It’s no secret that as we get older, a combination of physical and lifestyle changes can make losing or maintaining weight more of a battle. But while there’s no magic bullet to banish middle-aged spread, you have more control than you think.
By eating the right foods to suit your changing needs, you can keep trimmer and healthier for longer.
Last month, a study by King’s College London found that getting your protein from a meat-based diet was better for preserving muscle mass as you age rather than following a solely plantbased diet, which might mean middle age isn’t the ideal time to go vegan. Using the latest research, we’ve put together a guide that outlines the best foods to eat decade by decade.
When you’re young and fit, it may feel like you can binge on burgers and booze with no consequences. But think again. Nutritionist Linda Foster explains it’s actually a critical decade to begin the right healthy-eating habits to keep you slim long-term, saying: “Studies show people who have a high intake of
What to eat: Forget faddy diets that skip food groups or involve long fasts, and start following a more Mediterranean diet high in fruit and veg, nuts, wholegrains, lean
Twenties are also the key decade to lay down decent calcium stores for strong bones in later life – a nutrient that’s linked to reduced tummy fat too. Eat two to three portions of dairy per day.
Vegans should load up on calcium-fortified plant milk, tofu, nuts, dried fruit and green leafy veg.
Top tip: Make one small daily diet change now. A US study found that removing one single sugary drink and walking 1 more minute per day could be enough to ensure a healthy mid-20-something didn’t become overweight.
AVOID: Too much booze.
In your 30s, your metabolism naturally slows by up to 10%, so your body is less efficient at burning calories and stores more fat.
On top of this, natural age-related muscle loss has already begun, with muscle mass dropping up to 8% every decade after 30, areas that used to be toned, appear flabbier.
Top tip: Bursts of activity in your routine, a 15-minute walk. Many women also have babies in their 30s and find baby weight hard to shift. Male testosterone levels start to drop by 1% each year, making it harder to keep that beer belly in check.
What to eat: Load up on wholegrains, pulses and dark leafy greens.Combining fibre with healthy fats from olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds will help control your weight.
Top tip: Add short bursts of activity into fats your routine, such as a 15-minute post-lunch.
AVOID: Excess processed foods.
In your 40s, the receptors for the hormone ghrelin and (which tell you when full) don’t work as well, which can lead to overeating without you realising it. Write down everything to pinpoint pitfalls in your eating habits.
Caring for family, plus work stress can also mean an increase in unhealthy habits, such as relying on takeaways.
Top tip: Keep a food diary.
What to eat: Research shows a diet high in protein and low in refined carbs, such as white bread, is the most effective for keeping weight off. Choose wholemeal carbohydrates wherever you can. Studies also show a diet full of lean animal protein (meat, dairy and fish) helps you to maintain the most muscle, while eating extra servings of plant-based foods can help counteract the metabolic processes that trigger obesity.
AVOID: Junk food.
It’s your last chance to wean yourself off youthful bad habits, such as fast food. Do it now to lose excess weight that’s statistically tougher to shift once you hit 50.
50s Keeping weight in check now becomes increasingly difficult as our metabolism slows further and muscle mass continues declining. For women, the drop in the hormones oestrogen and progesterone that comes with the menopause makes it even harder to keep fat off the mid-section. Men often experience a sharp drop in testosterone, which can further encourage weight gain.
What to eat: Boost your fibre intake to help combat middle-aged spread. “Research shows that aiming for 30g a day can be as effective as low-calorie diets when it comes to controlling your waistline,” says nutritionist Linda Foster. That means eating plenty of oats, complex tip: Consider time-restricted eating. This means consuming all your food between a fixed hour window, for example 10am to 6pm. Always check with your GP first. Eat wholemeal bread and brown rice, and fruit and veg. To feed your muscles and maintain tone, commit to a portion of protein every meal, ideally a mixture of meat, fish, dairy, nuts and grains. Women should also eat plenty of natural plant oestrogens, found in foods such as soya, tofu and lentils, which may ease menopause symptoms. Men should eat good daily levels of healthy fats, such as avocado,
AVOID: Refined sugar, the kind found in biscuits as kind found in biscuits and cakes, causes a rapid surge in blood sugar and
In the 60s, as we approach retirement, it’s more important than ever to keep slim and active. Men catch up with women when it comes to losing muscle mass, leading to weight gain, weaker limbs and a higher risk of falls.
What to eat: Eating a serving of protein at every meal can guard against muscle loss and help maintain a healthy weight. New research from King’s College London suggests that lean meats are the best protein source when it comes to building muscle as we age, so now isn’t the best time to go vegetarian or vegan, although nuts, beans and pulses are good additional sources.
Choose smaller meals and snacks and don’t go longer than three hours without eating as starving your metabolism will simply slow it further. “As we reach 70, our calorie needs decline and appetite may dwindle, so every calorie really counts, nutritionally speaking,” says nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer.
It’s important to select nutrientdense foods such as fruit and veg, beans, wholegrains, nuts, eggs and lean meat, which contain the highest levels of vitamins and minerals for the fewest calories.”
AVOID: Ready meals as they tend to be low in vitamins and protein, and full of empty calories. Cook using fresh ingredients.
Top tip: Up your