How to eat healthy at every age
Discover how your nutritional needs change as you get older
A basic healthy diet is the same for everyone. We should all be eating at least five daily portions of fruit and vegetables (some studies say more), with some protein, nuts, seeds and starchy carbs, keeping fatty and sugary food and drink to a minimum.
But at different points in your life, you need to be careful to get certain nutrients, to help prevent conditions common at those ages, and to help your body cope with what might be going on in your life. We look at what you need at each stage and how to get it,
Children & teens
Boost their bones
According to a review, 32 per cent of children aged four to 10 have low levels of vitamin D in the winter months, when there’s not enough sunlight for us to synthesise the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Children with darker skin are at particular risk, as they need more sunlight in order to generate vitamin D. which is essential for growing bones, Oily fish and eggs contain vitamin D, so include these in your child’s diet. They’ll need a supplement as well, to ensure they’re getting enough.
Build general wellbeing
Fruit and vegetables are important for overall health, but on average, boys aged 11 to 18 only manage three portions of fruit and veg daily, and girls only 2.7 servings, Try adding chopped veg to stews and sauces, mixing sweet potato in with mash and serving fruit with yogurt as a dessert. Get young children into the habit of eating plenty of fruit and vegetables from the start,
Tackle teen tiredness
We know that 46 per cent of girls aged 11 to 18 are not meeting minimum iron requirements,. Once periods start, they may be at risk of anaemia, which can cause tiredness. Try to ensure the girls have lean red meat a few days a week, along with green leafy vegetables, which are also a source of iron Late teens & 20s
Soothe digestive troubles
It’s common for young women to experience digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Pressures such as leaving home and looking for work can contribute. Making sure you have enough soluble fibre in your diet to prevent constipation, from a variety of fruit and veg, drinking plenty of water, It can be tempting to cut out food groups, such as dairy, to try to solve digestive problems, but this is a key time for laying down bone mass, and dairy is an important source of vital bone nutrient calcium. Don’t cut out food groups without advice from a dietician or nutritionist.
Increase your energy
Eating little and often can help keep energy levels stable, Low-GI snacks, combining protein with carbs, are ideal. This way, the glucose from food is released slowly into your bloodstream.’ Try snacking on oatcakes with Humous – chickpeas are a source of iron, an important energy nutrient.
30s and 40s
Boost your fertility
Antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, and the mineral selenium, all help combat oxidative stress, helping the development of healthy sperm and ova. Eat a rainbow of fruit and veg, along with nuts and seeds. As sperm has a high lipid content, men should get plenty of omega-3 fats, found in oily fish. Folic acid (vitamin B9) is a must, as it helps prevent neural tube defects in a baby – you can get it from green leafy veg, citrus and lentils, but you’ll need a supplement to get enough. try a preconception multivitamin and mineral.
Stress-proof your body
Juggling work with caring for kids and other duties? The B vitamins help with energy metabolism. Get plenty by eating meat, seafood, legumes and whole grains. B12 isn’t available in plant foods, so if you’re vegan, top up with a supplement. Managing stress is also about avoiding certain foods. Steer clear of refined foods and caffeine, as these can aggravate stress. Swap your builders’ brew for herbal tea and for a sweet energy boost, try dried fruit and nuts.
50s and 60s
Strengthen your bones
After menopause, women lose the bone-bolstering effects of oestrogen, raising fracture risk. Calcium is essential for maintaining bone density. You need 700mg daily – a glass of milk, a yogurt and a matchbox-sized piece of cheddar will hit the target. Sardines containing soft bones, almonds, sesame seeds and broccoli are other good sources. You also need vitamin D to help your body absorb the calcium – you can find some in oily fish and eggs, and top up with a supplement in winter. ‘Vitamin K also helps protect bone density. Find it in green leafy veg.
Safeguard your heart
Metabolism begins to slow at this age, so watch your portion sizes, avoid too much sugar and exercise more to avoid weight gain, a major risk factor for heart disease. Start the day with porridge. Oats contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which research shows can help scrub your arteries of cholesterol, cutting your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Recent evidence has suggested full fat dairy may have a heart-protective effect, but as it’s high in calories, eat it in moderation. A report in the journal Circulation found the omega-3 fats in oily fish could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, so include two portions a week.
Protect your brain
Research has shown that elderly people have higher levels of homocysteine in their blood. This is a by-product of protein metabolism, but excessive amounts have been linked with a range of problems from stroke to dementia. Folate and vitamins B6 and B12 help reduce levels and lower your risk of these conditions. Good sources of folate include green veg, such as broccoli, while B12 and B6 are found in eggs, dairy, meat and fish.
Keep your vision sharp
One in 10 people over 65 has some degree of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common cause of vision loss. Fortunately, the right diet can help lower your risk. In one study, scientists found that eating fish four or more times a week cut the risk of AMD by 35 per cent. Eating lots of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables can also help lower your risk,. These contain vital nutrients for eye health, such as lutein and zeaxanthin.