As the years pass by, many women find that the lifestyle that worked in their 20s and 30s fails to achieve the same results in their 40s and 50s. As women reach their 50s (the average age of onset for menopause), they’ll have to compensate for hormonal, cardiovascular and muscle changes.
Weight gain in aging women is common because of decreases in muscle mass, the accumulation of excess fat and a lower resting metabolic rate. Hormonal shifts can cause a range of symptoms and increase overall risk for heart disease and stroke. And absorption of certain nutrients may decrease because of a loss of stomach acid. Clearly, your diet at 50 should look a bit different from your earlier diet.
The goal of the “50 and over” diet is to maintain weight, consume heart-healthy foods and, above all, stay strong! Use the following 5 tips to live your 50s in fabulous shape.
1. Add B12 to your daily supplements
B12 supports healthy nerve and blood cells and is needed to make DNA. B12 is primarily found in fish and meat. It is bound to a protein in food and must be released from it by digestion in the stomach. As we age, our stomach acid decreases, making it more difficult to absorb nutrients such as B12.
Older adults are at a greater risk for B12 deficiency, but adding the vitamin to your diet in a supplemental form (either by pill or shot) can help prevent symptoms — which can take years to appear — well before they start.
2. Really cut back on salt
The older we get, the more likely we are to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) because our blood vessels become less elastic as we age. Having high blood pressure puts us at risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease and early death.
About 72 percent of salt in the American diet comes from processed foods. You should significantly decrease and ideally forgo your consumption of processed foods (chips, frozen dinners, canned soup, etc.) and aim for 1500 mg or less sodium per day, which is about ½ tsp. You can start adding flavorful herbs in place of salt when you cook at home. Many herbs provide anti-cancer benefits as well; oregano, thyme, and rosemary are all high in antioxidants. Ditching processed food also means consuming more whole foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. This will increase your fiber consumption. Fiber helps you stay fuller longer, meaning you’ll eat less throughout the day and be more likely to maintain your weight.
3. Check your multivitamin for Iron — and toss it if it has it
The average woman experiences menopause and the cessation of her menstrual period around age 50. After menopause, the need for iron decreases to about 8 mg of iron a day. While the body can’t live without iron, an overabundance can be dangerous as well. Iron toxicity can occur because the body doesn’t have a natural way to excrete iron; too much can cause liver or heart damage and even death. Postmenopausal women should take iron supplements only when prescribed by a physician. If your multivitamin has iron in it, replace it.
4. Pay more attention to calcium and vitamin D
Due to gastric and hormone changes, D levels and calcium absorption tank around age 40. Furthermore, evidence shows that postmenopausal women have an increased risk of osteoporosis because of their lack of estrogen. To make matters worse, after 50, the body will break down more bone than it will build. This puts women over 50 at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures.
It’s ideal to consume adequate calcium before age 30, but it’s never too late to increase rich calcium sources in your diet. Fabulously delicious sources of calcium include sardines (a double dose of omega 3 through the fish and calcium through the bones), spinach, broccoli, kale, and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt. In addition, your physician should test your vitamin D levels and provide additional supplementation as needed (vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium).
5. Eat like a Greek!
As we age, our blood vessels become less elastic, and the force of blood moving through our veins gets stronger. This puts women in menopause at an increased risk of heart disease. But there is a diet to help decrease our risk — and it’s delicious!
When researchers looked at the populations in the world that had the most people over the age of 100, they noticed these individuals shared a few common themes in their lives. The most prevalent commonality was their consumption of a Mediterranean diet. A 2000 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a diet that adheres to the principles of the traditional Mediterranean diet (which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, moderate wine consumption and olive oil) was associated with longer survival. Further, a 2004 study in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with lower risks of cancer and heart disease. And a 2010 review of studies in the American Journal of Clinical Research affirmed the diet’s powers to protect against major chronic diseases.
Taking a Mediterranean cruise when you retire is a great stress reliever, but switching to a Mediterranean diet may be an even better idea!
Conventional wisdom holds that people who eat breakfast are slimmer and more inclined to eat healthy, but German researchers found that eating breakfast did not mean people ate less throughout the day, while Cornell studies have shown that skipping the morning meal can actually aid with weight loss.
Schenker and Bee advocate a diet rich with, among other things, iron (women approaching menopause are more likely to become anemic), vitamin C (to boost skin health), vitamin D (which helps with calcium absorption and immunity) and healthy fats (which help “oil” the aging body by lubricating the joints).
For dinners, the pair recommends dishes such as grilled sea bass with sweet potato and broccoli, a tofu stir fry, and a meat dish like turkey-and-bean chili once or twice a week.
“You only get one life,” says Schenker. “And don’t you dare skip on a glass of wine — it makes more of a merry time!”
5 tips for an ageless body
Go ahead, skip breakfast. Women over the age of 35 who try it say it makes a difference in their weight, and they tend to eat healthier throughout the day. Breakfast is not nutritionally “better” than brunch, so don’t feel guilty if you’re not peckish enough to chow down at a certain time of the day.
Feel full longer. To stay satiated, eat protein at every meal. While you shouldn’t ban carbs from your diet, build only one meal a day around them, and make sure they’re from whole grains.
Fruits and fats are OK. Fruits are chock-full of fiber and nutrients and can jazz up a savory meal. A range of fats both healthy (nuts, oils, seeds) and saturated (lean meats), in moderation, is OK.
Don’t fuel (or refuel) your workouts. The idea that it’s necessary to eat before a workout is a misconception, and a cottage industry of energy bars and sugary sports drinks has been built around it. Eating well will suffice for the level of exercise you’re doing — 45 minutes a day, four times a week.
Less exercise is more. As you age, less exercise will serve you better in the long run, though you’ll need to up the pace and intensity. Plus, overexercise leads to dreaded “gym face” — that gaunt look when one has sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.