The general advice for healthy eating is the same for everyone – eat more fruit and veg, drink plenty of water, avoid sugary food and those high in saturated fats too, and where possible always try and eat clean, minimally-processed produce. However, if you want to take things further, and be more specific to your individual needs, optimum nutrition advice can vary depending on your age, sex and lifestyle.
For example, because women have a menstrual bleed once a month, they are likely to need more iron in their diet, whereas men might need more protein due to their higher natural muscle mass. Ageing can also affect what you should eat as you may need higher quantities of specific nutrients at various points in your life.
Below we have provided a rough guide for optimum nutrition by age…
Early years & Teens
In the early years it is important to set good habits and educate your children about food and nutrition. Obviously whilst they are very young, babies are likely to be breast fed. As they grow older and more active protein becomes very important for building muscle mass, as well as a good dose of daily fruits and veggies. Try and stay clear of processed foods and fizzy drinks and offer health savoury snack options as well as sweet.
As they grow into their teenage years their needs start to differ depending on sex. Boys generally speaking will consume more calories than girls and will build most of the muscle mass during this time that will get them through the rest of their lives, so protein, calcium and vitamin D are all essential.
Girls are not only growing, but may be starting to have mensural cycles, so up the iron in their diets through eating more red meats and green leafy vegetables. During their late teens/early twenties most of a women’s skeletal strength is built and so their also will require added calcium and vitamin D to support this.
Twenties – Folate, Calcium & Iron
Men and women continue building bone into their mid 20’s so it is very important you ensure you continue to get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diets to build strength. This will protect against osteoporosis and fractures later in life. Aim to get 1000 mg of calcium per day, this is equivalent to one glass of milk.
Iron supports metabolism, transfers oxygen to muscles, aids mental concentration and is used to make hormones and connective tissue. Men need 8 mg of the mineral each day while women need 18 mg to offset iron losses from menstruation. Good sources of iron include red meat, lentils, soy beans, cooked spinach, prunes and raisins.
Folate is essential to repairing DNA and is needed by both men and women. However, women who plan to start a family in their 20’s or in other words are of child bearing age should ensure they take extra quantities of the nutrients in via their dies either by supplements or food sources such as spinach, broccoli, lentils or avocados.
Thirties – Calories & Magnesium
Our metabolism starts to slow down in our thirties, and we begin to lose muscle mass through ageing. Our calorie requirements will start to decline also, which is why many people might notice weight gain if they continue with the same eating habits as in their twenties.
Men and women should also focus on increasing their intake of magnesium, a mineral that helps to generate energy, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar as well as maintain strong bones. Good sources of magnesium include almonds, plain yoghurt and cooked spinach.
Forties – Increase your antioxidants
Although the daily vitamin and nutrient requirements don’t change when you go into your forties, it is important that you focus on eating nutrient dense foods to help you in later decades. You should look to include foods high in vitamins C and E as these powerful antioxidants help to fend off free radicals which contribute to ageing and chronic diseases. Good sources of vitamin C include red and green peppers, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and kiwis, vegetables like broccoli, and sprouts. Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter.
Fifties – calcium, vitamin D, B12
Women in particular need to increase their calcium intake as they go into their fifties as they are more susceptible to rapid bone lose which occurs during the menopause. Calcium requirements don’t increase for men until their seventies.
Vitamin D is also needed in larger quantities, for both men and women, through food supplementation as we begin to lose the ability to produce the quantities we need at this age.
Finally, vitamin B12 requirements also increase. This is needed to make red blood cells as well as maintain and repair nerves and DNA. A multi vitamin supplement should do the trick in this case as older adults tend not to be able to absorb this nutrient as easily from foods.
Other advice to maintain optimum nutrition…
- In general, whole foods are always the preferred source for getting your nutrients as they provide the vitamins and minerals along with other things like fibre and hundreds of phytochemicals, which work to help maintain good overall health.
- Multi vitamins and other supplements are helpful when extra quantities of a mineral or vitamin are required.
- Fruits and vegetables are very nutrient rich, and contain many cancer fighting antioxidants. But they also contain fibre, which helps maintain bowel regularity.
- Water also assists with bowel functions, and it helps your skin stay well hydrated. As you age, your skin has a more difficult time maintaining a moisture balance.
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