Healthy Eating for Midlife, from the Experts

MORE magazine gathered four nutrition experts — all midlife women and respected researchers. Over salad, pasta, and, yes, dessert, they shared their secrets on how to eat for optimum health.

By Carla Rohlfing Levy

Essential Nutrition at 40

You already know the basics of good nutrition. Fill up on veggies, limit the junk, and make sure you’re getting enough calcium. But as you navigate midlife, is that enough to stave off weight gain and disease? To find out, MORE booked lunch with four top researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, both part of Tufts University in Boston. These women direct studies on everything from vitamins and immunity to soy and perimenopausal symptoms. We wanted their inside advice on how stringent women over 40 need to be about their diet, and on how they themselves stay healthy.

The setting: Lunch at the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common. On the menu: a buffet of Caesar and green salads, four-cheese pasta, seared monkfish, potatoes, vegetables, and an array of apple tarts, Boston cream pie, and chocolate-mousse cake. None of the experts touched the pasta, soda, or bread, but everybody dived for dessert — just one of many lessons they shared about spending calories wisely. Listen in for more words of wisdom.

MORE: What nutrition changes are essential as women enter their 40s?

Alice Lichtenstein: "A major issue is weight, even if you’ve never had to think about it before — it’s very difficult to lose once it’s on. The late 40s are a particularly vulnerable period. There are a lot of life changes, your metabolism slows down, and the proportion of lean to fat mass changes."

Simin Meydani: "It’s not inevitable — the research at our center shows that you can keep your muscle mass and waistline with exercise."

Margo Woods: "You should be aware that there are going to be changes and not be hard on yourself. You can look really good at 40 or 50, but you are not going to look 25."

Bess Dawson-Hughes: "You also want your diet strategy to minimize bone loss. It begins by the late 40s. So make sure you get more calcium-rich foods, like dairy, and subtract something from the diet in order not to gain. I would take away the simple carbs, the starches, and sugars, and replace them with dairy."

MORE: Is calcium from food sources preferable to supplements?

BDH: "The calcium is going to get absorbed similarly, but the nutrient package you get with calcium-rich foods is worthwhile — protein and potassium as well as calcium and vitamin D. In the interests of overall good nutrition, try to get the nutrients you need from food first, and use supplements only when nutrient intake is inadequate."

SM: "Another change to watch for after 40 is a decline in your immunity, making you more susceptible to diseases, and also everyday colds and flus. What you eat is very important for helping you reduce that change in immune response and to improve your resistance to diseases.Fermented products like yogurt can have an effect on improving immunity. There is some evidence that they can help GI infections. Then there are other factors in the diet. The micronutrients in fruits and vegetables are very important for maintaining and helping you prevent your immunity from decreasing. But as you age, there are certain micronutrients, like vitamins B6, C, E, and zinc, that you can’t easily get in the amount you need. In that case, you might think about supplements."

Dieting at 50

MORE: Is the standard five servings a day of fruits and vegetables enough to protect immunity?

SM: "It hasn’t been studied."

MORE: Can diet still make a difference after 50 if you ate poorly when you were younger?

AL: "Absolutely. Diet is crucial. It’s really after 50 that things get more interesting. As you go through menopause, your LDL goes up. Heart disease kills one in two women in the United States, although we think more about breast cancer. The reality is that you can do more to prevent cardiovascular disease as you get older than almost anything else, including cancer."

SM: "Alice and I did a study and found that women who had moderately elevated LDL and who lost just two kilograms [5-6 pounds] on average, had improvements in their blood fats and immune response."

MW: "It’s not an overwhelming amount to lose."

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