Nutritionist Susie Burrell’s guide to foods to eat to stay healthy in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s

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It’s no surprise that your body has different calorie and nutrient needs depending on your age.

So nutritionist Susie Burrell has broken it down – revealing the key foods to include in your diet, no matter what age group you fall into.

The 20s

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The blessings of youth mean that during our twenties we still have the muscle mass we need to burn lots of calories, especially when we maintain a regular exercise routine.

From a dietary point of view, this means that the body should be supplied with good quality carbohydrates via starchy vegetables, wholemeal bread and cereals.

Now is not the time to follow strict diets that reduce carbohydrates and calories if the goal is to optimize metabolic rate.

Nutritionist Susie Burrell has offered her guide to foods to eat at every stage of your life to stay healthy. Credit: Susie Burrel

Although the amount of good quality carbs each person needs differs, younger, active people have higher energy needs and will therefore need good quality carbs at every meal.

The 20s are also a time when peak bone mass is still being established, which means ensuring optimal calcium intake is crucial to ensuring bone health in the years to come.

That translates to three to four servings of calcium-rich foods each day for adults.

The 30s

As we move into our thirties, family and work commitments increase.

The same goes for the energy needs of daily life.

Iron-rich foods, including lean red meat, eggs, pulses and whole grains, are of particular importance, especially for women with low iron levels, affecting around 25% of Australian women.

For meat eaters, including red meat in the diet at least three to four times a week will help ensure iron needs are met.

For meat eaters, including red meat in the diet at least three to four times a week will help ensure iron needs are met (stock image)
For meat eaters, including red meat in the diet at least three to four times a week will help ensure iron needs are met (stock image) Credit: Getty Images

Fertility may also be on the minds of many.

This means ensuring an adequate intake of zinc from whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seafood, as well as two to three servings of omega-3-rich fish, such as Atlantic salmon.

Busy lives can mean more time indoors.

And with a significant number of Australians suffering from low vitamin D levels, particularly during the winter, it is important to ensure daily vitamin D rich foods such as whole eggs, oily fish and fortified milk, for mood regulation and bone health.

The 40s

This is the decade in which the metabolic rate can slow down, as we tend to become much less active.

And risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, are beginning to emerge.

It is important to monitor the scale closely and prevent weight gain.

This may require a reduction in energy-dense processed carbohydrates, including white breads and cereals, to help control blood sugar.

The 1940s is also a time to pay more attention to digestive health.

Whole grain breads and cereals will help support gut health (stock image).
Whole grain breads and cereals will help support gut health (stock image). Credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Checking the box for a daily intake of 30g of dietary fiber – through at least five servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit, and choosing whole-grain breads and cereals – will help support gut health.

It will also reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, one of the most common types of cancer in Australia.

The 50s

The 50s are a time when you really have to pay attention to the quality of foods in your diet to ensure the right balance between fats and foods rich in antioxidants, for a natural anti-inflammatory effect.

The first steps to take?

Cut back on heavy carb-rich foods such as rice, pasta, and couscous, in favor of lighter, vegetable-based carbs.

And simultaneously increase dietary fiber, aiming for seven to ten servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, increasing seafood and shellfish will boost omega-3s, zinc and iodine – nutrients linked to reducing inflammation and optimizing metabolic rate.

Increase your seafood intake to reduce inflammation and optimize metabolic rate (stock image).
Increase your seafood intake to reduce inflammation and optimize metabolic rate (stock image). Credit: Getty Images

A daily serving of nuts and seeds, and choosing extra virgin olive oil as the fat of choice, will help achieve the right balance of fats in the diet.

And avoiding bad fats from fried foods and processed snacks will help keep your heart healthy and blood glucose levels in check.

More importantly, if you are carrying excess weight, even moving 5 kg will help to significantly reduce the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases.

Ideally, you should aim for a waist circumference of less than 80cm for women and 90cm for men.

The 60s and beyond

With creaky joints, more fragile bones and a rising incidence of cancers – including prostate, breast and bowel – a nutrient-dense diet becomes even more important in your 60s and 60s.

Women in particular need at least three to four servings of calcium-rich foods every day to keep their bones healthy.

Men should increase their intake of lycopene (via cooked tomatoes) and selenium (via Brazil nuts) to help support prostate health.

Foods rich in omega-3s, including oily fish, nuts, and seeds, should be eaten almost daily to help naturally reduce inflammation in the body.

And a focus on good fats — via extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and as few fast, processed foods as possible — will help keep your heart healthy.

While calorie needs may decrease over time as we age, nutrient needs increase.

This means you may need fewer meals.

But every meal should be filled with fresh vegetables and lean protein to ensure you’re getting all the essential nutrients you need.

Susie Burrell is a nutritionist in Sydney and dietitian for Channel 7’s Sunrise.

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