Women need to eat differently as they hit their 40s. Here’s why and what to do.

If you're a woman in your 40s, now is the time to eat more nitrate-rich vegetables.

If you’re a woman in your 40s, now is the time to eat more nitrate-rich vegetables.

If you’re a woman in your 40s, now is the time to eat more nitrate-rich vegetables.

If you’re a woman in your 40s, you’ve probably witnessed a number of fad diets and nutritional holy grails over the last few decades. Now that you’re (just a little) older and wiser, you’ve probably adjusted to an eating pattern that works for you and leaves you feeling energized and nourished, at least most of the time.

But you may have noticed some changes in your body in recent years. For most women, perimenopause symptoms may have occurred since their mid-30s, said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society and director of the Mayo Clinics Center for Women’s Health. The typical age to start menopause is 45.

There are changes ahead, no doubt, but you can help yourself enter this next phase of life by making some smart nutritional choices to help you age as gracefully as possible.

You may have already noticed weight gain, or weight redistribution, with more settling around the belly area, noted Faubion. We lose 1% muscle mass per year after age 50, and most adults gain about 3 pounds per year. progressively through middle age, Faubion said. But he said the weight gain, while challenging, isn’t inevitable.

You can’t exercise everything, so you have to pay attention to what you’re eating, she said. You don’t have to deprive yourself, though, and you can have a nice, healthy diet that’s full of fruits and vegetables.

Here’s your window of opportunity to eat more nitrate-rich vegetables.

Maryann Jacobsen is a registered dietitian and middle-aged health expert who has noticed that many women over the age of 45 are at an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, even when they eat the way they always have.

He said this might be the best time to turn things around. Health experts call the time of life a window of opportunity, she said. This is because the decisions we make in midlife will affect our health in our older years. It’s a good time to increase your intake of nitrate-rich vegetables such as leafy greens, celery, and beets.

These help women increase their nitric oxide levels, which decline with both aging and hormonal changes, Jacobsen said. Indeed, a study showed that two salads a day helped increase nitric oxide-related blood flow in middle-aged women.

He also suggested a renewed focus on micronutrients, including magnesium, zinc, choline, omega-3s, iodine, B vitamins and selenium. Aging and lower estrogen levels affect how much of those micronutrients the body absorbs, she said.

Dietitian Courtney Delpra recommends getting 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal.

Dietitian Courtney Delpra recommends getting 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal.

Dietitian Courtney Delpra recommends getting 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal.

Don’t go hungry and don’t lose protein.

One of the biggest nutritional fallacies I see is that women are on extremely low-calorie diets, she said Courtney Delpra, Cleveland Clinic dietician. When your estrogen levels start to decline, as they do in your mid-40s, muscle mass also decreases. If you respond by skipping meals, that can have a negative effect. Think of your metabolism like a bonfire. If you don’t put enough wood on your fire, it will decrease. Chronically undereating can affect how you metabolize your foods, so getting enough calories with the right macros is key.

Delpra recommended including enough protein throughout the day. The biggest key is to get 20 to 30 grams of protein with each meal. You can easily get that amount by focusing on lean proteins, such as 4 ounces of chicken or turkey, 3 ounces of fish, a cup of beans, or a handful of nuts or seeds.

When it comes to fatty meats, like red meat, the American Heart Association recommends just one to two servings a week, she said.

Eat more fiber to manage your cholesterol.

However great protein may be, it’s only part of your nutritional mix, so experts have stressed the importance of seeking balance. A common mistake women make is spending too much time focusing on one aspect of nutrition, said Jennifer Salib HuberA registered dietitian and licensed naturopathic physician whose Instagram handle is @menopause.nutritionist.

Some will overemphasize eating high protein and others will overly focus on limiting carbohydrates to the point where they don’t get enough fiber. This is a mistake, because fiber can be instrumental in helping you stay healthier.

Giving a bump to your fiber intake can help manage the 10 percent rise in cholesterol levels most women often see at menopause, along with an increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, she added.

Even the American Academy of Family Physicians has suggested that women over 40 eat more foods with fiber, such as berries, whole grains and nuts, with a goal of about 25 grams per day. (Examples: Raspberries have 8 grams of fiber per cup, walnuts have 3 grams per ounce, and a cup of cooked oatmeal has 4 grams.)

Plan a diet that is good enough for your health.

Women need to find a way to enjoy healthy eating that fits into their lives, guilt-free, Huber concluded. It must be flexible and forgiving and not based on rules designed to control what you can and cannot eat. So give yourself permission to lower the bar and make your standard good enough more often than not, instead of striving for perfection every time.


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