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Your diet should evolve with the way your body changes in your 20s, 30s and 40s. Here’s how to eat right as you grow older.
IN YOUR 20s
To cope with daily life
Eat more wholegrains, advises Benita Perch, a naturopathic physician from the Integrated Medicine Institute in Hong Kong. These keep energy levels up and prevent blood sugar levels from spiking – which can make you feel tired.
To build muscle
Eat 60g to 70g of good-quality protein daily, like skinless white-meat poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, and low-fat dairy products, suggests Benita. Stay trim by eating healthy fats in foods like salmon, sardines, tuna, avocado, nuts and seeds, and 20g to 35g of fibre from vegetables and fruits.
To maintain optimum bone health
Eat foods high in calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, says Benita, because bone mass peaks in your 20s. Choose dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, dairy products, and canned fish with bones, like sardines.
To prevent cardiovascular disease
Plaque starts building up in your arteries, reducing blood flow to your heart and increasing your risk of heart disease. Prevent this by eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
IN YOUR 30s
To promote fertility
Eat zinc-rich foods like lean beef, lamb, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, advises Tiffany Wee, a naturopathic physician at Verita Advanced Wellness, an integrated wellness centre in Singapore. Zinc boosts testosterone and sperm count in men, and in women, ensures proper cell division, which is vital in early pregnancy. But don’t take too high a supplement dosage of zinc – this can lead to copper deficiency in the long term, so consult your doctor first. Take 30-50mg of zinc daily.
To prevent loss of muscle mass
Eat quality protein like lean meat, eggs, tofu and dairy, says Tiffany. Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8 to find out how much to eat. So if you weigh 70kg, eat 56g of protein daily. Vitamins C, D and E, and selenium (in Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, mushrooms and grains) also preserve muscle.
To alleviate stress
Stress levels peak in your 30s as you juggle work, family and caring for ageing parents – which can contribute to heart disease, and diabetes, as a result of weight gain. Eat lean meat, beans and wholegrains, says Tiffany. These are high in B vitamins, which fend off anxiety, stress, fatigue and lethargy.
To prevent bone loss
Aim for 1,000mg of calcium daily with calcium-rich dairy products, tofu, green vegetables, almonds and sardines. But Tiffany says bones are made up of at least 12 minerals besides calcium, so a daily multivitamin supplement helps.
IN YOUR 40s
To cope with hormonal changes
The start of menopause (perimenopause) in your 40s causes your metabolic rate to decline, leading to increased fat and a drop in lean muscle mass. Janice Chong, a healthcare executive at Raffles Internal Medicine Centre in Singapore and a trained nutritionist, says wholegrain foods, legumes, fruits and veggies are packed with fibre, which keeps your appetite under control. Increased fat and less lean muscle raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water oily fish, olive oil, and flax seeds reduce blood vessel damage and inflammation, and help with joint stiffness.
To prevent osteoporosis
Supplement your diet with calcium and vitamin D, says Janice. Your bone density is about the same as in your 30s, but your body doesn’t absorb and utilise calcium as well as before.
To prevent skin ageing
Eat carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, cherries, prunes and citrus fruit, says Janice. These powerful antioxidants help prevent skin ageing caused by free-radical damage.
This article was originally published in SimplyHer January 2013.