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How to Eat Healthy at Every Age

Your body isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago-and neither are your nutritional needs. Here’s how to eat for optimal health in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

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Eat Well at Every Age

Our bodies change as we get older: hormones see-saw, the metabolism shifts, and muscle tone decreases. Luckily, certain nutrients can support our fluctuating needs, and healthy eating habits can have a tremendous impact.

According to Vancouver-based registered dietitian Nicole Fetterly, vegetables and fruits should always make up half of what we eat. These foods are rich in antioxidants, which stop disease-causing free radicals and slow the symptoms of aging. 

Their effects can be visible (helping to preserve skin tone, for example) or internal (like warding off arterial damage). For help on how to fill the rest of your plate, here’s a primer.

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In your 30s

After our 20s, we have a slower metabolism and require fewer calories. Help regulate blood pressure and conserve muscle and bone with magnesium-rich foods like chard, soy yogourt and wheat bran. Limit meat intake to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease; instead, opt for plant-based proteins (such as nuts and lentils). For women, spinach, pumpkin seeds, beans and turkey can replenish iron lost through menstruation.

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In your 40s

As your body sets the stage for later life, focus on fibre (in bran, beans, flax, oats, produce and whole grains) to support digestion, lower cholesterol and control sugar levels. Adequate fibre (35 to 38 grams a day for men; 25 for women) can prevent toxins from building up in the colon and reduce risk of colon cancer, Fetterly says. 

Because men in their 40s are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, Cyndi Gilbert, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, recommends heart-healthy oils (such as olive and fish) to avoid heart attacks and strokes. Women in their late 40s can try flaxseed, soybeans and yams, which are full of estrogen-mimicking compounds, to improve perimenopausal symptoms.

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In your 50s

In middle age, says Gilbert, “We start to produce less stomach acid and lose some ability to absorb nutrients, so we need to eat more nutrient-dense foods.” Many adults experience a dip in vitamin B12, which maintains healthy nerves and blood cells. Boost levels with organ meats, shellfish, nutritional yeast and fortified milk. Blueberries, dark leafy greens and other antioxidant-rich foods can address chronic conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and high cholesterol.

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In your 60s and beyond

“It’s important to maintain cognitive function because we can form neural pathways up until our 80s,” Fetterly says. Unsaturated fats (found in olive oil, fish, flax, avocados, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed meat and dairy products) can boost mood and brain function, increase “good” HDL cholesterol and cut down inflammation. 

Because older skin is less able to absorb immune-bolstering vitamin D from the sun, compensate with D-rich foods such as cow’s milk, soy milk and salmon. And keep consuming calcium-especially women, who experience rapid bone loss in menopause.