WE all know we should be eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, but depending what decade of life you’re in, you might need some foods more than others.
What’s more, eating oily fish in middle age may help ward off dementia, says the University of Texas, so what else should you eat and when?
In your 20s
Daily: Iron rich foods for energy
Foods good for iron include peas, baked beans and peanuts, dried apricots, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, and fish like mackerel.
Our national dietary survey shows that iron deficiency, which leads to tiredness, stress, poor concentration and low mood, is a big concern for adolescent girls and follows you into your 20s. It’s vital to address it as soon as you can.
Three times a week: Probiotic yoghurts for gut health
These tick two boxes, with probiotic ‘good’ bacteria helping gut health, which in turn can help immunity and mood – and they pack in much needed calcium for bone strength.
Once a week: Brazil nuts for immunity
A good handful of these nuts gives you the selenium you need. Also found in chicken, fish, eggs and seeds, too little selenium leaves you more open to viral infections that trigger colds, flu and possibly Covid, too.
In your 30s
Daily: Greens for healthy pregnancy
Green vegetables like kale and spinach along with pulses, oranges, berries, nuts give us folate, a vital B vitamin essential for babies developing nervous system in the first eight weeks of conception.
The Department of Health also recommends a 400microgram daily folic acid supplement.
Three times a week: Almonds for anti-ageing
Sun damage takes its toll on our skin, setting the scene for wrinkles.
Nuts and seeds give us vitamin E, which help fight general ‘oxidative’ damage in our body, including our skin.
Avocados, wholegrains, and spinach also give us this vital anti-ageing vitamin.
Once a week: Decaffeinated coffee and tea for better sleep
Start giving your body a caffeine-rest once a week. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and can disrupt sleep up to eight hours after drinking.
Start with a caffeine-cutting day once a week, to lay the way to a healthier sleep pattern.
In your 40s
Daily: Slow-release carbs to balance energy
Porridge, pasta, sweet potatoes, pitta and tortilla wraps – along with fruit and vegetables, these give us slow-release carbohydrates, to help stabilise energy as women’s hormones begin to change.
They also avoid the sugar rushes of fast-release carbohydrates, which promote collagen damage to our skin.
Three times a week: Plant oestrogens for tackling menopause
Soya, pulses, and wholegrains give us plant oestrogens, which experts suggest can help ease people through the menopause by having a weak oestrogen-like effect.
Once a week: Kimchi for bone health
Kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, lean red meat and dairy foods give us a type of vitamin K.
This, scientists are increasingly understanding, is vital for bones, which risk becoming weaker and more prone to fracture as we reach our forties..
In your 50s
Daily: Tomatoes for fighting wrinkles
Along with broccoli and spinach, red peppers, carrots and kale, these vegetables are brilliant for red, yellow and orange antioxidant pigments called lycopene, lutein, and beta carotene. Dermatologists have shown regular consumption can help protect our skin from ageing, from the inside out.
Three times a week: Berries for brain protection
Blast a good 100g portion of frozen berries with milk or fortified plant milk.
Blueberries particularly are packed with flavonoid super nutrients which research suggests helps lower risk of dementia.
One a week: Oily fish for blood pressure
Sardines and salmon all give us omega 3 essential fats, which are important for helping control blood pressure and overall heart health.
Women’s risk of heart disease matches men once through the menopause. If you don’t eat fish, try plant-based sources including walnuts and chia seeds.
In your 60s
Daily: Protein-rich foods for muscle strength
Whether plant-based from pulses, nuts, and seeds or animal based in chicken, fish or lean meat, protein-rich foods are vital to help reduce muscle wasting or ‘sarcopenia’, which can increase risk of falls.
Affecting 15 per cent of people over 65, and half of people over 80, make protein a priority at every meal.
Three times a week: Eggs for memory
Eggs are great for choline, a nutrient vital for making the nerve transmitter acetylcholine, which helps muscles contract and plays a crucial role in memory and thinking.
Chicken, fish, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains also give us choline.
Once a week: Turmeric to fight inflammation
Tufts University scientists in America tell us one promising study suggests turmeric supplements may help relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee.
The study was small and short, but backs turmeric’s anti-inflammatory reputation.
Try including turmeric in dishes and drinks once a week and gradually build up.
In your 70s and beyond
Daily: Drinks to reduce stress and confusion
Our thirst mechanism is not so accurate as we age, leaving us at risk of dehydration.
Low fluid intakes can lead to stress, confusion, and tiredness. Keep topping up with drinks, throughout the day. Milk, tea, coffee, fruit juice and water all count.
Milk and fortified plant milks have the advantage of adding plenty of calcium, for continued bone health.
Three times a week: Healthy oils for heart health
Olive and rapeseed oil are good for cooking and salad dressings.
Packed with healthy fats, they are good for the heart and high in calories, which is important if appetite begins to wane.
Once a week: Mackerel to help protect hearing
Keeping up with vitamin D rich foods is essential for helping our bodies absorb calcium.
We need this for general bone health, including the condition of three tiny bones in our middle ear, which play an essential role in hearing.
We are also advised to take a 10-microgram vitamin D supplement each day.