If you are old enough to remember Jane Fonda, the cabbage soup diet, dancing around your bedroom to Spandau Ballet, or daydreaming over Simon Le Bon, then you will now be classed as Generation X. But it doesn’t matter which generation you are from, as one thing is a constant between women of all ages: the fear of how we look, and how our bodies change as we age. This is especially true as we head into our 40s and 50s. I am here to tell you that even in your 40s and 50s, you can look good, feel amazing, and be even sexier.
Someone once said, “At the age of 20, we have the health and appearance we inherited. At 50 and beyond, we have the face and body we created.” Your 40s and 50s can be a positive life stage if done right. It’s an opportunity to optimise your health and well-being, which benefits you from the inside out. It can prolong your health span and increase the number of active healthy years you have ahead of you. So, how do you go about it? You might have gotten away with neglecting your health in your younger years, but now it’s time to buckle up and get serious.
Why Health and Well-Being Management Is Vital
First, let’s look at what could be happening in our 40s and 50s:
- Hormone production is starting to decline
- Perimenopausal symptoms may start to appear
- You may be experiencing unexplained weight gain
- Sleep patterns may be changing
- Stress levels and mood swings may be heightened
- You may be more sedentary due to aches and pains in joints
- Eating habits change
- Physical activity may have dropped off
- Energy levels fluctuate
It would be wrong of me at this point not to mention menopause, something that plays a huge role in our well-being. Peri- to post-menopause is a natural biological process, and our bodies will experience changes internally and externally. Due to our hormones declining, we can experience several changes (like the ones listed above) and this is because of the declining oestrogen and other hormones.
We have oestrogen receptors all over our body, and the decline of this hormone can produce other symptoms like hot flashes, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, dry skin and vagina, UTIs, and more. Other hormones and chemicals like testosterone and progesterone, insulin, cortisol, and DHEA plus a few others also contribute to this – and can affect us physically and mentally once out of balance.
Some things to be mindful of as women due to our hormones changing is that we are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and insulin-resistance. In summary, hormonal changes in our 40s and 50s – while not responsible for everything – can cause physiological and psychological changes that make us more susceptible to health issues and, more importantly, have an impact on how we feel and take care of ourselves.
Here’s the Good News
You can do something about it today and feel the difference straight away. There are so many easy steps you can take to stay feeling great and help relieve and prevent some of these changes, create a higher quality of life, and help slow down (and sometimes reverse) age-related changes! Putting one’s health first begins with wonderful nutrient-rich food, as it helps as a protector against diseases and delivers lots of relief to our nervous system, and even aids menopausal symptoms.
Here are some culprits contributing to our health issues and exacerbating symptoms:
- Carbohydrates (simple)
- Excessive calories
- Process foods
- Inflammatory foods
What Does Food Fix?
A higher intake of alkaline food is necessary as they are designed to help your body repair and heal inflammation. Western diets can be heavy on acid-forming foods such as meat, grains, sugar, and processed foods. As we age, our daily diet should consist of 60-80% of alkaline-forming foods and 20 -40% acid-forming depending on the degree of symptoms that show up in the gut, liver, joints, and muscles. You may also benefit from a plant-based or Mediterranean diet to help calm down the immune system. Alkaline foods include:
- Salmon, sardines, tuna, fatty fish, mackerel
- All the berries – blue, black, and red
- Walnuts, almonds
- Tofu, tempeh
- Olive oil, especially extra-virgin olive oil
- Peppers, including bell and chilli peppers
- Leafy greens, beetroot, avocado
- Sweet potato yams
- Garlic, ginger, celery
Hormones are chemical messengers that impact every part of your health – from your energy and cognitive ability to your body weight and sex drive. More and more research is emerging, showing how food affects us and the impact it has on our ever-changing hormones. One important link is that food supplies the building material to make hormones. Eating good fats is essential for hormone production – think: olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, raw unsalted nuts or seeds, nut butter, and avocados.
Food also increases levels of hormones like insulin and change the way estrogen and other female sex hormones are metabolised. It can also elevate oxytocin, your feel-good ‘’love” hormone. Examples include anything containing vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, fatty fish, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and avocados.
It can even stimulate the release of testosterone, which is important for energy and sex drive. Some of the best nutrients to increase levels are zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, omega 3, onions, ginger, green leafy vegetables, pomegranates, olive oil, eggs, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Note that balanced testosterone will not turn you into Miss Universe nor will it give you facial hair, but the lack of it will lower your sex drive and energy levels and the ability to maintain muscles.
Decreases Insulin Resistance:
A diet high in sugar is never a good thing – no matter what age we are. Once our cells shut their doors and say enough, then we have a problem. High levels of sugar intake can lead to weight issues, diabetes, insulin resistance, and more inflammation issues.
Remove processed carbs and sugars from your diet as much as possible. This includes anything that ends in “ose’’ – including high-starch foods like rice, pasta, bread, cereals, and potatoes. Make sure to then replace them with low-glycemic foods to provide you with fuel for energy and that steady flow of glucose into your bloodstream.
Improves Gut Health:
The health of your gut is extremely important to the health of your entire body. The gut houses trillions of healthy bacteria, constantly working hard to metabolise your nutrients, produce vitamins, and detoxify (among other things). As we age, the ratio between good and bad bacteria can change, along with lower bile production. The consequences can be bloating, reflux, and constipation.
A daily serving of sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, sour pickles, kombucha, or live culture yoghurts can help balance your gut bacteria. It’s also good to stay away from processed foods that cause inflammation and bloating. Build your meals around wholesome, fibre-rich foods, vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts. And drink more water. Your microbiome can be restored within a few days of eating well and some symptoms will dissipate quite quickly – going back to those quick wins!
10 Top Tips to Nourish and Nurture Your 40s – and Beyond
- Variety is vital: Restrictive diets should be left in the 80s – now is the time to nurture your microbiome.
- Wholesome, not hole some: Eat rich wholesome foods that are dense with nutrients, not empty processed high-sugar foods.
- Experiment: We are all different when it comes to when and how much we eat. You must choose what’s right for you. Just because your friend is on a keto diet doesn’t mean it will work for you.
- Taste new things: Just because you have never had it doesn’t mean you won’t like it! Try cooking things in different ways, as sometimes this can also alter the taste.
- Easy does it: Follow portion control, have smaller meals, eat when hungry, and choose quality over quantity.
- Go for quick wins for a big difference: Throwing some nuts and seeds onto your daily meals has so many benefits – you can even turn your microbiome around in a few days.
- Out with the old habits: It’s time to create new healthy habits! This can be a healing, fun, and exciting time of discovery about food and you.
- Healthy fats: Add healthy fats to your diet like avocado, extra-virgin oil, and any plant-based oil.
- Get a good night’s sleep: If this is something you need to work on, hatch a sleep hygiene management plan.
- Move more: It doesn’t have to be hardcore HIIT training; just choose what’s right for you and your needs and move! Although, I always recommend weight training as a must.
Create a Checklist of Foods
Sometimes, we get in a rut, eating the same things and getting the same results. Write a list of all the foods (not meals) you eat in one week. Do you eat the same thing week in and week out? Do you feel the same, or experience any symptoms? What nutrients are you getting from your list? Is it working for you? What things could you swap for better nutrition?
This is what I eat weekly – it can be used as a checklist of foods to include in your weekly meals (p.s. I’m no saint and do have the odd chocolate or slice of pizza over the weekend).
- Citrus fruits
- Butternut squash
- Red cabbage
Grains and nuts:
- Almonds, Brazil, walnuts, cashew, pecans, macadamia
- Rice, wholegrain, red, black, wild
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Oily fish
- Feta, halloumi
Herbs and spices:
- Star anise
Proteins (I very rarely eat meat):
- Oily fish
- White fish
- Lentils, chickpeas
- Apple cider vinegar
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
- Black pepper
Important Macronutrients for Your 40s and Beyond
I am a firm believer in getting as many nutrients as possible through our food as nothing beats the nutrient power of a healthy diet. No matter what your goal is when taking supplements, one thing is certain: supplements are just that – a supplement to something. They are not a replacement for a nutrient-dense and healthy diet. I know sometimes this can be difficult for a multitude of reasons, but a word of caution: if you do buy supplements, make sure they are not full of binders and other toxic ingredients that will do more harm than good and undo all the good work you have done healing your microbiome. Maybe take liquid form or powder as an alternative.
Here is a quick rundown of daily recommendations for macronutrients. They all play their part in keeping us balanced!
Sources: seaweed, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, brazil nuts, cumin seeds, cocoa (unsweetened)
Sources: banana (400mg) cantaloupe, oranges, apricots, broccoli lentils, grapefruit, honeydew
Iron/B12 (anywhere between 8mg and 15mg)
Sources: spinach, broccoli, shelled fish, lentils, beans, turkey, eggs, beets, pepper, chicken livers
Sources: salmon, prawns, cooked chickpeas, cooked kale, quinoa, green beans, cabbage, Brazil nuts, tofu, yoghurt, cheese, milk
Sources: seaweed, fish, milk, cheese, yoghurt, tuna, seafood, chicken
Vitamin C (1,000mg)
Sources: berries, oranges, kiwifruit
Vitamin A (700mcg)
Sources: any fruit or vegetables with red, yellow-orange skin
Vitamin E (15mg)
Sources: plant-based oils seeds and nuts, fish, meats, liver, mango
Vitamin D (800IU)
Sources: sunshine, mushrooms, fortified foods, eggs, fish
Nutrition advice can be confusing and controversial, with a constant flux of what we can and can’t eat. There is no one better than you to understand what you need to stay in top shape. Listen to your mind and body, swap things around a little, and have the right mindset towards change. Things are going to change, and therefore you must change with it. We need to swap the constant ‘fear’ for constant ‘change’. Life is about change and if you don’t embrace this, you will be stuck back in the 80s, always replaying the same tape.