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Our nutritional needs vary throughout life. Here’s inside info on the foods that are most beneficial for your decade.

Eat your ageEveryone needs vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, and all the minerals and trace elements for a balanced and nutritional diet.

However, the amount you need them in changes. And though how well you age depends to a large extent on how you look after yourself in your earlier years, you can undo some of the damage and maintain what you have later on if you include more of the necessary foods. Here’s what to eat and when to eat it for increased wellbeing and longevity.

Carefree 20s

The younger you start to look after your health the better your chances of having a good quality of life. In your 20s you tend to live with the belief that you don’t need to worry too much about what you put into your body. The truth is, this is the best time to learn about nutrition basics.

Foods to Eat
Low-fat milk

It’s essential to consume calcium-rich foods during your 20s, as this is when your bone density reaches its peak. “It’s important to make sure that your calcium intake is sufficient, as your bones will depend on this density for years to come,” says Claire Julsing, a registered dietician with Anne Till & Associates. Choose foods that are rich in calcium but low in fat, like milk, yoghurt, cheese, oysters, spinach, fortified cereals, oatmeal, trout and canned sardines and salmon with bones.

Citrus fruits

Essential oils in citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruit and naartjies, contain flavonoids called limonenes. “These help to boost the level of naturally occurring liver enzymes in your body, which in turn aid in detoxification of cancer-causing substances,” explains Julsing. Citrus fruits are also rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which help to reduce harmful free radicals that you get from the environment, like pollution and the sun, as well as from smoking and drinking.

Foods to Avoid
Convenience foods

Full of empty kilojoules, quick meals are high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, contributing to an increased risk for developing chronic diseases. “When you overindulge in these foods you flood the cells in your body with excessive amounts of glucose and fatty acids,” says Julsing. This contributes to cell damage, causing oxidative stress and inflammation. These speed up the ageing process and are linked to several chronic conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Sugary cocktails

Give happy hour a skip as popular party drinks contain no nutrients, and only contribute extreme amounts of sugar, alcohol and unnecessary kilojoules. “Excessive sugar consumption is regarded by the World Health Organisation as a high-risk dietary practice,” says Julsing. It’s scary to realise that beverages account for most of the sugar consumed in the modern day diet.

Thrifty 30s

By your 30s you should have a better idea of what good eating habits entail and realise that you can’t just shove anything in your mouth anymore. Time to learn how to eat for maximum energy. It has become the norm to have children during this decade – increasing the need for a healthy body and mind.

Foods to Eat

“Lentils contain folic acid, an important nutrient that influences your reproductive health and is necessary prior to conception, as it helps to prevent neural tube defects,” says Julsing. Folic acid is also necessary for the formation of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow. Other foods that contain folic acid include white beans, spinach, asparagus and broccoli. Because folic acid interacts with B vitamins it’s a good idea to eat foods that contain folic acid together with foods rich in vitamin B.

Grilled Hake

One of the healthiest sources of protein, fish is also rich in iron and other nutrients like zinc and B vitamins. Iron helps to prevent anaemia and supports optimum immune functioning. Other good sources are fortified cereals, oysters, baked beans, beef, poultry, eggs and spinach.

Foods to Avoid
Coconut milk

Curb your craving for Thai curry and exotic dishes that contain coconut and coconut milk. “These are considered as saturated fat, which can have a negative effect on cardiovascular health,” Julsing points out. Rather use low-fat milk with a splash of coconut essence for the same taste without the added bad fats.


Braais are a favourite with South Africans, with steaks, kebabs and boerewors making up the majority of the meal. Opt for the steak or kebab – most boerewors is loaded with saturated animal fat, known to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke. Having a piece of boerie on a white roll loaded with butter, fried onion and relish, with a side of potato salad drenched in mayo, is asking for trouble.

Fabulous 40s

Juggling children, work and your ageing parents can be challenging. Don’t allow yourself to become a “hormone hostage” – rather follow a balanced diet to keep everything in check. The foods you eat and your lifestyle habits will have an enormous impact on your overall health and chronic disease risk.

Foods to Eat

Avos are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and have the added advantage of helping improve your good cholesterol levels, lowering your total cholesterol and improving cardiovascular health. “Avocados provide the perfect balance of fats,” says registered dietician Teresa Del Fabbro. They also contain significant amounts of vitamin E, which helps boost the body’s immune system.


Although antioxidants are important throughout life, this is the age many people begin to take action against ageing. “Get serious about loading up on vitamins C and E and beta carotene,” says registered dietician Celynn Erasmus. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant present in carrots that helps to neutralise free radicals and damaged cells which cause premature ageing. Antioxidants help to reduce cancer; just remember that the best form of antioxidants come from food, not supplements.

Foods to Avoid
Soy sauce

Soy sauce is high in sodium and excessive intake of sodium can increase blood pressure. When ordering sushi, a healthy option, ask for a reduced sodium soy sauce. Sodium in general should be limited, so avoid adding table salt to your food and read the labels carefully of processed or pre-made meals.


“Caffeine can lead to a quick energy burst, but it usually results in restlessness and insomnia later,” warns Erasmus. An excessive intake of caffeine can also have a negative impact on bone health. Rather try caffeine-free alternatives like Bambu coffee or rooibos, and herbal teas to reduce your overall caffeine intake.

Feelgood 50s Plus

These are the good years, when stress levels typically go down and most people have more time to enjoy life. To be sure you stay healthy through these mature years, you need to make more of an effort to keep yourself nourished.

Foods to Eat

“Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, and because your body can’t make it, it’s important to include sources of omega-3 in your diet,” urges Julsing. Because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, fatty acids help reduce damage from oxidative stress and help protect you against heart disease and circulation problems. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, pilchards and mackerel. Aim to include fatty fish in your diet two to three times a week.


“Constipation, haemorrhoids and other bowel-related disorders are commonly experienced with increasing age,” explains Del Fabbro. To ensure healthy bowel movements and a healthy digestive system you need to include high-fibre foods like fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, and oats in your diet every day. “Drinking water also helps with getting rid of waste and prevents dehydration.”

Foods to Avoid
Char-grilled chicken

Limit charred meats as the blackened parts contain hetrocyclic amines, known to be carcinogenic.


Baked products, such as biscuits, often contain trans-fats which can increase your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Reduce the total amount of fat you eat – especially the bad fats, which raise cholesterol levels and are mainly found in meat, eggs, and full-cream dairy products. “Replace saturated fats with mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and oils like olives, avocado, nuts and seeds,” Erasmus suggests. Avoid foods containing trans-fatty acids, like hard margarine, commercial cakes, biscuits and pies.

Good Foods at Any Age

  • Young boy eating healthy foodSpinach contains lutein, which has a role in protecting your eyes from oxidation. Studies are also being conducted to investigate the link between the use of lutein and the prevention of certain cancers.
  • Beans contain phytic acid, which may be effective in suppressing oxidation reactions in the colon that produce free radicals. Phytic acid helps to reduce the rate of starch digestion, making it low-GI.
  • Garlic contains diallyl sulphides, which promote heart health and the production of immune-boosting enzymes.
  • Pomegranates contain ellagic acid, a carotenoid that may block the body’s production of the enzymes that contribute to tumour growth. Ellagic acid also works as an antioxidant and possibly has antibacterial functions too.
  • Blueberries, and in fact all berries, are nutrient powerhouses. Bursting with flavour, they are also low in kilojoules.
  • Sprouts are a veritable fountain of youth as they are packed with antioxidants, protein, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids.
  • Sweet potato is a low-GI carbohydrate that contains antioxidants as well as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene.

Text by Candice Tehini. Photos from Shutterstock. This article is featured courtesy of the August 2010 edition of Longevity magazine.


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