Teens to 20s: Bone Building
In your 20s, you’re still building up bone density, so this is the decade to continue to help your bones grow strong and healthy. The more density you start off with, the better, as your bones will lose density over the years.
During these years, it is important to consume calcium. Not only does it build strong bones, but it is also important for healthy muscles, nerves and heart. Both men and women need 1,000 milligrams per day from the age of 19 until 50. Enjoy low-fat or fat-free dairy products, opt for calcium-fortified foods and beverages, such as soy milk, 100% orange juice, beans, leafy greens, almonds and canned salmon with soft bones.
20s to 30s: Preparing for Baby
During this time, many women are getting prepared to have children. For women who plan on becoming pregnant, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming between 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid per day. Many cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables are great sources of folic acid, but a supplement is usually needed early on in pregnancy to prevent later issues with fetuses, such as spina bifida. This is also a time for men and women to start thinking about how to lead a healthy lifestyle and prevent chronic diseases. A healthy eating pattern rich in plant-based foods is likely to help maintain a healthy weight and prevent dieting and weight cycling which increases the risk for coronary heart disease.
30s to 40s: Fuel up with fiber
During this time, it is important to get in the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables is recommended per day. If you are not used to eating fruits and veggies this often, make it fun by introducing a new fruit or vegetable each week that you don’t typically buy.
Try snacking on fruit including apples, bananas and clementines, or opt for vegetable-packed, broth-based soups, salads piled with greens and smoothies with berries. If you don’t like the taste of raw vegetables, try roasting them which brings out their natural sweetness.
Another important nutrient is dietary fiber, which may help protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. Women and men ages 31 to 50 need about 25 and 31 grams per day, respectively. Most adults get only about half that amount. Luckily, the fruits and veggies you’re eating for the vitamins and minerals are also rich in dietary fiber, and whole grains and beans are other good sources.
40s and 50s: Mindful Eating
For most women this is an especially difficult time due to perimenopause and menopause. Hormones are constantly fluctuating and many women try fad diets to control weight gain. However, this can lead to weight cycling. What can be more helpful is focusing on overall health instead of weight. Men also need to decrease their caloric intake in order to prevent weight gain during this time, as metabolism is slowing down. Both women and men should practice mindful eating and continue to engage in at least 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.
An especially important nutrient during this time is vitamin D. It’s essential for bone health, and researchers believe it may reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease and infectious diseases. Vitamin D is difficult to get from food. The best sources are fatty fish, like salmon and trout. Fortified foods and beverages, including milk and 100% fruit juices and cereals, as well as eggs are good too. The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 600 IU per day for both women and men ages 19 to 70, but the majority of adults don’t get enough. Consult your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist about your need for a supplement.
60s and Above: Protein Power
Protein, along with regular strength building activities, is essential for maintaining muscle, which we tend to lose as we age. Consuming enough protein also may be linked with bone health.
Women and men in their sixties need 5 to 5 1/2 ounce-equivalents, respectively, of protein foods daily and preferably spread throughout the day. Good sources include lean cuts of beef, chicken, fish, pork and lamb, as well as eggs, beans, tofu and nuts, low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese.
Vitamin B12, which helps your body make red blood cells and keep the brain and nervous system healthy, is another vital nutrient. However, as people get older they can develop a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12. You can get B12 through any food that comes from an animal: meat, fish, dairy products and eggs, as well as fortified foods. Talk to your doctor to see if you need a supplement, especially if your eating plan is mostly plant-based.
Written by Victoria Luera, Lone Star Circle of Care Registered Dietitian. Published by Ashley Wild.