They say that life begins at 40, and that is never more true than now, when the average person is settling into a career and family life well into their 30s. Thanks to better standards of living, most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy good health in our 40s, but nevertheless, our nutritional needs do begin to change at this age.
By our 40s, we begin to gradually lose muscle mass and tend to gain weight more quickly. As we get older, we also become more susceptible to age related health conditions such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis. To some extent, this process can be delayed by a healthy lifestyle, including taking regular exercise and eating well.
When it comes to diet, there’s plenty of advice out there, and much of it echoes the sensible eating habits that go hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle. Fewer than 10% of your daily calorie intake should be from ultra-processed foods which contain high amounts of sugar and salt, such as cakes, biscuits, and crisps.
The advice includes eating a variety of vegetables and fruits every day, including leafy greens and dark berries. Eat whole grains over refined wheat whenever possible, and plenty of fibre to help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Healthy proteins such as lean meat, seafood, eggs and beans should make up a daily part of your calorie intake.
Of course, when we are leading a busy lifestyle, some of this advice is easier said than done. Not everyone has time to cook a well balanced meal from scratch every day, and sometimes reaching for a quick energy boost from a chocolate bar or biscuit can be irresistible when we are tired and stressed.
If you are concerned about your diet and whether you are getting the right balance of nutrients and vitamins, it may be a good idea to consider taking some supplements. Here are some of the key nutrients we need after the age of 40.
- Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for the healthy functioning of the nervous system and the blood. When we are younger, we tend to get all of our daily intake from our food, so long as we eat a reasonable amount of meat, dairy and eggs. People who are vegan or vegetarian may need to be more careful of their intake, whatever their age.
In our forties, we absorb B12 less well, so taking a supplement may be a good idea. The recommended daily intake is 2.4mg per day. Vitamin B12 deficiency can have serious consequences, including extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, vision disturbance, and mental health problems.
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D is crucial for the healthy functioning of the body, and it is believed that most people do not meet the daily required intake, especially during the winter months. This is because we absorb the majority of vitamin D through our skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Here in the UK we have limited access to sunlight during the winter, and when we do go outdoors we tend to be mostly covered up. Even in summertime, it is not advisable to expose the skin to the sun’s UV rays because this increases our chances of developing skin cancer and can result in a prematurely aged appearance.
We can absorb vitamin D through foods such as oily fish and egg yolks, and it is added to certain spreads and breakfast cereals. However, it is estimated that at least one in six of us has low vitamin D levels. This may be especially true as we get older and the body is less well able to absorb nutrients.
Vitamin D is essential to aid calcium absorption which keeps our teeth and bones healthy. It is also thought to play a major role in the prevention of diseases such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and several types of cancer.
Potassium is essential to help maintain a healthy blood pressure, which can be more challenging as we age, leading to an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disorders. The recommended daily amount of potassium is 3,500mg, although it is thought many people have low levels.
It can be absorbed through foods including bananas, sweet potatoes, and lentils. If you want to top up your levels with a supplement, be aware that too much potassium can have negative effects including stomach upsets.
Magnesium is essential for the healthy functioning of the nervous system, and it may help to protect the heart and control blood glucose. It is found in a wide range of foods including dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and watercress, and is also present in nuts such as almonds, Brazils, and cashews.
Legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, and soybeans are also high in potassium, as well as being high in fibre which makes them an excellent meal ingredient. Other sources of magnesium include avocados and dark chocolate. As long as you are eating a well balanced diet, you are likely to have all the magnesium you need.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are fatty acids that help to lower the bad cholesterol levels in the body and may help to guard against developing dementia and heart disease. Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, especially salmon, sardine, trout, mackerel, herring, and some shellfish.
For vegans and vegetarians, omega 3s can be gained from flax seeds, seaweed and spirulina, edamame, and walnuts. Omega-3 is often available as a supplement in the form of fish oil capsules, which may also contain a range of other vitamins and possibly also helps to protect the joints and promote suppleness as we get older.
As we get older, we may find that our guts don’t work as smoothly as they once did, and we can be more prone to digestive problems such as bloating and constipation. Dietary experts recommend eating fermented foods such as live yoghurts to help maintain a healthy gut bacteria.
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