nutrient intake (LNRI) of 8.0mg/day. Pregnant women can become deficient in iron so it is important that they eat good sources of iron such as red meat, pulses, bread, green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.

• You may not be able to de-crinkle the wrinkles but you can certainly slow the aging process. Drink plenty of water, and if you drink coffee try to stick with the decaffeinated version as caffeine can dehydrate the skin. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables; they are packed with antioxidants which slow the aging process.

• Stick to family friendly meals. Main meals should be budget friendly and easy to make. Stir-fries, casseroles and soups are easy to prepare and won't break the budget.

In your 30's follow a Gylceamic index (Gi) plan, it will keep you feeling full between meals and help to control the release of sugar from your food which is good news for your energy levels.

Your 40’s

In your 40’s you may be less active than you were in your 30’s and a shift in hormonal balance occurs in menopausal women. Women of this age who never had trouble maintaining a normal weight before may suddenly find themselves battling the bulge, especially around the midriff.

How do you keep slim, trim and vibrant in your 40’s?

• You may need to reduce your food intake by 100 or 200 calories because your metabolism could have slowed down or in many cases you are just less active than when you were younger.
• Aim to eat a High Fibre diet as it helps to reduce bloating and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
• Eat at least 2 portions of oily fish for example salmon, mackerel and herring per week. Oily fish contains the essential omega 3 fatty acids which have have also been linked to reducing the risks of developing certain cancers, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Omega 3 fats also benefits the skin as it rejuvenates skin cells.
• Improve your circulation by doing regular cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, walking and swimming. Use strength endurance exercises such as weight lifting to enhance muscle tone.

Your 50’s

Like the previous age group weight gain can be a dilemma for people in their 50’s. The rate at which you burn calories has declined yet you are continuing to eat as many calories as you did when you were younger, more active, pre-menopausal…need I go on?

As you age you will need to reduce your calories slightly. Increasing the amount of exercise you get will help to boost your metabolism so if you could benefit from shedding a few pounds, GET ACTIVE.

• Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is what the experts recommend. It can be all in one half-hour, or split into smaller bouts of activity throughout your day.
• Eat at least 5 portions of colourful fruit and vegetables per day as they are full of antioxidants that will fight immune system damage.
• Eating foods rich in soy helps to ease the hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause.
• Following a Mediterranean diet can help to reduce the risks of developing heart disease so base your diet around fish, fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and olive oil.
• Eat plenty of high calcium foods such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, dark green vegetables, tinned tuna and fortified breakfast cereals to help slow down bone loss.
• Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce joint tenderness and the need for corticosteroid drugs in rheumatoid arthritis.
• Studies have linked the consumption of the essential mineral selenium with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Good food sources include brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.

60+

In your 60’s all of the previous guidelines will still apply, here is a quick summary.

• Match your energy intake to your energy input, in simple terms if you are not getting much exercise eat less food.
• Eat plenty of fibre rich foods to prevent intestinal disorders such as IBS and constipation.
• Have 3 portions of low dairy per week, people that consume dairy on a regular basis have a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis and obesity.
• Eating folic acid helps to maintain better health in older years. Good sources are green vegetables and brown rice, as well as bread and breakfast cereals that have vitamins added.
• As you get older you may be more susceptible to infection so be extra vigilant about food safety. Some germs, such as Listeria monocytogenes can cause food borne illness in people with reduced immunity, particularly those over 60
These people should avoid eating pasteurised and unpasteurised soft mould-ripened cheese, such as Camembert, soft blue cheese, and all types of pâté, because they can contain listeria.

Help promote your heart health as you age and follow our Heart Smart plan.