Eat for your age
As we grow older our interests, priorities and eating habits all change, so it's no surprise that our nutritional needs do also. The core principles of a healthy, balanced diet remain the same at 25 or 65, but we do need specific nutrients as we go through different life stages.
Live well at all ages
For your busy 20s & 30s
Start making time Life is busy for most women aged 20-30 and healthy eating is often way down the list of priorities. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that a high percentage of women in this age band failed to meet the recommended daily intake for several key nutrients, including calcium, folic acid and iron - and only 4% of women aged 19-24 consumed their 5-a-day target for fruit and veg.
Our bones continue growing until our late 20s, so a lack of calcium at this stage will greatly increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. It's also not uncommon for people in this age group to skip breakfast, meaning that fibre intake is usually low, which can lead to diverticular disease later in life.
This group may often eat salt-laden processed foods, which can increase the risk of blood pressure problems. Folic acid is especially important for women planning to become pregnant too, because it helps to prevent spina bifida.
- Calcium To ensure you're getting the required amount of calcium, you need to eat 3 servings from the dairy group each day (1 serving = 200ml milk, 1 small pot yogurt, 30g cheese). If you don't eat dairy, you should include products like Tropicana calcium-enriched orange juice.
- Fibre Make time for breakfast. Fortified wholegrain cereal with semi skimmed milk and a glass of fruit juice will provide fibre and several key vitamins.
- Low salt Check information on the back of the pack before you buy ready meals or sandwiches - for a main meal you should aim to eat no more than 2.5g salt (and no more than 6g a day). If you have ready meals, add an extra serving of vegetables.
- Folic acid Good sources of folate include fortified breakfast cereals (which also include iron), dark green leafy vegetables and oranges.
- Antioxidants Fruit and vegetables are the best source of antioxidants - make sure you eat at least 5 a day and a good variety of different produce.
- Iron Liver and lean red meat are the best and most easily absorbed form of iron, so try to eat red meat at least twice a week (you don't need to eat huge portions, 100g is enough). If you don't eat meat, choose a fortified breakfast cereal and eat plenty of green leafy veg.
- Alcohol Stick to safe guidelines - up to three units a day for women - and try to have at least one alcohol-free day a week.
In your 40s
Exercise and iron are important At this time of life many people still take their good health for granted, and healthy eating and exercise are often put on the back burner. But as we grow older, good nutrition and regular exercise become even more important - now is the time to invest in your future good health. A diet rich in antioxidants will help protect against problems like heart disease, Alzheimer's, cataracts and certain types of cancer.After the age of 40, the metabolic rate (the speed at which the body burns calories) drops, but the drop is very modest and the real reason many people in this age bracket start to suffer from middle-aged spread is a lack of exercise.
Excess weight will increase the risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis and the longer you wait before you tackle the problem the harder it becomes - nip any weight gain in the bud now before it becomes a serious problem.
One in four women in their 40s have low iron stores, which can contribute to the 'tired all the time' syndrome. The good news for the over 40s is that alcohol (in moderation) can help to keep the heart healthy, but don't exceed safe guidelines, particularly with home-poured measures.