Turning 40 is a major milestone. At age 40, we’re still relatively young and agile, and yet this is also when the body begins to go through some major transitions — the metabolism slows, menopause sets in for women, and the risk of many health conditions increases.
Generally speaking, it’s also when our bodies become less forgiving of the poor health choices we make.
This is why our food choices after 40 become particularly significant. A clean diet filled with nutrient-dense foods is now, more essential than ever in order to meet the needs of your changing body, and to help you age gracefully and guard against illness.
Now is a good time to start looking at your numbers — cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI and body fat — and start altering your lifestyle accordingly. By choosing the right foods and exercising regularly, we can ensure the smoothest transition into our 50s, 60s and beyond.
These dietary changes will help slow the aging process, fend off disease and keep you looking and feeling your best.
1. Fill Up On Fibre
Ever notice how it’s more difficult for older adults to “stay regular?”As we age, our bodily functions tend to slow down, and this is particularly true of our digestive systems. Foods rich in fibre therefore become more important than ever in our diets, so stock your kitchen full of whole grains and leafy greens. In addition to keeping our system running smoothly, fibre can help control appetite and blood sugar levels (ideal for preventing diabetes) and can help improve the body’s ability to regulate cholesterol levels. Until age 50, people need at least 25 grams of fibre a day; after 50, that amount drops to 21 grams. To get more fibre, always opt whole-grain versions of your favourite carbohydrates, and try to eat unprocessed fibre from natural sources, like nuts, seeds, fruits, oats and beans.
2. Cut Calories
Older adults have smaller appetites than their younger counterparts. This is because our metabolisms slow down at around age 40, and continue to slow as we grow older, so you need fewer calories overall to maintain your weight. Older adults have slower metabolisms and need less fuel to keep their bodies working at optimal levels. While your hungrier, younger self may have been able to eat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, now anything eaten in excess has a higher propensity to be stored on your body as fat. When cutting calories, make sure they come from non-nutrient dense sources like sweets, alcohol and processed carbohydrates instead of cutting important macros like protein, healthy fats and whole grains.
3. Load Up On Protein
Starting at age 40, we lose about 1 per cent of our muscle mass per year. This is important, because the more muscle you have on your body, the higher your metabolism, so you must work to prevent that muscle loss and to keep the weight from creeping on. Protein is essential for maintaining and building lean muscle mass, so consuming protein, along with regular strength training, can stave off or reverse that metabolism slow-down. To roughly calculate your daily protein needs in grams, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.8. You’ll need more protein if you’re regularly lifting weights (which you should be!) or if you’re particularly active.
4. Choose The Right Multi-Vitamin
It is possible to get all the nutrients you need in a day through the foods you eat, but it becomes increasingly more difficult after 40, especially if you’re eating fewer calories. Taking a daily multivitamin can help prevent nutritional deficiencies. This is especially important for women, who tend to lose bone density (vitamin D and calcium) and lack iron as they age.
5. Count Your Calcium
Which brings us to our next point. Around age 40, a special visitor comes to women: menopause. It may come earlier or it may come later, but menopause wreaks havoc on your hormones, causing loss of bone density and osteoporosis. Consistent strength training and consuming enough calcium can combat this and keep bones strong. For those 50 years or younger, the daily calcium requirement is 1,000 mg. After 50, that requirement bumps up to 1,500 mg. It sounds like a lot, but it’s doable: One cup of low-fat milk, plus milk in your coffee or cereal, and one eight-ounce yogurt will put you at around 1,100 mg. Throw in some cheese, pop a calcium chew or take your multivitamin to make sure your calcium levels are where they should be.
6. Nix The Salt
Sodium isn’t something we had to pay much attention to in our younger years, but after 40, you want to cut it out as much as possible. Your dietary intake of sodium should not exceed 2,000 milligrams per day, as excess sodium can prevent the absorption of other nutrients, like calcium, and can exacerbate issues like high blood pressure — which is already a higher risk for adults over 40. Remember: Sodium often is pumped into low-fat and fat-free foods to make them taste more appealing to our palates, so always check your labels. Canned soups and packaged foods are some of the biggest culprits.