Nutrition for the over 40s
We are all aware the best way to fight off ill health and age-related ailments is to start with our nutrition and get a balanced daily source of vitamins and nutrients. And we are often told the best way to build this arsenal is by eating a variety of foods which form a healthy, well-rounded diet.
But we also need to remember our bodies don’t work the same way at 40-plus as they did at 20 or 30. Muscle mass deteriorates, weight management becomes so much more tricky (tell me about it!), menopause may start and the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes begins to increase. Oh Joy! Something to look forwards to! Well actually, yes it is – providing we equip ourselves with the right tools, so we can be the healthiest we can possibly be, in order to face any unfortunate bouts of ill health, head on.
The best way to remain healthy for as long as we can is to get enough of the right vitamins and minerals. Where possible these should come from natural foods as they’re much easier for the body to absorb than ‘dust’. But sometimes we all need a helping hand. So what vitamins and minerals do we need in our quest for optimum health post-40? I’ve done some of the legwork for you, so here’s the low down on the main contenders and what roles they play.
The obvious choices:
There’s the most obvious choices, which you should be able to get easily from your diet, but which can also be found in most good multi vitamin supplements:
Vitamin A – which contributes to good vision and a healthy immune system amongst other benefits. You can get this from sweet potatoes, leafy greens, fish.
Vitamin C – contributes to collagen formation, normalises metabolism, healthy immune and nervous systems. Found in Kale, oranges, red peppers, kiwi fruit.
Vitamin E – helps to protect the cells from oxidative stress (which ages the skin). Look at almonds, spinach and kale for natural sources.
But then there are a few more important ones to consider adding…
In the red corner:
Once you hit 40 and beyond this super vitamin should be high up on your radar. It is essential for normal blood and brain function – helping eliminate that ‘foggy head’ feeling. It also aids mood support (no more mood swings – hurrah!), insomnia and bloating, strengthens hair, nails and skin too.
It’s easy to absorb vitamin B12 from our food (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) when we’re younger, but as we commence towards 50, it is less well absorbed by the body due to stomach acid levels dropping. The current recommended dose is 2.4mg per day. As it’s a water soluble vitamin you pee out what your body doesn’t need so don’t worry about over doing it.
There is some argument as to whether it’s a good idea to take a calcium supplement. After all, our bones absorb most of the calcium they require early on in life. But it does play a part in maintaining bone health along with other basic body functions and, if you’re not getting enough calcium from your diet, the body steals calcium from the bones – making them weaker.
This obviously becomes an issue as we get less steady on our feet. Women over 40 lose 1% bone loss per year so incorporating Calcium into your diet is beneficial. However, don’t go overboard because, as the saying goes ‘too much of anything is bad for you’ and it even may be harmful to your health. Most of our daily intake (1000mg for women aged 40-50 & 1200mg aged 50+) can be gotten from ensuring we are eating things like sardines, broccoli, almonds, tofu and spinach. (But for a good tip on how to absorb more, see vitamin D below).
I don’t know about you, but this has been in my health cupboard for several years, as soon as September rolls in to be truthful, to avoid slipping into that pessimistic S.A.D life!!
If you live higher up in the Northern Hemisphere its unlikely you all be getting enough vitamin D naturally from the sun – as there’s just not enough sunlight! Also, experts tell us to stay out of the sun or cover up. And as it cannot be absorbed, if you’re wearing sunscreen… well, its a catch 22!
Vitamin D is a superhero in other ways too. After the age of 40 it helps to protect us against age related illness. Deficiencies can include diabetes, MS, breast (and other age-related) cancers and heart disease. Also you’re wasting your time and money taking that calcium supplement if you lack vitamin D – as it is essential for the effective absorption of calcium (and phosphorous) in the body. So if your vitamin D levels are low, you are at a greater risk of osteoporosis. Also taking Vitamin D in conjunction with calcium can reduce risk fractures by 38% in women over 50.
Vitamin D can be found in fish, fortified dairy and cereals, eggs and grains. But its generally poorly absorbed. Vitamin D3 is the closest form of the vitamin to that which you’d get from the sun, so opt for that one. You would need at least 600IU per day (more after the age of 50). You can actually go as high as 4000IU before it has a negative effect.
These little wonders have a myriad and quite well documented list of health benefits for conditions associated with aging. This Includes cognitive decline and increased heart disease. They lower blood pressure and the bad LDL cholesterol, they also reduce the risk of heart disease and are useful for maintaining brain health. Rich sources of omega 3 include fish (especially oily like salmon, mackerel and trout), walnuts, flaxseeds and leafy veg. A healthy person should aim for 500mg.
In the blue corner:
Now if you suffer from sleepless nights. Behold! This is my latest superhero and deservedly should be popped upon a golden pedestal in my opinion for reasons I shall divulge:
Magnesium helps to regulate the blood pressure and is required to carry out over 600 reactions in the body. Already proven to be beneficial for migraines, PMS, depression and constipation. Magnesium is now being hailed as a cure for everything! (and there was me thinking that was Gin!)
Deficiencies of magnesium have been linked to many things from heart disease, diabetes and inflammation and it’s claimed the benefits of incorporating this little wonder into your diet are immense. It aids muscle, nerve & heart function, blood glucose control and even the dreaded scourge of the 40+ woman: insomnia!
We should all be getting enough (320mg for women age 40+) from food sources such as leafy greens like spinach and broccoli, dark chocolate, beans, soy, seeds, avocados and almonds and cashews. But you can get tested by your GP if you think your levels are low. This is advisable as there are some medications with which it reacts – especially medication for blood pressure, so you should speak to your doctor prior to taking it. Too much magnesium results in cramping, nausea and diarrhoea.
Iron is important for many bodily functions including the production of protein and delivering that all important oxygen to cells. Without sufficient iron, the body’s tissues and organs may not get enough oxygen which could lead to anaemia.
Women in their 40s can experience heavier menstrual losses so should consider getting more iron in their diet or taking a supplement.
Iron can be found in red meat, seafood, poultry, dried apricots, beans and leafy greens. A good tip is to drink a glass of orange juice when consuming iron-rich foods. This will be of benefit as Vitamin C boosts iron absorption. It is recommended that the upper limit is 45mg but you need to err on the side of caution with this one, so speak to your GP first.
This contributes to healthy cognitive function, energy-yielding metabolism, good skin, a healthy nervous system and the all important one – it helps to promote a normal thyroid function. It can be found in cranberries, yoghurt and sea vegetables like samphire and seaweed. Recommended intake is no more than 150mcg per day.
Selenium contributes to healthy skin and nails, a healthy immune system, normal thyroid production and protects the cells from oxidative stress. It can be found in yellowfin tuna and just a few brazil nuts can make all the difference. In supplement form, around 55mcg should do the trick.
Technically a spice, this is a serious contender for the superfood crown. Spices are some of natures most powerful natural medicines. Commonly found in curries, teas and the like, (although, personally, I stick it in all manner of things!) Turmeric has been used in traditional medicines for thousands of years.
It is an anti inflammatory, antioxidant superfood that has been shown to relieve joint pain, support brain function, be beneficial to skin and hair and elevates the mood! Like I said, a serious superfood!
About 500mg a day is a good dose to keep inflammation away and promote good gut health. But if you are experiencing chronic pain, you can quadruple that. (For a super boost to set you up for the day, see my Zingy morning tonic recipe!)
Neither a vitamin or a mineral but a very useful addition to the over 40s daily health. Probiotics keep the gut healthy and the weight down. Did you know just one course of antibiotics can leave your gut bacteria weaker for up to 4 years! Ideally, we should have a balance of 85% good bacteria and 15% bad for optimal gut health. There is some evidence probiotics can also be beneficial to diabetes, heart disease and stroke patients.
Fermented food pack a powerful punch because their natural probiotic content keeps our digestive tract in optimal health. Some of the richest sources come from around the world. Look for Kimchi (Korea), Sauerkraut (Europe), Chutney (India), Soya beans/Miso (Japan) and Kefir – a fermented milk drink which is super high in good bacteria originally from the mountains of Eastern Europe.
This is a fat soluble vitamin-like substance which is found in every cell in the human body. As we age the bodies production of Coenzyme Q10 reduces so its a good idea to give nature a helping hand! About 15mg is fine.
Now we’re empowered to lead the best, healthiest lives that we can… let battle commence!
**Many of these vitamins and minerals can be found in a single good multi-vitamin – but you’ll need to read the labels to make sure the quantities suit you. This list is not exhaustive and every body – and their requirements – are different. So if in doubt, please do check with your doctor, as not all supplements suit everyone.**