As a teenager, I remember my mother going through 'the change' in her forties: hot flushes, mood swings and mutterings about her weight and skin changing. As I approach this age myself, I want things to be and feel different. As a dietitian, I know that what we eat and drink has a huge impact on our health but also on how we look and feel. So here are my top nutrition tips to live our fullest life possible as we age.
Beat the scales
We all want to still fit into that little black dress we wore in our 20s, but the fight against the scales seems to become harder as we age and there is a real physiological reason for this. We all lose muscle as part of the natural ageing process - in fact from the age of 40, we start losing up to eight percent of our muscle mass per decade. This causes our metabolic rate to drop, so it can become harder to control our weight as hormones levels fluctuate. We also tend to be less active.
Adopting a 'little and often' approach to eating may help boost our metabolism and balance blood sugar levels. Fancy a snack between meals? A piece of fruit, carrots with reduced fat crème fraîche or a small bag of unsalted nuts are a great alternative to the biscuit tin.
Fuel your muscles
Lean protein is also key as it provides muscles' building blocks and helps keep us satisfied, so it's a good idea to include lean meats, fish, eggs and pulses like peas, beans and lentils at mealtimes. At least two portions of high protein foods a day will help ensure our menopausal muscles are in good shape.
We need enough vitamin D too, as it helps maintain normal muscle function. For many of us, about 80 to 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from sun exposure. There are also a few foods that contain the elusive vitamin, including oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals. We may also need a daily supplement, especially in the dark depths of winter.
Get moving too
Keeping active as you age can help maintain your weight and mood. 80 percent of adults don't meet the government targets for moderate exercise in the UK, yet it's a great way to help control weight. Strength training is important to maintain our muscle mass too. So grab a friend and hit the gym or go a bit more adventurous with a Zumba class!
Be brainiacs (or at least remember where you put the car keys)
Some memory loss or confusion is natural as we get older - now where DID I put the car keys? The good news is that what we eat can have an impact on our cognitive function. Opting for foods packed with lutein, a pigment found in many fruit and vegetables like green leafy vegetables and carrots is a good place to start. A recent study supported by Abbott has shown that older people who eat more foods containing lutein have a greater ability to retain and use information that they have acquired throughout their lives.
Love the skin you're in
We all know that it's 'what's on the inside' that counts - but most of us want to look good on the outside too! As the body's largest organ, the skin faces as many changes as the rest of the body as we age. A natural reduction of elastin means our skin hangs more loosely, and the surface layer of our skin thins too. To get that healthy glow back, foods full of antioxidants, including brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, help make our skin stronger from the inside, as do omega-3 fats. These nifty fats influence collagen production, helping our skin to stay plump and youthful looking. Good sources include oily fish, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds and soya products.
And drinking plenty of fluids is also a good way to keep our skin hydrated and fresh looking.
As women, we will all experience 'the change' at some point, but it needn't be doom and gloom; in fact, a few well thought out meals may help us feel and look our best so we continue to enjoy a full life, whatever our age.