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The Best Way to Eat for Your Age

Healthy Living
April 3, 2013

The nutrients your body craves change as you get older, meaning what fueled you at 20 won't necessarily do the trick at 40. Nosh on these life-stage-appropriate foods to boost your physical and mental health. By Jane Bianchi, REDBOOK.

In your 20's: Salmon
Your 20's aren't always about fun times, but luckily, chowing down on this cold-water fish may help prevent or treat depression, a condition that women are nearly twice as likely to experience as men. Sadly, quarter-life crises are all too common: Studies show that depression is most likely to first develop between the ages of 15 to 34. But salmon is jam-packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which may stabilize your mood by boosting levels of feel-good serotonin. "In your 20's, you are likely working hard and socializing and may not have time to cook, so eat one pre-cooked pouch (two servings) of salmon a week," says Ruth Frenchman, RD, author of The Food is My Friend Diet. "Toss it on a salad or mix it with low-fat mayo for a lunchtime sandwich - you don't even need a can opener."

Related: 13 Healthy Snacks That Will Keep You Looking Young

In your 30's: Eggs and spinach
These are your prime baby-making years, so if you're breastfeeding, pregnant, or even just thinking about creating a mini-me, serve yourself a spinach omelet - yolk and all - each morning. Egg yolks and spinach both contain choline, a nutrient that helps babies' brains develop properly. The Institute of Medicine recommends getting 425 mg of choline at all times, 450 mg if you're pregnant, and 550 mg if you're breastfeeding. One large egg will supply you with about 145 mg of the stuff, and a half-cup of spinach will give you roughly 240 mg. Spinach gets bonus points because it contains yet another important nutrient for expectant moms: folate, which helps prevent birth defects. One half-cup of the slightly-cooked green provides about 130 mcg of folate, about one-third of what the National Institutes of Health advises women in this age range to get. When pregnant, aim for 600 mcg, and when lactating, for 500 mcg. If you're not reaching those levels through your diet, ask your doctor whether taking a supplement is a good idea.

Related: 7 Best Tricks For Non-Stop Energy

In your 40's: Lean beef and broccoli
Burger lovers, you're in luck. Lean beef is high in iron, a nutrient that helps make red blood cells, supply oxygen to the body, and keep energy levels up. The federal government recommends 18 mg per day for women in their 40's - and 27 mg during pregnancy and nine mg when lactating. A 4-ounce patty will provide you with about 4 mg of iron. But since the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat intake to 18 ounces per week - more can mess with heart health and cancer risk - also seek iron from other sources, such as shrimp, pumpkin seeds, or fortified, whole-grain cereals. In your 40's, it's also critical to eat lots of cruciferous vegetables - such as broccoli - as they may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

In your 50's: Non- or low-fat yogurt
You've heard about the myriad benefits of low- or non-fat yogurt - and not without good reason. "Estrogen holds calcium in your bones, but after menopause, you start losing estrogen - so you start losing calcium and, therefore, bone strength," says Joan Salge Blake, RD, author of Nutrition & You. Yogurt provides roughly 300 mg, or one-quarter of your daily calcium. For the rest, drink non-fat milk and calcium-fortified orange juice, and eat reduced-fat cheese. To help your body absorb the calcium, talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement that contains at least 600 IU - you can get some vitamin D through foods and sunlight, but it's tough to get enough naturally.

Related: 9 Foods To Eat For Healthy, Wrinkle-Free Skin

In your 60's: Beans
You remember the first part of the song from elementary school: "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart." Guess what? It's true. Beans of all kinds - lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, white beans, soybeans - are high in potassium, meaning they help lower blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart disease. These tiny wonders are also rich in fiber, which helps you feel full and maintain a healthy weight. Counteracting obesity and high blood pressure is important in your sixties, because women over age 55 are twice as likely to have a heart attack as younger men and women. But if you find yourself remembering the second part of that old song, you may have, uh, reached your bean limit.

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