By Suzanne Laurie, Nutritionist

We are constantly being told what we should and shouldn?t eat, and what is and isn?t good for us? you probably think you know all there is to know about healthy eating. But did you know that your nutritional needs change as you get older? Perhaps not but When you’re 50, you don’t act like a 20-year-old. So why eat like one? Here?s a guide to eating right for your age?.

20s and 30s
If you’re in this age bracket you’re probably working all hours, socialising a lot, squeezing in whatever food you can, whenever you have time, and probably exercising little more than your drinking arm! Here?s what you should be doing:

If you haven’t already developed good eating and exercising habits yet, then now is the time to start. Aging begins much earlier than we realize, so the sooner we start looking after our bodies, the more likely we are to avoid premature aging and age-related diseases.

Age related issues:
? People reach peak bone mass around age 30, meaning bones have reached maximum density. Therefore, from 30 onwards it is important to focus on slowing inevitable bone loss by choosing foods packed with bone-building nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K.
? If you are starting to develop a bit of a spare tyre around your middle, particularly common in men, then you could be predisposing yourself to heart disease and diabetes later in life. Other early warning signs, such as elevated blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, are showing up in younger age groups. In the 20s and 30s, halting these diseases by choosing heart-healthy foods could mean the difference between developing diabetes or suffering a stroke or heart attack later in life.
? This is probably the time that you start thinking about settling down and starting a family, but fertility problems are on the increase and more and more couples are finding that there are no guarantees when it comes to starting a family.

Important nutrients
? Zinc and selenium: Zinc is involved in sex hormone production and selenium is essential for sperm mobility. You’ll find these in brazil nuts, seafood, meat and poultry
? Lycopene: Found in red fruits such as watermelon, red grapefruit, tomatoes and tomato products ? lowers the risk of developing cancers, such as prostate cancer, later in life
? Calcium: Try to eat 700mg of calcium a day via low-fat dairy products, tofu, pulses, leafy greens, nuts and seeds to optimise bone mass.
? Iron: Women lose iron during menstruation so their need for iron is higher than men’s. Some of the best sources of iron are offal and red meat. It’s worth noting that vitamin C, found in many fruits and vegetables, increases the amount of iron absorbed whereas tannins from tea can prevent it being fully absorbed.
? Folate: Women are also advised to take a 400g folic acid supplement and consume a folate-rich diet (good sources include green vegetables, yeast, nuts and pulses). It decreases the risk of becoming anaemic and a high folate intake before conception and during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy reduces the incidence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies.

40s and 50s
It’s a myth that your best years are behind you - after all, we all know life starts at 40. But while your 20s may start becoming an increasingly distant memory, the importance of eating the right food becomes ever more important.

Age related issues:
? Your metabolism is slowing at a rate of about 3% a decade, so you do not burn as many calories as you used to. However, some people are eating more and exercising less by this stage of there life so the pounds start to pile on. This can increase the risk of developing many chronic diseases
? For women, the threat of osteoporosis increases as childbirth and breast feeding can siphon off their calcium stores and as menopause nears.
? This is the time to step up cancer prevention, as years of wear and tear start to increase the risk of tissue and cellular damage which can lead to cancer
? Women after age 55 and men after age 45 are at greatest risk for developing atherosclerosis - a clogging, narrowing and hardening of the large arteries and medium-sized blood vessels, which can lead to stroke and heart attack.

Important nutrients
? Antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of these lifesaving nutrients. As always, eating five fruit and vegetables a day is recommended. Fruit and vegetables are actually thought to reduce the risk of many cancers, especially those of the digestive system such as mouth, stomach and bowel.
? Fibre. fibre-rich foods help to reduce the risk of bowel cancer in later life, an increasing common disease in those over the age of 65. Boost the fibre in your diet by choosing wholegrain breads and cereals.
? Calcium. For women, consuming foods rich in calcium and vitamin D helps slow the rapid loss of bone during the early post-menopausal years.
? Omega-3 fats. Most people don’t have enough of these essential fatty acids in their diet, but they can literally be lifesavers and have been shown to help protect against coronary heart disease. You can get your omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or fresh tuna, and certain vegetable oils, such as linseed, flaxseed, walnut and rapeseed.
? Soya. Women can’t choose to avoid the menopause but there’s a lot we can do with our diet to help avoid some of the unpleasant symptoms. A diet high in Soya and Soya products has been shown to mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body - some experts believe two glasses of Soya milk a day can reduce hot flushes by up to 50 per cent.
? B vitamins, zinc and magnesium: Mood swings, depression and insomnia are other side effects of the menopause. Taking enough B vitamins (found in breakfast cereals, yeast extracts like Marmite, pork, nuts, offal, dairy products and meat) zinc, (meat and dairy products, whole-grain cereals and pulses), magnesium (whole grains, nuts and seeds, green vegetables and tap water if you live in a hard water area) can all help to ease these symptoms - and keep your marriage intact.!

It’s never too late to look after your health and a healthy diet can still make a difference at 60 and beyond. Studies have shown a low-calorie diet can increase life span by a half, while some foods can help stave off the onset of all sorts of debilitating conditions as you get older, from Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis to hair-loss. Unfortunately at this time our food intake tends to decrease as our appetites reduce. Couple this with the fact that absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract also tends to be less efficient by this stage, it is more important than ever to eat nutrient packed foods daily. For maximum nutrient intake choose from the range of ?Superfoods? listed below. They are chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre and essential fats.

These foods have special abilities to help fight illness and promote good health.
? Whole grains such as muesli (with no added sugar) and porridge oats, brown rice
? Oily fish like herring and mackerel, salmon, sardines and mussels
? Highly coloured fruits such as apples, dried apricots, blackcurrants, cherries, grapes, kiwi fruit, mango, melon, oranges, papaya and raspberries
? Nuts and seeds like almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
? Vegetables such as asparagus, avocado, broccoli, sprouts, kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and cabbage
? Spices such as chillies and garlic
? Beans and pulses