Our to-do lists might be longer than our grocery lists, but they will never make us feel and look as fabulous as a good diet. Did you know that the right nutrition can support a sharp memory, strong muscles and glowing skin? And just because the candles are multiplying on the cake it doesn’t mean it’s time to overlook healthy eating habits.
Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining health and wellbeing and in keeping the body in tip-top shape at every age — so it’s important to think about what’s on the plate before digging in. And, this is especially true for women as we age and as the needs of our bodies change.
Here, Abby Sauer, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian with Abbott, shares her top five nutrition tips for keeping us ladies feeling great, today and tomorrow.
1. Keep Your Brain Sharp
Between busy schedules and a host of commitments, it’s pretty easy to forget things …and lose those keys again.
Memory loss is a common side effect of aging; however, what you’re eating (or not eating!) can have an impact on brain function too—everything from learning, memory and even processing speed. It’s all about brain food. And here’s what should go on the plate: Foods packed with lutein, a pigment found in many fruit and vegetables, like green leafy vegetables, peas, corn and carrots. Why? Because it can keep your brain sharp. A recent study by Abbott showed that older people who eat more foods containing lutein have a greater ability to retain and use information that they have acquired throughout their lives.i Here’s a lutein-packed grocery list and more about this powerful nutrient.
And, you might want to throw some sunflower seeds on your bed of greens. Vitamin E is naturally found in parts of the brain that are linked to memory, vision, and language development. Adults should aim for at least 30IU or 20mg of vitamin E daily, so pack your plate with veggies like spinach or asparagus, seafood, or sunflower seeds.
2. Say “Yes” To Healthy Fats
Out are the days where all fats are considered bad—and for good reason. So, there’s no problem enjoying some almonds or avocado. Plus, healthy fats, like unsaturated and Omega-3, are delicious and filling, helping to limit mindless snacking in the day.
As we age, women’s risk of developing heart disease increases to the same level as that of a man of the same age.ii So, eating fewer saturated and trans fats, found in baked goods and fatty, processed meats, and opting for heart-healthy fats, found in avocado, unsalted nuts, and oily fish like salmon, trout and tuna can fuel the body without adding unwanted fats.
What’s more, healthy fats can even boost your mood or outlook. It’s completely natural for women going through menopause or other transitions to experience a roller coaster of feelings. Luckily, Omega-3s (and Vitamin B12) can actually increase mood and reduce anxiety.iii Stock up again on oily fish, as well as whole grains, and flaxseed oil.
3. Protect Your Skin
Fresh, glowing skin is the envy at every age. As the body’s largest organ, the skin faces as many changes as the rest of the body does. With age, elastin decreases often causing skin to become less taunt and thinner.i What can you do? Hydration and a good diet can definitely help. Power up on antioxidants, found in brightly hued fruit and vegetables—think sweet potatoes, bell peppers, apricots, kiwi, broccoli, and tomatoes—to keep skin strong. And, those Omega-3s come in handy, too, as they stimulate collagen production, so stock up!iv
4. Build and Strengthen Muscle
Muscles not only help us get around but they give us the strength and energy to tackle our days. A little known fact is that once you hit your 40s, you may start losing up to eight percent of muscle mass per decade. Over time that loss results in loss of strength, increasing risk of falls and fractures, and more.
What can you do? Pump up the protein, which you can get in lean meats and fish, eggs, cheese, grains, and beans. As a general guideline, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests 46 grams of protein per day for women. The key is to take in account your activity level. Here’s how you calculate: Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 to figure out your weight in kilograms. Then multiply that number by your activity level: 0.8 (not very active), 1.3 (active), or 1.8 (extremely active).
Beyond protein, other nutrients can help, too: HMB, a metabolite from the amino acid leucine, further supports muscle health and can be found in supplements like Ensure Enlive; also Vitamin D can up the density of that new muscle.
You mostly get Vitamin D from spending approximately 15 minutes in the sun, between 11am and 3pm, from April to October. Yet, you can’t always rely on the weather, so eat oily fish, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals or take a daily supplement, especially in the dark depths of winter.i
And let’s not forget bone health! What about calcium? After age 35, when bone mass peaks, there’s a gradual loss of calcium from our bones,ii which increases during menopause because of the body’s natural loss in estrogen. So, aim for two to three servings of calcium-rich foods a day, such as 200ml of low-fat milk, a matchbox-sized piece of cheese, or a small yogurt.
5. Nourish Yourself Beyond Food
Nutrition can’t act alone, you should also amp up exercise to improve metabolism and avoided any unwanted weight gain.
Here’s why it might seem harder to work off that scoop of ice cream: Due to natural decrease in lean muscle, metabolic rate drops, so it’s trickier to control weight as we age. Hormone levels fluctuate, and you might gradually become less active, too. Yet, it’s time to dust off those dumbbells! With only 21 percent of American adults meeting the government targets for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, strength training is a great way to help manage weight and build muscle.
And, you can even boost your metabolism by eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to balance blood sugar levels. Again—load up on that protein, as it’ll keep you satisfied and away from the cookie jar!