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Eat your age! Nutrition by the decade

Living a healthy life is important to women of all ages. Whether you're in your 20s or 40s, TODAY diet and nutrition editor Joy Bauer explains how to adjust your diet according to your age.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important at every stage of the life cycle, but there are specific nutrition needs to consider as we get older.

The 20s: Building a strong, healthy future
You can’t live on coffee, alcohol and pizza forever (ah, the good ol’ college days). As you transition into the working world, now is the ideal time to lay down a healthy foundation for the decades ahead.

Best foods:

Skim latte: You’re a grown-up now! Trade in your sugary mocha-frapp-ccino-lata for a simple yet sophisticated latte made with nonfat milk. You still get a hearty dose of “stay alert” caffeine, and the milk provides a hit of calcium and protein for strong bones (they’re still growing, even in your 20s).

Oatmeal: Say goodbye to rainbow-colored, sugar-coated breakfast cereals from your school days and hello to healthy whole grains. Oatmeal is a quick, satisfying breakfast that will add a jolt of nutrition to your daily menu — and it will only take seconds to make if you nuke it in the microwave.

Spinach: Time to start eating vegetables! Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies on the planet, so adding some of these leafy greens to your meals is a one-stop way to dramatically boost the quality of your diet. Plus, you can buy the leaves in convenient, ready-to-use sacks, so it’s a terrific pick for young adults who don’t want to waste a lot of time in the kitchen.

The 30s: Boosting energy Between building your career, running after kids and managing your social calendar, every day is a frantic whirlwind that can leave you feeling totally sapped. You need energy-boosting snacks that are easy to grab between meetings and meltdowns.

Best foods:

Nonfat yogurt: Yogurt offers both quality carbohydrate and protein in one convenient package. The carbs fuel your brain while the protein stabilizes blood sugar so you stay alert and focused.

Peanut butter sandwich: Toss a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread into your bag for an easy meal or snack on the go. The bread supplies slow-burning carbs to keep your system revved and the peanut butter provides protein and healthy fat.

Homemade trail mix: Create your own nutrient-packed snack to take on daily travels by combining healthy whole-grain cereal, nuts and/or dried fruit in a snack bag (if you have an insatiable sweet tooth, you can throw in a tablespoon or two of semisweet chocolate chips, too). Your homemade mix doubles as a terrific emergency snack for cranky kids.

The 40s: Protecting your heart and brain Perhaps your latest checkup revealed that your cholesterol levels are creeping upward, or maybe your memory isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be. Some strategic additions to your diet will help keep your body’s most vital systems functioning at optimal levels.

Fatty fish: If you haven’t already done so, it’s definitely time to make fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines and trout a regular feature on your weekly menu. Fatty fish is the best source of heart-healthy omega-3s, which decrease inflammation throughout your body and improve your cholesterol profile.

Beans: Beans are one of the most concentrated sources of fiber, which lowers LDL or “bad” cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. Plus, they’re rich in folate, a vitamin that may help slow cognitive decline.

Berries: Animal studies (and preliminary trials in humans) suggest that regularly consuming antioxidant-rich berries can help preserve memory and cognitive function as you age. Double bonus: Berries, especially blackberries and raspberries, are an excellent source of fiber, so they’ll benefit your ticker, too.

The 50s and beyond: Staying young and fit As you grow older and your metabolism slows, it becomes more important than ever to control calories and portions in order to maintain a healthy weight. You’re probably in search of foods that can help manage or prevent joint aches and pains, too.

Egg whites: Egg whites are incredibly low in calories and rich in filling protein, so they’re always one of my top food picks for people working to manage their weight.

Ginger: Ginger can help suppress inflammatory body chemicals that trigger arthritis pain. Add ground ginger or grated fresh ginger root to marinades, stir-fries, soups, muffins, smoothies, oatmeal and tea.

Red bell peppers: A single red bell pepper delivers more than twice your total daily requirement for vitamin C, a nutrient that’s been associated with a lower risk of arthritis. Plus, bell peppers (of all colors) are high in water and fiber, so they fill you up quickly for hardly any calories.

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