We can afford to be a little cavalier with our diets when we are young. But once we reach 40 – as Hollywood actor Jude Law will later this year – the way our bodies cope with everything we eat begins to change.
Studies suggest that the amount of energy burnt while resting begins to drop by the age of 30, and by a further seven per cent with every subsequent decade, so if you continue eating as you did in your 20s, you’ll start putting on weight.
From our fourth decade onwards, the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes becomes a concern – lead an unhealthy lifestyle and your cholesterol levels and blood pressure will rise. The good news is there are foods proven to fight these concerns. Here are the items I would advise everyone over 40 to stock up on.
WHY? Oats contain beta-glucans, a soluble fibre that can help lower the unwanted form of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Avenanthramides – antioxidants unique to oats – protect against atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque on artery walls), so giving oats an advantage over other grains.
THE EVIDENCE: Researchers conclude that eating just 3g of oats daily is enough to reduce total cholesterol by five to ten per cent.
It is estimated that the risk of developing heart disease drops by two per cent for every one per cent reduction in total cholesterol.
This is a must for the 50-plus group, as it is in this decade that heart-disease risk shoots up.
HOW TO EAT: Either as porridge or by adding a heaped tablespoon to plain yogurt.
WHY? Cherries are useful in combating several conditions common in middle age, including gout and arthritis. They are a rich source of the antioxidant anthocyanin.
THE EVIDENCE: Gout, which affects mainly men, is linked to raised levels of uric acid, forming crystals within the small joints. In a trial, researchers gave healthy participants 200g of cherries at breakfast. They noted that the rate at which uric acid was excreted increased by 60 per cent.
HOW TO EAT: Eat a dozen cherries or drink a glass of unsweetened juice three or four times a week. Eat fresh with yogurt or seeds to ensure absorption of the beneficial vitamins.
WHY? Benefits range from improved blood-sugar levels to reducing cholesterol.
THE EVIDENCE: A study revealed that 20 adults eating 60g of almonds daily for four weeks showed a nine per cent reduction in blood-sugar, suggesting almonds could offer protection against cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Another study took 22 adults and replaced about a third of their usual sources of fat with almonds. After six weeks they noted a six per cent reduction in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, while their ‘good’ HDL cholesterol increased by six per cent.
HOW TO EAT: Choose plain varieties as excess salt can lead to raised blood pressure.
WHY? Omega 3 fats in these fish can help lower heart rate and blood pressure, and reduce the risk of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
THE EVIDENCE: The best sources of omega 3 fats are salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and herring. A trial found that women who ate oily fish on a regular basis experienced the lowest incidence of strokes. Fish must be eaten at least four times a week for optimal benefits.
HOW TO EAT: Omega 3 fats are sensitive to high temperatures, so cook on a low heat or steam lightly. Eating raw fish such as sashimi will protect the beneficial fats.
WHY? Isoflavones in soy beans have been linked to lowering cholesterol, increasing bone density in post-menopausal women and improving male fertility.
THE EVIDENCE: In a study, 42 post-menopausal women over the age of 50 were given three 30g servings of soy beans daily.
After 12 weeks it was noted that high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good type of cholesterol, had increased by 3.7 per cent while total cholesterol had reduced by 5.5 per cent.
Levels of the protein osteocalcin also increased in the blood, benefiting bone density.
HOW TO EAT: Consume fresh edamame beans or soy beans in cans.
They should be eaten twice or three times a week.
Soy can influence hormone levels and over-consumption is not recommended for pre-menopausal women without the advice of an endocrinologist.
In men, the isoflavones can have a mild effect on testosterone.
WHY? Tomatoes are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene. They offer a degree of protection against the formation and spread of cancer cells as well as protecting arteries from atherosclerosis.
THE EVIDENCE: Research has shown that drinking 150ml of tomato juice after 20 minutes of exercise offers protection against prostate, lung and stomach cancers and heart disease.
HOW TO EAT: Lycopene is more easily absorbed by the body when the sources are cooked, so cooked tomato, in its many forms, is the most convenient way to benefit from lycopene. Look for juice, passata, puree or sauce (fresh, not sweetened).
WHY? Full-fat milk can help combat the reduction in muscle mass associated with getting older, especially after the age of 50.
THE EVIDENCE: A 2006 study found that drinking full-fat milk after exercise helped ensure that muscle mass was enhanced.
Whole milk contains 118mg of calcium per 100ml, which is essential for bone health as well as assisting blood-clotting.
The daily recommended intake of calcium is about 1,000mg for men and 1,200mg for women. Eating green vegetables, nuts and seeds in addition to whole milk is an effective way to achieve this.
HOW TO EAT: Whole milk can be added to porridge, cereals, tea, coffee and smoothies. Get professional advice before taking a calcium supplement – for example, taking too much can increase prostate cancer risk in men.
WHY? This is a great source of protein – one 200g skinless breast provides 60g. Helps contribute to effective weight-management and muscle-building.
THE EVIDENCE: A study in 2010 revealed that a ‘moderate increase in protein’ resulted in maintenance of weight loss compared with higher-carbohydrate diets.
Chicken soup might also be able to combat the common cold. As a skinless chicken breast contains only 1g of saturated fat, it is a useful alternative to red meat.
HOW TO EAT: Cut the fat content by removing the skin (breast is 17 per cent fat with skin on, and about two per cent without). The leg, even with the skin off, contains six per cent fat.