There are compelling reasons to rethink your diet once you pass your 50th birthday.
You may not have noticed many significant, outward changes yet to alert you to the ageing process, but your internal engine is going through alterations and a few dietary changes will help maintain it in good working order.
Let’s start with your metabolism.
For the majority of people it starts to slow down over time and this means we need to consume fewer calories overall, or risk putting on weight.
We also need to be more careful about where we get those calories. Delicious as they may be, it is advisable to reduce the amount of foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat, because they have a high calorie count.
Sioned Quirke of the British Dietetic Association is an advocate of portion control and a healthy, balanced diet.
However, she says this doesn’t need to mean you have to make drastic changes. Her approach is straightforward: “It’s just being aware of portion size, especially starchy carbohydrates because they can be so high in calories.
“So it may mean taking into account your activity level compared with your portion sizes; and there are things that can help – having a larger portion of fruit or vegetables and forgoing an extra potato.”
Exercise and diet is a healthy combo
Thinking about exercise and diet at the same time is a positive way to approach things.
Clearly, if your metabolism slows and you keep consuming calories at the same rate as in your 30s or 40s mixed with having little exercise, the result will certainly be weight gain.
Exercise, even if it is a twice daily walk with your dog, is a great help in health and well-being.
Sioned suggests that after 50 you also rethink the way you exercise.
She says, “It might not be the same form of exercise as previously, but you still need to do some to build muscle mass.”
Maintaining muscle requires calories, or the muscle disappears. Fat deposits don’t use any of your calorie intake – fat just stays there.
So, when you exercise to improve your muscle mass and tone, you are burning up calories, and that helps keep your weight in check.
Protect your bones
As you age, you progressively lose bone density.
This is a more serious issue for post-menopausal women.
Adding more calcium, phosphorous and Vitamin D to your diet will help. Dairy products provide calcium, but if you’re watching your calories, then it’s better to get your calcium from broccoli, kale and watercress.
Phosphorous you can get from high-protein foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, beans and dairy.
As you may guess, vegetarians and vegans need to ensure they include plenty of legumes in their diet to keep phosphorous levels up.
Look after your gut
Digestive problems are part and parcel of ageing for many, so keeping this important part of your ‘engine’ healthy will improve your overall sense of wellbeing.
Fibre is essential, because it helps the gut absorb more nutrients form your food, plus meals with plenty of fibre prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar levels and help maintain a slower insulin response. More fibre also means a more consistent energy level. Add more fruits and vegetables with edible skins, seeds and stalks to your diet, plus pulses and whole grains.
Keeping your Vitamin B levels up will also help to protect your nervous system and brain function, and you’ll find a guide to the entire range of B vitamins and the best food sources at this NHS guide.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking at least two litres of water daily. It’s the fluid that ‘oils’ your body’s internal functions and plays a vital role in our general health.
As you can see, adjusting your diet after 50 doesn’t require a dietary revolution: just a slight reduction in calorie intake, a bit more exercise and attention to getting the full range of nutrients.