Pinning down what constitutes a healthy diet is difficult, not because a new superfood emerges nearly every week but because as our bodies change, so too should our eating habits. Thanks to a difference in metabolic activity as well as muscle mass, a healthy diet for those in their 20s is drastically different than say someone in their 50s. To figure out just what we should eat at every age, we reached out to a few nutritionists for their thoughts on what a healthy diet looks like for those in their 20s, 50s and beyond.
Since there isn't one diet that suits all (wouldn't that be nice), nutritionists have given us the necessary guidelines for healthy eating at every stage of life. From consistent eating patterns in your 20s to an increase in probiotic-rich foods in your 60s, we've compiled the ways in which you should adjust your diet as pertaining to your age. For the diet plan nutritionists recommend based on your age, keep reading.
Most people in their 20s can get away with eating just about anything, but according to MS, RD, dietitian Farah Fahad, just because you can eat processed foods without any upset doesn't mean you should. In fact, Fahad says if you take care of yourself in your 20s—eating well, exercising, and not being abusive to your body—your metabolism is less likely to take a hit, and you are more likely to preserve muscle mass.
So what constitutes "eating well" in your 20s? According to Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS, of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, you should aim to get two to three cups of vegetables a day, as well as one to two servings of fruit and a variety of whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. And while the food you eat is important, so too is consistency. Being mindful of when you eat, instead of starving yourself and then eating in surplus, is important, as this will set a good foundation for your metabolism and slow its decline, says Fahad.
According to Fahad, our metabolism begins to slow between our late 20s and early 30s. To account for this slightly lower metabolic rate, Rumsey suggests adjusting caloric intake. While counting calories is not necessary, she does say to watch portion sizes and to cut back on processed and high-fat foods, opting instead for fresh vegetables, fruit, lean protein and whole grains. And, while the diet of a 30-year-old doesn't look that different from that of a 20-year-old, Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, recommends adding nuts, seeds and greens to your diet if you haven't already, as these foods are high in folic acid, which is good for brain health as well as fertility.
In your 40s, you might experience perimenopause symptoms before moving into full menopause, says Rumsey. Since metabolism slows after menopause, Rumsey suggests filling up on high-fibre foods like non-starchy vegetables lower in calories. She further adds that every meal should include a protein and some fat, as this combination will keep you satiated longer. Fahad agrees with this uptake in protein, as it not only keeps you full but also accounts for the decrease in muscle mass that happens with age.
In your 50s, your metabolic rate is still declining, so it is important to follow a high-fibre diet similar to the one described in your 40s. However, Rumsey recommends adding more protein to account for decreasing muscle mass. She says to aim for one gramme of protein per kilogramme of body weight. In order to do this, she recommends eating a bit of protein with every meal and snack.
While we can do a lot with diet, Rumsey says that supplementation is a good idea when you reach your 50s, as our ability to absorb certain nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium becomes less efficient with age. If your levels happen to be low in one or more of these nutrients, Rumsey recommends taking a supplement, or in the case of calcium, increasing your intake of high-calcium foods like yoghurt, cheese and fortified orange juice.
Besides a slight decrease in calories, a healthy diet in your 60s is similar to that of your 50s. You still want to make sure you are getting an adequate intake of protein as well as high-fibre vegetables. However, when you reach your 60s, Smith recommends eating more whole grains, omega 3s and magnesium-rich foods, as they have been proven to support brain health and wellness. She further adds that the addition of probiotics or probiotic-rich foods might be necessary, as you may start to notice digestive upset with age.
Your metabolic rate significantly decreases in your 60s and 70s, says Rumsey. So you will likely need to decrease calories to maintain your weight. To do this, Rumsey recommends filling up on legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables, as these fibre-rich foods will keep you full for longer while also regulating your digestive system and lowering your risk for heart disease.
As we age, we start to lose our appetites as well as our thirst, says Fahad. Nevertheless, she says it is important not to skip meals and to be mindful of our water intake. Since meals will likely be smaller, Fahad recommends eating foods high in nutrients as well as upping our intake of antioxidants.