While the basic rules of good nutrition work for all of us, it is good to keep in mind that what works for a woman in her 20s will not necessarily work in her 30s. And what works for a woman in her 40s, will not work in her 50s and beyond. A woman’s nutritional needs change as she ages. So, here are a few guidelines on how to remain healthy and stay young through the decades.

In Your 20s

The first thing to realize is that you are no longer a teenager. Which means you can no longer “dump” large amounts of food into your system and expect your body to burn up the calories as it did in your teens. Your body is also starting to “settle down” (no more raging hormones causing acne, etc., provided you are doing the right things).

Following the tips outlined below will ensure that you provide the body with the required nutrients which are the building blocks for womanhood.

Leave your student days behind. Skipping meals or eating at random times no longer works, especially if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight. Eating approximately every four hours will maintain optimal metabolic efficiency. And forget about fast food. By avoiding fast food, you cut out extra salts, sugars, and preservatives. Try to eat fresh, homemade food as much as possible

Eat foods that provide long-term energy. Toasted white bread or white oats and cereal are convenient when you are pressed for time, but such refined carbohydrates metabolize quickly, causing blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly. Having some protein for breakfast, on the other hand, slows down the carbohydrate absorption rate. Eating greens like broccoli and spinach or drinking green juices will maintain your energy levels through the day.

Cut down on caffeine. You may have survived your exams with Red Bull, but caffeine causes the body to excrete calcium, which you need for bone density and much more. Reduce your overall caffeine intake and switch to tea.

Watch your alcohol intake. Go easy on the alcohol. Abstain from sugary mixes such as rum and coke and drink wine, light beer or hard liquor mixed with club soda in moderation. Be sure to hydrate not only with water but with water-based fruits and veggies and potassium-rich coconut water and avocado.

In Your 30s

You’ll begin to notice the effects of aging on your body. As your metabolism slows down, you may find it hard to lose or maintain weight.

Avoid the “good mother” syndrome. This means you should not get into the habit of finishing off your children’s leftovers, nor should you skip meals because you have to put your family’s needs ahead of your own.

Focus on sustaining energy levels. Tired of balancing your role as a mother, career, and social life? High-quality carbohydrates and protein keep your energy levels steady. Try to incorporate hard cheese, raw nuts such as almonds, walnuts, raw seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and complex carbohydrates such as kidney beans into your snacks and meals.

Replenish nutrients. During pregnancy, your stored nutrients become depleted. It’s important to replenish with nutrient-dense healthy fats like almonds, flaxseed oil, and olives.

Boost your metabolism. If you’re having trouble dropping extra weight, here’s something you should try: Eat a tablespoon of chopped red or green chilies to boost your metabolic rate substantially. Green tea is also known to crank up your metabolism for a few hours. Digesting fish, a great source of protein will burn twice as many calories as digesting fat or carbohydrates.

In Your 40s

As you get into the peri-menopausal stage and eventually reach menopause, estrogen levels start to decline and make you more prone to water retention. You may start to feel bloated and your metabolic efficiency will continue to decline.

Limit carbohydrates to beat bloating. Every gram of a carbohydrate binds with three to five grams of water, which creates additional bloat. To minimize retention, focus your diet mainly on vegetables that are low in starch and high in fiber. Try mustard greens, broccoli, and cauliflower. Cruciferous vegetables have other benefits such as balancing the various forms of estrogen.

Don’t go on crash diets. Anything with short-term consequences won’t help. Your body is losing elasticity and will not recover as well from constantly dropping and gaining weight.

Keep your hormones balanced. As you go through hormonal changes, it’s important to properly balance hormones like estrogen and progesterone to help prevent certain types of cancer. In order to do this, try adding ground flaxseed and apples to your diet, as well as a balance of vegetable and animal proteins like tofu, beans, lentils, and fish. Evening Primrose Oil could also be beneficial.

In Your 50s

At this age, your risk for diseases increases. Experts agree that being mindful of your diet can help keep you healthy.

Help your heart. Your risk of having cardiovascular disease goes up to almost 40 percent. After menopause, women carry more weight in their abdomen, which affects the heart as it does in men. Omega-3 fatty acids and other good fats along with B vitamins play a key role in heart health. Try fish, paneer, cold-pressed coconut and olive oils, hard cheese, broccoli, and avocados.

Protect against breast cancer. About 75 percent of cases occur in women 50 or older. Limit alcohol to one drink per day and make sure you get an adequate amount of healthy fats in your diet while avoiding unhealthy fats such as transfats. There is a clear link between obesity and breast cancer.

Add antioxidants. Your body is gradually slowing down, so keep it strong with cancer-fighting antioxidants found in berries and beans.

In Your 60s and Upwards

This is where you will reap the benefits of a life well lived. But it’s never too late to start. Within three months of shifting your lifestyle, your survival curve shifts to a new level.

Include low glycemic fruits and veggies. Include fruits and vegetables that have low sugar content while yielding high levels of vitamins C and E which can lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Eg: Citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes and mustard greens.

Strengthen your immune system. Aging can weaken your immune system. The Ayurvedic herb “ashwagandha”, vitamins C and D can support your immune system.

Ease your aches and pains. Foods that reduce inflammation will help ease the pain. Try fresh pumpkin, red capsicum, turmeric, and ginger.

Eat less and live longer. Research shows that restricting your calorie intake by about 15% not only extends lifespan but reduces risk from all causes of mortality significantly. However, if you develop your nutritional intelligence, you can eat more and still consume fewer calories. For example, fish has fewer calories and fat per ounce than meat.

Stay young through the decades with a right attitude

By following the above guidelines for each decade, a woman can ensure the quality of life, while aging gracefully and protecting herself from major diet-related, age-related and hormone-related disorders such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cysts, fibroids, female cancers and many other ailments that are on the rise these days.

Something to think about…

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

Dr Suresh Shottam

The author Dr. Suresh Shottam, is a practicing naturopath, researcher, author and lecturer who was based in New York for 30 years and currently practices in India. He coaches senior executives in Peak Performance and Ultra-Wellness. His "Uncommon Sense Wellness" workshop has been well-received by professionals and the general public both at home and abroad.