As the years pass by, many women find that the lifestyle that worked out in their 20s and 30s fails to achieve the same results in their 40s and 50s. As women reach their 50s (the average age of onset for menopause), they have to compensate for hormonal, cardiovascular and muscle changes that may have not been prevalent in their younger years.
Weight gain in the aging woman is common due to decreases in muscle mass, the accumulation of excess fat and a lower resting metabolic rate. Hormonal shifts can cause a range of symptoms and increase your overall risk for heart disease and stroke. Finally, absorption of certain nutrients may decrease due to a loss of stomach acid. Clearly, your diet at 50 should look a bit different from the previous years. The goal of the “50 and over” diet is to maintain your weight, keep your heart healthy, and above all, stay strong! The following 5 tips may help you live your 50s fabulously.
1. Consider B12 Supplements
B12 is a vitamin needed to help support healthy nerve and blood cells. It is also needed to make DNA. B12 is bound to a protein in food and must be released from its protein host by pepsin during digestion in the stomach. As we age, however, our stomach acid decreases and makes it more difficult to absorb certain nutrients, including B12.
B12 is primarily found in fish and meat, and individuals that follow a strictly vegan diet are encouraged to take a supplemental form. Older adults are also at a greater risk for B12 deficiency. Although symptoms of a B12 deficiency may take years to develop (including abnormal neurological and psychiatric symptoms), that can be avoided by simply adding the vitamin in a supplemental form to your diet (either by pill or shot).
2. Really Cut Back on Salt
The older we get, the more likely we are to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) as our blood vessels become less elastic as we age. Having high blood pressure puts us at risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease and early death. About 72% of salt in the American diet comes from processed foods. Now more than ever, you’ll need to significantly decrease and, ideally, forgo your consumption of processed foods (think chips, frozen dinners, canned soup, etc.). Aim for 1500 mg of sodium per day or less, which is about ½ teaspoon. In addition to this, you can start adding flavorful herbs in place of salt when you cook at home. They’ll provide some great anti-cancer benefits as well!
Ditching processed foods also means consuming more whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. This will help to increase your fiber consumption. Fiber helps you stay fuller longer, meaning you’ll eat less throughout the day and be more likely to maintain your weight (rather than increase it).
3. Check Your Multi-Vitamin for Iron – and Toss It If It Has It
The average woman experiences menopause around the age of 50. Due to the cessation of menstruation, the need for iron decreases after menopause to about 8 mg of iron a day. While the body can't live without iron, an overabundance can be dangerous as well. Iron toxicity can occur because the body doesn't have a natural way to excrete iron; too much can cause liver or heart damage and even death. Therefore, when it comes to supplements, post-menopausal women should only take iron supplements when prescribed by a physician. Check your vitamin today, and if it has iron in it, make sure to replace it soon.
4. Up Your Calcium and Vitamin D
Due to gastric acid and hormone changes, vitamin D levels and calcium absorption tank around age 40. Furthermore, evidence shows that post-menopausal women have an increased risk of osteoporosis due to their lack of estrogen. To make matters worse, after 50, the body will break down more bone than it will build. This subsequently puts women over 50 at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures.
While it’s most ideal to consume adequate calcium before the age of 30, it’s never too late to add rich calcium sources in your diet, including sardines (here you can get a double dose of omega-3 through the fish and calcium through the bones), spinach, broccoli, kale, and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt. In addition to this, your physician should test your vitamin D levels and provide additional supplementation as needed (vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium).
5. Make Your Plate a Mediterranean Delight
As we age, our blood vessels become less elastic and our total peripheral resistance increases. This puts women in menopause at an increased risk of heart disease. But there is a diet to help decrease our risk – and it’s delicious!
When researchers looked at the populations in the world that had the most centenarians (individuals over the age of 100), they noticed that these individuals shared a few common themes in their lives. The most prevalent commonality amongst these populations was their consumption of a Mediterranean diet.
A 2000 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a diet that adheres to the principles of the traditional Mediterranean diet (which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, moderate wine consumption and olive oil) was associated with longer survival. Further, a 2004 study in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with lower risks of cancer and heart disease. While a great stress reliever would be to take a Mediterranean cruise when you retire, adapting your diet to match those regional tastes is an even better idea!