Nutrition tips your body needs at different ages

The nutrition your body needs for peak performance at different ages. Picture: Pexels

The nutrition your body needs for peak performance at different ages. Picture: Pexels

Published Apr 15, 2024


There’s a reason a person in their 40s doesn’t have the same amount of energy as they did in their 20s, or why they can’t eat like they did as a teenager.

Bodies constantly change with age, and with each new phase of life, there are changing requirements for the body to maintain optimum health.

Key to this is the evolving nutritional needs of the body. As a person ages, diets will need to adapt, replenishing nutrients according to these changing requirements.

“As we follow the journey of life, we must adapt our diets according to the changing nutritional needs of our bodies,” explains dietician, Mbali Mapholi.

“Many people don’t realise that embracing these transitions at each stage is pivotal for overall wellbeing. Society talks a lot about how our bodies change over time, but no one really talks about how our dietary needs change as we age.”

Mapholi, who is the partner dietitian for Tetley and Laager teas, has shared her dietary tips for each decade of adult life.

20’s: Laying the foundation for adult nutrition

“This is a pivotal decade that lays the groundwork for lifelong health, which means it’s crucial to address your specific nutritional needs,” explained Mapholi.

Prioritise lean proteins such as eggs, chicken, fish, beans, dairy, and nuts with every meal to support robust muscle development.

Integrate iron-rich foods like lean meats, legumes, and fortified cereals into your diet, ensuring optimal energy levels to prevent fatigue.

Healthy plant fats, sourced from avocados, nuts, nut butter, and oils, contribute to cognitive wellbeing and brain health.

The inclusion of an array of fruits and vegetables not only provides essential vitamins and minerals but also introduces powerful antioxidants that combat oxidative stress.

Hydration remains paramount in your 20s as fluid needs increase. You can enhance your water drinking by infusing it with flavours like lemon or orange, berries, cucumber, and herbs. Experiment with home-made iced Green teas or flavoured Rooibos, incorporating fruit slices and herbs for a refreshing twist.

30’s: Nurture health and balance

Mapholi says, “Many peoples’ lives are more demanding at this age, with the growing demands of work and family life. You must ensure consistent meals, aiming for at least three a day, to meet increased nutritional needs during this stage of life.”

Prioritise essential nutrients from whole grains such as sorghum, couscous, beans, chickpeas, brown or seeded bread, and brown rice into your daily diet. These nutrient-dense foods provide a steady release of energy throughout the day.

Include lean proteins like chicken, eggs, and fish to support muscle health and provide necessary amino acids.

Dietary fibre is important in your mid-30s, so prioritise fibre-rich foods like vegetables and fruits to aid digestion and support heart health.

Your calcium needs increase, so include foods like dairy or fortified plant-based alternatives to increase bone health. Integrating these foods into your diet supports long-term skeletal strength and resilience.

Hydration is key in your 30s. Choose teas with minimal or no caffeine. You can also incorporate water-rich foods like watermelon, cucumber, and lettuce, to increase fluid intake.

40’s: Embrace nutrient-rich choices

“In your 40s, your metabolism may slow down which means making nutrient-rich choices that support your evolving needs,” says Mapholi.

You will need more omega-3 fatty acids for heart and joint health so include lean, protein foods rich in these essential fats. Oily fish such as salmon, pilchards, and sardines provide abundant omega-3 fatty acids.

Incorporate plant-based sources like walnuts and chia seeds into your diet to promote heart health and joint flexibility. Overall, lean protein-rich foods are pivotal for muscle maintenance, ensuring strength and vitality.

Integrate fibre-rich grains into your morning routine like sorghum, oats, and high-fibre brown bread. These choices not only support digestive health but also maintain steady energy levels throughout the day.

Colourful vegetables provide a diverse spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are essential for overall health and wellbeing, serving as a foundation for robust immune function and cellular repair.

Hydration is crucial for overall wellbeing, specifically joint health. Incorporate herbal teas, which have anti-inflammatory properties and contribute to optimal fluid intake.

50’s and beyond: promoting longevity

“As you enter the golden years, prioritising a holistic nutritional approach becomes imperative for promoting longevity,” adds Mapholi. “Small, frequent meals can aid digestion and nutrient absorption, providing a steady release of energy throughout the day.”

Vitamin D is a key player in calcium absorption, so incorporate fortified plant milks or dairy to safeguard bone health, mitigating the risk of osteoporosis.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, as well as nuts like walnuts, are crucial for supporting brain health and cognitive function.

Elevate your protein intake with eggs, fish lean meats, and plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Proteins play a pivotal role in muscle preservation, supporting overall strength and vitality.

Eat fibre-rich foods to maintain digestive health and regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of chronic conditions.

Hydration is even more important, supporting wellbeing and addressing the increased prevalence of constipation.

Teas, such as Rooibos and Green tea, as well as water-rich foods contribute to optimal fluid intake, ensuring your body functions optimally. Chamomile tea is also a great option for reducing anxiety and assisting with sleep.

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