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As we age, our diets need to change! Dawn Napoli provides dietary recommendations for women by age group

July 08, 2013

In your 20s

It’s important to remember that what you are eating in your 20s can set you up for eating habits throughout your whole adult life.

Being on the run with friends, college, dating, new career, getting married and maybe starting a new family can really impede on your good eating habits. Brown University researchers found that 20-somethings eat 25 percent more fast-food meals than they did in their teens. Instead of choosing calorie-laden foods through a drive-thru, opt for convenience foods like rotisserie chicken, shrimp cocktail, steamed dumplings, and salads.

Most people do not realize how many extra calories they are drinking. Many mixed drinks contain “empty” calories from the added sugars and/or salts. Instead choose light beer, wine, or simple cocktails with low-calorie mixers such as lemon or lime juice, light fruit juices, or non-calorie flavorings (ie. Crystal Light, Mio). Or skip the mixers all together and opt for  a drink “on the rocks” or one made with infused vodkas- these are not sweetened, but infused with flavors from jalapeno to peach without adding any extra calories.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that 7.7 percent of adolescent females weren't getting the minimum recommended amount of protein.  Protein is an important nutrient that helps keep you feeling full and provides the building blocks for muscle, skin, hair, and nails. Get your protein with lean meats (fish, skinless white meat poultry, lean steak), eggs, low-fat dairy, and plant sources (beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, soybeans).

According to the USDA, most women in their 20s get less than half the recommended amount of potassium, an electrolyte needed for your muscles and heart to function properly. Two cups of fresh fruit (an apple, a banana, and a few strawberries) and two cups of veggies (a garden salad with broccoli) will provide an adequate amount.

Will all the overwhelming changes in a woman’s life during this time, it is no surprise that women in their 20s are particularly susceptible to depression. By including omega-3 rich foods in your diet, you can help boost the level of serotonin, a feel-good chemical in your brain. Wild caught salmon and tuna are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, however you can also get some from walnuts, ground flaxseeds, and canola oil.

In your 30s

Put your health first. Many women by this time in their life are more focused on juggling kids, marriage, and career that their waistlines suffer. This is the age when diabetes and hypertension start to creep up due to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Monitor your weight carefully. By dropping just 10% of your weight, you can decrease your risk for these diseases.

Being on the run with kids can make it difficult to stick to healthful diet choices.  Buy healthful snacks that can also be fun for children (ie. low fat cheese strings, carrot sticks, apple slices with peanut butter, yogurt), and throw them in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack that you can easily grab on the way out the door. By doing this you are assuring everyone is snacking healthfully and you are not wasting extra money on junk food- instead of your waistline becoming thicker, your wallet will.

Folate in an important B vitamin needed to support healthy pregnancies, preventing neural-tube defects and helping your body make new cells. The daily 400-microgam requirement is easy to meet by including foods such as spinach, black-eyed peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and fortified orange juice.

Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are bioactive plant-derived compounds associated with positive health effects. These compounds are continuously studied for their possible antioxidant effects, reduction of heart disease, and prevention of cancer development. Some of the well known phytochemicals are lycopene from tomatoes, beta-carotene from pumpkin, carrots, and winter squash, and resveratrol from red grapes and red wine. However, coffee and chocolate can also contain a high amount of phytonutrients

Inadequate iron intake can make you feel physically drained and perform worse on cognitive tasks. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme (derives from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells) and non-heme (the form of iron added to iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods). While heme iron is the better absorbed form, non-heme iron makes up the majority of dietary iron. Foods high in heme iron: chicken liver, oysters, skinless poultry, and tuna. Foods high in non-heme iron: fortified breakfast cereals, soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, and tofu. *Hint: vitamin C improves the absorption of non-heme iron; drink a glass of orange juice with your fortified cereal in the morning.

In your 40s

This is the age when women start to find time for themselves again. Take advantage of this time to optimize your health.

During the childbearing years, women put on weight around the butt, hip, and thigh area in order to support a healthy pregnancy and fuel breastfeeding. The fat cells in these areas have estrogen receptors, as you go through estrogen withdrawal and those receptors aren’t being activated anymore, it redirects the fat to your tummy. By including the CDC recommendations for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (ie. brisk walking) every week and muscle –strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week and cutting just 100 calories per day, you can help fight the belly bulge. Easy ways to cut 100 calories- flavor your coffee with cinnamon and nutmeg instead of flavored syrups or creamers, stuff your sandwich with more fresh veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, shredded carrots, sliced cucumber) and less meat & cheese, drink sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon, lime, or orange instead of drinking calorie-laden iced tea or soda.

We have all heard how fiber can help makes us feel fuller longer, but did you know that it has also been proven to decrease cholesterol and reduce your risk for colon cancer? You should aim for an equal mix of soluble and insoluble fiber to meet the recommended 25-35 grams per day. Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel in the digestive tract, which slows the movement of food through the stomach and small intestines, lowering the rate of nutrient absorption from the stomach and small intestine. This result is a reduction in cholesterol, significantly reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, and improved glucose control in persons with Type 2 diabetes. Examples: Oats, oat bran, oatmeal, flax seed,  nuts,  beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries, apple pulp. Insoluble fiber is more rough in texture and often consists of cellulose, which acts as a natural laxative to speed the passage of food through the stomach and intestines, which significantly reduces the risk of constipation and other gastrointestinal diseases. Examples: whole wheat breads, rye, rice, barley, oats, fruit skins, corn, nuts, cabbage, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower.

In your 50s

As you approach menopause, bone-building estrogen starts to decline and calcium becomes more important. Unfortunately at this time, you also start to absorb less calcium from your foods because your stomach doesn’t make as much of the acid necessary for absorption. Calcium requirements are increased to 1,200 milligrams per day by this age and can be achieved by consuming  1 cup low-fat milk + ½ cup low- fat yogurt + 1 cup cooked spinach + 1 ounce part-skim mozzarella cheese.  *Please note- Calcium absorption is best when a person consumes no more than 500 mg at one time. So a person who takes 1,000 mg/day of calcium from supplements, for example, should split the dose rather than take it all at once.

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, keeps your immune system strong, and may protect you against breast and colon cancers. However, during your 40s, vitamin D levels tend to plummet. It may be beneficial to have your physician check your vitamin D status during your preventative health visit. Although it is difficult to get adequate vitamin D from your diet because very few foods contain it, mushrooms are one of the only plant foods that make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. This has prompted growers to place mushrooms under UV light and increase the amount of vitamin D. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are also among the best sources.