Food shopping can feel like an overwhelming experience at any age. And if you're like most people, you probably spend more time thinking about what goes on your body (like clothes and shoes) than what goes in it (like food).
Getting married and starting a family may be a part of your plan around this time of life. It's a time when I've heard people say, "Now that I'm married, I can let myself go." In fact, if you love the person you married, you should be thinking about holding on to good health for a relationship that will last through the ages. This is a time when you can create an eating philosophy for your household. Try to shop for foods that are staples (skim milk, eggs, whole-grain bread, nut butters, lean poultry, beans, etc.), and items that are occasional treats (cookies, ice cream, or pastries). You'd be surprise at how much the "stock" you have at home today will predict which foods you'll offer your kids in the future.
This group's food choices also influence the economy. Brand loyalty is not as strong in this crowd as with older shoppers—at this age, it's common to shop several stores and readily try items from private-label brands. Food shopping may no longer be an adventure tied to your eating mood on a given day, but an answer to a riddle: "What can I put on the table quickly so that I can get the kids to bed, have a glass of wine, and then go finish the work I didn't complete at the office?"
Tip: Women need to make sure they are getting the vitamins and minerals needed to meet the demands of pregnancy, specifically folic acid and iron. Beans, orange juice, green leafy vegetables, and lean meat are just a few of the items that should be added to the shopping list. And for guys, fewer basketball games with friends and more time behind a desk may require some planning ahead, like purchasing some grab-and-go, pre-measured bags of cereal to pair with a container of Greek yogurt and fruit. When it comes to dining in restaurants, where portions and prices can be excessive, order your own salad, split an entrée, and save a little room to have a coffee and (if you can afford it) a few forkfuls of a shared dessert.
This is probably a time when you are a little more settled, and you may be the meal gatekeeper for your significant other or your children. Family demands coupled with work pressures may stand in the way of a gym class, and morning carpools might replace a morning run. Your metabolism might also be slowing down a bit, so you may notice that you can't keep eating the same foods in the same quantities without causing weight gain or digestive distress. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day may work better than big meals that could invite gastrointestinal disturbances along with a few extra pounds.
Tip: Type up a grocery list of foods you most often consume, and save the list on your computer. Each week, print a copy of the list to keep on your counter so you can circle what you need. This will help you organize and minimize your time at the supermarket, and it will reduce spontaneous purchases that could cost you extra money and calories. Compare products and read labels to create a "safe" list of foods to help your mind, body, and wallet.
So now some of your faulty eating habits coupled with your family medical history may be catching up with you. Those hypothetical conversations with your mother may have turned into hypersensitive conversations with your doctor. Now is the time when keeping your weight in check is more about controlling your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels than determining which bathing suit looks best. Be sure to consume fatty fish, which is packed with omega-3s, to help decrease inflammation and control cholesterol levels as well as smooth out your moods. Other foods that can help control cholesterol are nuts, avocado, beans, and whole grains, particularly oats.
For some people, these are the years when their kids are moving out of the house. As preparing family meals may no longer be necessary, cooking may go by the wayside, and dining out may increasingly be on the menu. Women may be going through menopause and experiencing depression related to hormonal changes. In addition, women may face the heart-disease statistics they previously only worried about when it came to their husbands' health. Finally, this is a time when many people find themselves becoming more responsible for their parents' health and experiencing added stress from these daily pressures.
Tip: Take the time to put yourself on your to-do list. Take a bath, light a candle, meet a friend for lunch, or go see a movie. Make the time to make a meal that you will enjoy, watch your portion sizes, and savor each bite. You and your plate deserve the attention.
60s and beyond:
As your body ages, your caloric needs decline, and it seems easier to gain weight. You may not be able to absorb nutrients as efficiently, and you may be required to take certain medications that could interfere with the foods you eat. Osteoporosis, effecting both men and women, could cause bones to thin, putting you at risk for breaks and fractures. It's particularly important that you get enough calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc from foods like yogurt, sardines (with bones), and fortified, skim, or low-fat milk.
Preparing meals for yourself may seem like an overwhelming task, so try to buy healthy food that is convenient—not necessarily "convenience foods," which could be highly processed and high in sodium and fat. To help slow the loss of lean muscle mass, be sure to consume rich sources of protein like lean meat, cheese, eggs, beans, and low-fat dairy.
Also, be sure to include foods that are good for your gut, since problems like constipation and reflux could become everyday occurrences. Consume a colorful diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, to support your digestive and immune systems. Probiotics in yogurt can also aid in gut function. And don't forget the importance of drinking enough fluids. Dehydration may present as a headache or disorientation, and a simple glass or two of water can prevent these issues and keep things moving through your system.
Tip: It's never too late to make positive changes. Although you may feel like your eating habits are established, that doesn't mean they are etched in stone. Even a subtle change, like switching from that white bagel to whole-grain toast in the morning could slash 300 calories from your daily diet. Combine that with a half-hour walk and, if you're watching your weight, you could even lose a pound a week! Exercise may not only be more difficult to schedule, but it also might be more difficult to do, so choose an activity that you will enjoy, and try to get a buddy to join you!
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.