eating for your age...

Just as our hairstyles and fashion sense change as we age, so too should our diet. Our health needs are constantly evolving, which means our approach to nutrition in our sixties should differ from that in our twenties.

Forties & Fifties
This is the period in a woman’s life when menopausal symptoms start to rear their ugly head. A well-balanced diet is essential, as it helps the body to adjust automatically to hormone changes, naturally maintaining oestrogen levels from the adrenal glands and fat deposits. Blood sugar control is key! If your blood sugar is all over the place you are more likely to experience fatigue, irritability and hot flushes. Balancing your blood sugar also prevents your adrenal glands from working overtime, which is important because they should be producing more oestrogen while your ovaries are producing less. Stabilise your blood sugar by eating low glycaemic load carbohydrates with protein while avoiding sugar, refined foods and stimulants such as tea and coffee.

Menopausal and postmenopausal women can benefit from including phyto-oestrogens in their diet. These plant hormones imitate the protective effect of oestrogen on the heart and bones. In the breast, the same compounds appear to compete with natural oestrogen in a way that may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Phyto-oestrogens have also been shown to reduce vaginal dryness and irritation as well as hot flushes. 

Phyto-oestrogens can also have a protective effect on men. In Japan, where consumption of fermented soy products is high, the death rate from prostate cancer is far lower than it is in the West. As many men over the age of 55 suffer from an enlarged prostate and 20,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in Britain annually, it is advisable to increase these foods in the diet. Zinc has also been found to be a very important nutrient for protection of the prostate. 

Good sources of zinc are oysters, peas and pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and linseed. Tomatoes are especially beneficial for prostate health, as they are packed full of an important antioxidant called lycopene. Sun-ripened and very ripe tomatoes tend to contain higher levels of lycopene than their paler counterparts.

Not only are green leafy vegetables a good source of calcium, which is necessary for bone health, they are also rich in an antioxidant called lutein. Lutein is concentrated in the retina of the eye, and low levels are linked with a risk of macular degeneration – the leading cause of age-related blindness. So eat your greens!

In this age group the risk of a heart attack and heart disease rises. To decrease your risk significantly avoid fried foods and limit your intake of foods high in saturated fats. Increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by consuming significant quantities of omega-3 oils, found in oily fish, walnuts and flax seed oil. Reducing salt intake is important to help minimise the rises in blood pressure that can occur in middle age. 

However, reducing salt is only one factor. In order to manage blood pressure effectively one also needs to increase intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium by eating plenty of fresh fruit & vegetables.

Over Sixties
Production of stomach acid and enzymes often declines with age. Stomach acid production depends on zinc, so in your sixties and beyond it is important to ensure that your zinc intake is adequate. Lack of zinc also reduces a person’s sense of taste and smell, resulting in a preference for strongly flavoured foods like cheese and meat, and those high in salt and additives such as MSG and lack of interest in fruit and vegetables.  Improving zinc intake, rather than avoiding or overcooking vegetables and adding strongly flavoured sauces can improve your health considerably.

One of the greatest causes of suffering in old age is aching joints and arthritis. To reduce symptoms all simple processed and concentrated carbohydrates should be avoided. Complex carbohydrates and high-fibre foods should be emphasised, and fats should be kept to a minimum. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis food allergies are often involved, so it is advisable to identify and avoid the offending foods. 

Foods particularly beneficial for the rheumatoid arthritis sufferer include oily fish and flavonoid-rich berries such as cherries, blueberries and blackberries. Ginger and curcumin (found in turmeric) have been proven to have potent anti-inflammatory properties so use them liberally in cooking.

At over 60 women no longer require as much iron because they no longer have periods. However, dietary intake of vitamin D becomes even more important to protect against hip fractures and broken bones. You can hit your daily target with a serving of canned salmon. Eggs, butter and cheese provide smaller amounts of this vitamin, so a supplement may be necessary.

The occasional glass of red wine is fine into your sixties and beyond. Red wine is rich in antioxidants, which may help protect the heart. Researchers at the University of Bordeaux claim that red wine may even help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease when consumed in regular but moderate amounts. 

However, the best way to keep the brain sharp is to keep eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. A number of studies have shown that elderly people who eat lots of fruit, vegetables and their juices have better memories than those who say no to greens!

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