As we age, our bodies change. Therefore, so do our nutritional requirements. Here is a general guide for how to eat right for your age.
In our 20s, our bodies tend to be a little more forgiving. If we skip a few workouts or have a little too much to eat here and there, it is less detrimental to our overall health. Our bodies are also better at building bone and muscle fairly quickly and easily. At this stage in life, we should be concentrating on building a solid nutritional foundation of simple, general habits that can be followed throughout the rest of our lives. This includes consuming a wide variety of fruits and veggies, at least 3 servings of calcium-rich foods per day, and an adequate amount of protein.
Healthy habits may start to seem more important in our 30s since it is not as easy to lose body fat or gain muscle than it was in our 20s. This is a time to start adjusting our caloric intake and activity levels to account for a slightly slower metabolism. We should be looking for items of higher quality, nutritionally speaking. For example, drinking your calories in the form of alcohol may not be as well tolerated. Switch to a sparkling or seltzer water for a refreshing drink, while concentrating on eating whole foods in their natural state. For example, eat a whole apple instead of drinking a glass of apple juice.
In our 40s, we are continuing to improve upon our healthy habits. Unfortunately, the poor nutrition and fitness choices we made earlier in life are beginning to show their long-term effects. We may also be experiencing slower metabolism, changing bodies, and sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). It may be more difficult to build strength and muscle due to reduced levels of several hormones. New food sensitivities and intolerances may introduce themselves. Making smart adjustments to our eating pattern is essential. We must keep adjusting our caloric intake as our metabolism continues to slow. Concentrate on nutrient-rich fruits and veggies while eliminating the foods that cause problems. Adding foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts, salmon, and olive oil will help control inflammation. Probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kombucha, kefir and kimchi will aid in healthy digestion.
We experience several bodily changes in our 50s. Due to decreasing digestive health, more foods may now give us heartburn. Our circadian rhythm will naturally shift, and lean muscle loss will begin to accelerate. Females will experience pre-menopausal symptoms while males will experience lower testosterone. We should continue to adjust our caloric intake and increase our intake of essential fatty acids. This will help keep our brain sharp and other fatty tissues healthy while fighting the inflammation of chronic disease. The carotenoids and other pigments, found in colorful fruits and veggies, will help fight oxidative stress and reduce our risk of chronic diseases. Incorporating more natural anti-inflammatory food sources such as garlic, turmeric, tea and berries is also important.
To maintain overall physical health and brain function, staying active by choosing new and challenging activities is key. Creative ideas to keep you moving and healthy include joining a local running group, walking the dog, or traveling somewhere new with a friend. The focus for nutrition should be on high-quality, nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. These foods will help with the chronic inflammation and pain we may be feeling daily. As we age, digestion naturally declines so increasing our intake of vitamin B12, fiber, and probiotic-rich foods is important. We may also need to adjust our meal schedules or how much we eat at each meal due to a decreased or disrupted metabolism.
We find it easier to be more present in the moment during our 70s than when we were younger. Spending time with family and friends has become more rewarding. Exercise should focus on social activities that also increase functional strength and balance as falls become more common and everyday tasks become more challenging. Our digestive function further decreases, as does oral health. Food choices start to become affected by declining smell, taste, and saliva production. Increasing our fluid and fiber intake will help with decreased intestinal motility. With our appetite declining, we must also learn to pack more nutrition into smaller meals. A multivitamin may be of benefit in this stage of our life.
Throughout every stage of life, we should be choosing nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and veggies, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. These foods provide us with the nutrients our bodies need, help prevent chronic diseases, and promote overall health. We should focus on listening to our bodies. How do you feel after a healthy meal versus after a meal where you over-indulge on processed foods? Do you feel better when you are more active or sedentary? Begin to slowly adjust your food choices as you learn which behaviors are within your control. Another important aspect of aging is to build and maintain a strong community of social support through meaningful relationships.
If you’re unsure of what eating pattern to follow as you age, come see me for a free nutrition consultation!Schedule a Nutrition Consultation
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.