Are you looking for the best diet tips to follow as you age? We spoke to Mimi Spencer, co-author of the insightful book, The Midlife Kitchen and bestselling The Fast Diet, who explains how to make a healthy difference to your diet in your 40s, 50s and beyond.
How to tweak your diet as you age
“As my 50th approaches, I no longer eat for weight loss. I eat for health gain. That means subtle changes to my diet, nothing to freak out the kids – just familiar, health-boosting ingredients in tasty combinations.
Evidence shows that making decent nutritional choices – cutting back on refined sugar and salt, eating plant foods rich in phytonutrients, embracing a Mediterranean diet approach with an emphasis on fresh veg and healthy oils – can make a difference.
It’s this approach to eating that inspired my friend Sam Rice, who’s a food writer, and me to write The Midlife Kitchen, detailing the kinds of foods that can help stave off age-related decline. At this halfway point in life, we both found that our tastes and nutritional requirements had changed; we needed lean protein, gut-friendly probiotics and slow-burn carbs, and plenty of plants with fortifying vitamins and minerals. Our buzzwords aren’t ‘restriction’, ‘detoxing’, or ‘clean eating’; we prefer diversity to exclusivity, variety to restriction. And if it’s not completely delicious? Well, you can count us out.
Anti-age your diet
These days, we both have a ‘midlife pantry’ of ingredients to hand, which is full of things that we know can stack the odds in our favour as the years tick by. Here, then, are my top tips for a quick-fix midlife health boost…
To slash the salt levels…
Using what we call ‘semi-salt’ is my way to cut salt intake, reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Our favourites include:
- Lemon-zest salt (1tbsp sea salt mixed with lemon zest)
- Porcini salt (3tbsp ground dried porcini with 2tsp sea salt)
- Cumin salt (1tbsp cumin seeds and 2tsp sea salt)
The best of the lot is gomasio, – a Japanese semi-salt made from unhulled sesame seeds and sea salt in a ratio of 10:1. The seeds add fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, calcium and iron; sprinkle on steamed green beans, salads, or scrambled eggs – delish!
To give my immune system a natural boost…
Fresh turmeric root has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties thanks to its bioactive compound curcumin. Beneficial for the brain and heart, it can help to prevent age-related conditions including arthritis, and plays a role in regulating blood sugar – reason enough for us all to get plenty of it in our middle years.
We use fresh turmeric root in a glorious Balinese curry paste. Or make it into a juice: blitz with root ginger, fresh orange juice, lime juice and coconut water, plus a grind of pepper (increases the body’s ability to absorb curcumin). The only downside? The telltale yellow fingertips of the turmeric eater…
When I want a sugar fix
I’ve always been candy mad and, in the distant past, could easily have considered a whole tube of fruit pastilles a decent meal. But we all know that refined sugars are the devil’s own work – so now, my midlife craving fix is dates.
Full of fibre with a relatively low GI (glycaemic index), they won’t spike blood sugars to the extent refined sugar does. Make date syrup by whizzing Medjool dates with a splash of water and a squeeze of lemon juice, then drizzle over porridge or plain yoghurt for a sweet, yet low-fat breakfast.
To give my gut a little love…
Unsweetened live yoghurt is a dynamite addition to the diet. It contains the friendly probiotic bacteria that can help lower cholesterol, improve immune function and boost the digestive tract.
I’ve taken to making my own (I use the Severin Yoghurt Maker; R469which means it’s always in the fridge ready for breakfast with fresh berries, nuts, seeds and chopped dates, or as a swap for cream at the side of a pudding. Recent research has found that people who eat yoghurt every day have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while it has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Not bad for a simple spoonful.
Try the Severin Yoghurt Maker, R529
When I get a snack attack…
I turn to what we’ve christened ‘Middle Aged Spread’, which is a sort of grown-up home-made hummus. I’m addicted to this dip-spread hybrid when I’m peckish.
It combines spinach (packed with vital vits) and butter beans – full of protein, fibre and healthy slow-burn carbs – whizzed in a processor with plain yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, garlic and spices – all prime midlife ingredients. The upshot is a total taste sensation when slathered on wholewheat toast and topped with seeds (bringing healthy fats to the party). I’ve been known to eat a whole tub of this with a teaspoon when no one is looking!
When I need to wind down
Almond-milk chai is a lullaby in a mug. Combine warm unsweetened almond milk with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and a chai teabag. Among their many midlife benefits, almonds contain tryptophan – an essential amino acid required to synthesise serotonin (the ‘happy hormone’) and melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’) – plus sleep-boosting magnesium, making it a great nightcap if you have trouble dropping off.
Making your own almond milk may sound like a faff too far, but it’s easy to do and ensures you’re getting the nuts’ full nutritional benefit, which is often not the case with some bought brands that contain as little as 2% almond content.
To keep energy levels up…
Seeds really are little bolts of beauty, packed with heart-healthy fats, fibre and energy-boosting protein. My favourite way to get my daily seed fix without feeling like a finch is LSA.
This is a pulsed blend of linseed (also known as flaxseed, they’re brilliant in midlife and can help ease menopause symptoms), cholesterol-lowering sunflower seeds and almonds (for vitamin E and calcium, which benefits bones and joints), in a ratio of 3:2:1. Add to anything and everything – bakes, cakes, crumbles, porridge, granola, or as a coating for veggie burgers and falafel. Think of it as seed capital for a healthier life.”