Women's Nutrition Through the Decades

Wrinkles, grey - or no - hair, yellow teeth, slower metabolism, decreased sex drive... Is that what runs through your head when someone says “aging”? Well, you’re not alone! We all have some sense of what to expect, but there is a lot of confusion about what you should and shouldn’t be doing, eating, drinking, or putting on your skin, nails and hair. And every time we cross over into another decade, we frantically search for how to unlock all the secrets to healthy and happy aging. Some things, like grey hair, are genetic and we just have to embrace them. But there are some things we can do to address our body’s specific needs as they change over time. From the days of eating an entire sleeve of Oreos during final exams, to the days when you feel like you gain a pound by just looking at an Oreo, here are some tips I shared with the ladies at The View about “Nutrition Through the Decades”. Whether it’s getting more iron when you’re in your 20’s or taking a ubiquinol supplement in your 50’s, check your decade for what you need to know now!

The 20's

New is the key word for our twenty-somethings. New job, new city, new love interests. Life is constantly on the go, and according to researchers at Brown University Medical School, people in their 20’s eat 25% more fast-food meals than they did in their teens! When juggling jobs with classes and a busy social life, processed convenience foods may seem like a good option, but they can quickly make you trade in your skinny jeans for a baggier, boyfriend fit. Instead, try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat. And of course keep up a regular exercise schedule. Eating well and exercising will also give your body energy for that busy social calendar!

What You Need Now

  • calcium in almondsIron: Iron is important for oxygen transport in cells - so if you’re low in iron, you will feel tired!  Women in their 20’s are especially at risk for iron deficiency because iron is lost in the blood during menstruation. Eat lean beef, spinach, edamame and oysters to pump up your iron intake.
  • Calcium: A woman’s peak bone mass is reached by about age 30 - so pack in calcium (and vitamin D) while your bones are still storing it. Plain greek yogurt, milk or almond milk, almonds and kale are all great sources of calcium.
  • Protein: Essential for building muscle and keeping you satisfied, protein also stimulates a hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 that promotes bone formation. Opt for fish, eggs, nuts, beans and lentils.

The 30's

You’re more settled into your career, you’re putting down roots, and maybe even starting a family. Of course it’s important to eat healthfully throughout pregnancy, but it’s important to live a healthy lifestyle all the time, too. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned and many women don’t know they’re pregnant for the first several weeks. That initial time is absolutely crucial for the development of your new baby so it’s important to balance your diet just as you’re balancing everything else in your busy life! 

What You Need Now

  • salmon sashimiFolate: This B vitamin is particularly important during the first 2-3 weeks of pregnancy for the baby’s developing nervous system. Choose foods like lentils, spinach, romaine lettuce, and asparagus for increased folate intake.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: The stresses of life can lead to the secretion of hormones like cortisol that contribute to inflammation and belly fat. Omega 3’s have been shown to reduce levels of this pesky hormone, and also prevent collagen breakdown in the skin (translation: smoother skin and fewer wrinkles!). Eat salmon, herring, North Atlantic mackerel, chunk light tuna, grass-fed beef, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
  • Calcium (again!): You start losing bone mass after 35, so getting the right amount of calcium is essential to keep bones strong.

The 40's

In your 40’s you’re bogged down with responsibilities—the kids, the spouse, the mortgage, the car repairs—it never ends! Those time demands and all the associated stress can make exercise a low priority, which can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. The dietary choices you make now will have a significant impact on both your waistline and your risk for chronic disease.

What You Need Now

  • bowl of raspberriesFiber: Keeps you feeling full for longer and can help combat chronic conditions we are at increased risk for as we age. Incorporate wheat bran, black beans, raspberries, bulgur, and whole fruit with the skin into your diet.
  • Vitamin D: We need more calcium as we age for strong healthy bones, but our aging bodies are unable to absorb calcium as efficiently as they used to; Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption. Opt for tuna, eggs, swiss cheese, and vitamin D-fortified milk.
  • Vitamin C: Plays a role in boosting collagen production, which aids in the growth of cells and blood vessels and contributes to skin’s firmness and strength (aka fewer wrinkles!). Munch on raw bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, and kiwi.

The 50's

Chances are you’ve either started, or are currently experiencing the dreaded M word- yes, menopause. Not only are you moving a little slower these days, but so is your metabolism. Additionally, studies show that menopause may actually lead to increased belly fat; as hormones change, fat mass increases while muscle mass decreases. It is even more important now to make sure every calorie you take in is nutrient dense.

What You Need Now

  • avocadoMonounsaturated fats (MUFAs): It may seem counterintuitive to fight fat with fat, but fats help moderate hormones, appetite, insulin response and vitamin absorption, all of which are vital during menopause. But all fats are not created equal. Increasing MUFAs can lower your cholesterol. Choose foods like nuts, olive oil, avocado, and tahini.
  • Water: Important at every age and stage of life, water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and every system in your body depends on water. With age, we lose our ability to conserve water and some medications can cause dehydration, too. Don’t wait for your body to tell you it’s thirsty, because it may be too late!
  • Vitamin A: Your eyesight might not be what it used to - Vitamin A (aka beta-carotene) or retinol, is important for vision. Eat colorful foods like sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupes, and apricots.
  • Ubiquinol: Heart disease is the number one killer of women (and total deaths in the United States) and now is your time to prevent it. Ubiquinol, the active form of Coenzyme Q10, is an antioxidant that provides energy for a strong and healthy heart helping to protect and strengthen it. Our bodies naturally produce CoQ10, but as we age, we lose the ability to convert CoQ10 to Ubiquinol. You can get ubiquinol in small amounts from food sources like beef shoulder, chicken breast, tuna and avocado, but most people will need to supplement their diet. I recommend a ubiquinol supplement for both men and women starting at young as 40.

For more, check out the full March 26th episode of The View. "Nutrion Through the Decades" is the last segment starting at the 31:22 mark.

This article is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be used as or substituted for medical advice.  Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health care provider with any questions about your health or a medical condition.  Never disregard or delay seeking medical advice because of something you have read on the internet.