Growing older isn’t one size fits all; it affects every woman differently both physically and emotionally. However, nutrition can play a key role in helping you maintain your health and wellbeing at every stage in life, including menopause and beyond.
Here Imogen Watson, Dietitian and Medical Nutrition Manager at global healthcare company Abbott, explains what you should be eating to help you feel your best at any age, from head to toe.
Beat tiredness with B12
Firstly, don’t panic if you’re feeling a little out of sorts in your 40s or over. It’s completely natural for women going through the menopause or peri-menopause to experience a range of emotions, whether it’s PMS, bouts of the blues, tiredness or difficulty concentrating.
Interestingly, low levels of both vitamin B12 and omega-3 can increase our feelings of low mood or even anxiety, so counteract it with foods rich in these nutrients. Add oily fish, whole grains and flaxseed oil, to the menu.
Boost your brain lutein
Some memory loss or confusion can be a common side effect of the natural ageing process, – however what we eat can have an impact on cognitive function as we age. Opt for foods packed with lutein, a pigment found in many fruit and vegetables like green leafy vegetables and carrots. 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.
Vitamin E is naturally found in parts of the brain that are linked to memory, vision and language development and it’s important that we get some from our diet to support brain health. Adults should aim for at least 30mg of vitamin E every day, so pack your plate with veggies like spinach or asparagus, seafood, or snack on a cup of sunflower seeds throughout the day.
Nourish your skin with antioxidants
A natural reduction of elastin causes skin to hang more loosely, which in addition to the thinning of the surface layer of the skin, means mature skin can lose that deliciously dewy look. Fight this with foods full of antioxidants – you’re aiming for a plate packed with brightly coloured fruit and vegetables. Add to it omega-3 rich foods, the nutrient your skin needs for collagen production. Plump skin anyone?
Stay strong with protein
It’s not all about pumping iron. From the age of 40 we start losing up to eight percent of muscle mass per decade which can lead to a loss of strength, an increased risk of falls and fractures and understandably, a reduction in quality of life. As we age, we actually need more protein than when we’re younger (approximately 0.75g/kg body weight for a healthy adult; that’s 45g of protein per day for an adult weighing 60kg) and the heavier we are, the more protein we need to eat too. That’s because our body doesn’t process protein and other nutrients as efficiently as it used to. Try and include two portions of high protein foods a day to ensure your menopausal muscles are tip top, including lean meats and fish, eggs and cheese, as well as veggie options like beans, lentils, nuts and grains.
Fuel your muscles with Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps maintain normal muscle function, so it’s key as we age. The majority of our vitamin D store come from spending around 15 minutes in the sun, between 11am and 3pm from April to October. There are a few foods that contain the elusive vitamin too, including oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals. You should also consider taking a daily supplement, especially in the darker days of winter.
Help your heart with healthy fats
During the menopause, a woman’s risk of developing heart disease increases to the same level as that of a man of the same age. The good news is that there are some simple things we can do to keep our hearts healthy. Eating less saturated and trans fats found in processed meat, crisps and biscuits, fewer foods high in sugar like cakes and chocolate, stocking up on healthy fats in foods like avocado, unsalted nuts and oily fish and eating plenty of fibre.
Boost your bones with calcium
You’ll probably have noticed a number of changes since leaving your 30s behind, but did you know that from the age of 35, when our bone mass peaks, there is a slow loss of calcium from our bones? This loss increases during the menopause because of the body’s natural loss of oestrogen. To combat this, women need to make sure they’re eating enough calcium to keep their bones healthy. Aim for two to three portions of calcium rich foods a day, such as 200ml of semi-skimmed milk, a matchbox size piece of cheese or a small yoghurt.
Up your metabolism with pulses and protein
Due to a decrease in lean muscle as part of the natural ageing process, our metabolic rate drops and it becomes harder to control our weight post the big 4-0, as hormone levels fluctuate.
Boost your metabolism by eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to help balance blood sugar levels. Lean protein is key to keeping you satisfied so fill up on lean meat, oily fish and pulses like peas, beans and lentils. This POA should reduce the 4pm sugar binge.