This is the third in a series of guest posts by Elizabeth Somer, Registered Dietitian and author of Age-Proof Your Body. Previous posts addressed your best diet at 20 and at 30. While I can still claim a 3 in my age, it’s only a few short years until I hit the big 4-0 myself. Getting a glimpse at how my body may change, as described in this post, is a great head’s up about some changes I’ll need to be making. I hope that it helps you, too, whichever side of 40 you find yourself on.
The 40s: Middle-Aged Spread, The Calorie Drop, Pre-menopause
A woman’s nutritional needs are as unique as her smile, the color of her eyes, or her sense of humor. Those needs change as she ventures through life, navigating the childbearing years, approaching menopause, and entering the golden years. Luckily, most of the 40+ nutrients a woman’s body needs throughout life are met by simply eating lots of wholesome foods, such as whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, cooked dried beans and peas, and nonfat milk products. But, we need to tailor these basic good-eating habits to meet the specific nutritional needs of each stage in life.
1) Middle Age Spread: After 40, women start losing approximately 1% to 2% of muscle mass every year, which equates to a 5 to 10 pound loss of muscle every decade. The loss of muscle slows metabolism, so you’re likely to notice excess weight. If you don’t nip this trend in the bud, it will progress until you not only can’t lift the grocery bag, you can’t get out of the easy chair without help. This is the time to start a muscle-building program, if you haven’t already. In addition, studies show that people who divide their food intake into little meals and snacks have an easier time managing their weight.
What to do: That doesn’t mean adding more food to your daily intake, but rather spreading your food intake out so you have the toast, peanut butter and OJ for breakfast and save the yogurt and blueberries for a mid-morning snack. Or you have the turkey sandwich and nonfat milk for lunch and save the apple and nuts for a mid-afternoon snack.
2) Heart Disease: While most women list cancer at the top of their health concerns, a woman’s greatest health threat is actually heart disease, which escalates in the middle years. Low saturated fat and cholesterol diets are more important than ever, as are high-fiber foods such as beans (that contain a host of heart-healthy compounds such as saponins, phytosterols, and phytoestrogens), the omega-3 fats in fish and foods fortified with the omega-3 fat DHA, and the monounsaturated fats in olive oil.
What to do: Be sure to include the following into your daily diet — soymilk fortified with omega-3 DHA, fiber and calcium, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans and garbanzo beans; and olive oil.
3) Pre-menopause: Some women also may be experiencing pre-menopause. To help curb hot flashes, you must exercise every day, watch out for foods that aggravate the flash, and increase your intake of foods that might help curb symptoms. Avoid coffee and spicy foods, all of which alter blood flow and can increase the symptoms of hot flashes. Be careful of what herb teas you drink. Some herbs, such as black cohosh or dong quai, cause blood vessel dilation and could aggravate a hot flash. On the other hand, while the research is sketchy at best, some women swear that increasing their intakes of soy has helped curb their hot flashes.
What to do: Add soy foods to your diet including soymilk, tofu and edemame. As an added bonus, cook with soymilk to make muffins and other baked goods.
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