The food traps and how to avoid them
Many people eat "mindlessly" – that is, eating without thinking about what they are doing. Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, non-judgementally, to what is going on in your internal and external environment. It's a technique that's used to help you overcome all sorts of automatic, habitual patterns, like snacking.
As you get older, your kilojoule requirements are less. If your partner is younger, or a larger body size than you, your portion sizes need to be different.
Eating is a very social event for many of us. If you find yourself single or widowed in your middle years, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook for yourself every night. One solution is to focus on nutrient quality for breakfast and lunch and arrange to eat with friends or family at least a few nights a week.
A common problem we see is not eating enough protein. Maintaining bone and muscle mass depends on adequate protein, so including eggs, lean meat, chicken, fish, or tofu twice a day is important. For the sake of your bones, don't avoid dairy products unless you have another source of calcium.
It is hard to plan meals unless you have the ingredients. Plan your meals for the week, and aim to shop for fresh food at least twice a week. Make sure the staple ingredients don't run out.
The things you need to eat more of and the things you need to eat less of
• Skim or low-fat dairy products
• Full-fat dairy products
Bone loss begins to accelerate at peri-menopause, putting women at risk of osteoporosis, however men are at greater risk later in life, too. Low-fat dairy products like skim milk and low-fat yoghurt provide the calcium our bones need (three serves to meet the required 1000-1300mg per day), but without the additional energy and saturated fats that you get from the full-fat varieties.
• Processed meats
Eating too many processed meats like bacon, salami and frankfurts increases your risk of bowel cancer, whereas fibre-rich foods like legumes have been shown to have a protective effect. It's recommended to mostly avoid processed meats and swap some of them for a meal containing legumes such as chickpeas.
• White breads and grains
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes greatly increases after the age of 50. Consuming lower glycaemic-index grains, such as oats, rye, barley, wholegrain breads and cereals, can help to reduce blood sugar and insulin spikes and support weight management.
• Oily fish
• Red meat
As we age our muscle mass declines, which slows down our metabolic rate, so the weight you were once able to maintain becomes more difficult. Increasing protein intake can help with this, with a focus on omega-3-rich oily fish like salmon and sardines and less red meat like beef, lamb and pork.
• Whole fruits
• Fruit juice
As we age our gastrointestinal tract slows down. This, together with hormonal fluctuations and, often, lifestyle changes, can mean that constipation is more common. To keep bowels regular, it's important to get enough fibre in our diet. A whole piece of fruit, such as an apple with the skin, contains around 5g of fibre, whereas an apple juice contains virtually none.
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Vegetable oil
Brain health is important as we age and research has shown that extra virgin olive oil may be one of the best additions to your diet to protect against cognitive decline. Some vegetable oils used for cooking and found in packaged products may have the opposite effect.
• Coloured vegetables
The bright colours of vegetables are due to the presence of plant antioxidants. These help combat oxidative stress, which damages cells and contributes to age-related disease. Aim for half your lunch and dinner to be a variety of different coloured veges.