Midlife nu­tri­tion rules to live by

Are carbs re­ally the devil if you’re over 40? Is mid­dle-aged spread in­evitable? We asked nu­tri­tion­ist James Collins for the key steps to keep you at your best in midlife and be­yond

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

1 DON’T AC­CEPT MID­DLE-AGED SPREAD

This takes the form of vis­ceral fat, a gel-like sub­stance that wraps around your or­gans and in­creases your risk of heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and stroke. Collins says em­brac­ing this ex­pand­ing belly in­di­cates a mis­con­cep­tion about health: “I work with peo­ple in their 70s who are in great shape, and that’s how it should be. Your 40s and 50s aren’t the nat­u­ral ‘end of the line’.”

2 FO­CUS ON YOUR BODY FAT

Pre­vi­ously, you might have popped your­self on the bath­room scales once a week to mon­i­tor your weight. That’s no longer enough, and the rea­son goes back to that vis­ceral fat around your waist.

Collins in­stead ad­vises fo­cus­ing on your body fat per­cent­age, which in­di­cates the amount of your over­all weight that’s com­prised of fat. This can be mea­sured us­ing bio­elec­tri­cal im­ped­ance (a func­tion built into some new scales), a sk­in­fold test ( mea­sured by a per­sonal trainer or GP) or a DEXA scan (ask your GP). Mid­dle-aged men should aim to be un­der 20 per cent fat, women slightly higher.

3 DON’T BOTHER WITH DI­ETS

“There are lots of fash­ion­able di­ets out there, but ul­ti­mately a lot of them are based on a calo­rie deficit

– eat­ing less than you ex­pend in en­ergy,” says Collins. “Yes, that works in the short term, but if you have no en­ergy and can’t get through eight hours of work or go to a func­tion in the evening, what’s the point?”

He ad­vo­cates a more con­sid­ered ap­proach that matches your in­put against your out­put in a way that’s sus­tain­able: “It comes down to work­ing out how much fuel your body needs, and giv­ing it the right fuel at the right time.”

4 AL­WAYS EAT BREAK­FAST

Collins says that while skip­ping a meal as part of in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing can be good, you shouldn’t drop break­fast. “Hav­ing an ap­petite in the morn­ing is no bad thing. Break­fast gives your body and brain en­ergy for the day,” he says. “Overeat­ing at night is a much big­ger prob­lem, es­pe­cially among of­fice work­ers.”

5 CHOOSE THE RIGHT CARBS

“‘Car­bo­hy­drate’ has be­come a dirty word,” says Collins. “But they’re re­ally im­por­tant phys­i­o­log­i­cally to cre­ate a fuel for you to move your mus­cles, and for your brain to func­tion.”

Once you reach your 40s, your me­tab­o­lism starts to slow down, which means you need less – but still some – carbs than be­fore. Collins says the midlifer can adopt two easy fixes here. Firstly, eat low-GI carbs – such as quinoa, whole­grains, oats, brown not white rice, rye not white bread – which re­lease their en­ergy slowly. And se­condly, con­sider a low-carb din­ner if you know you’re not go­ing to ex­er­cise that evening.

6 ADD FRIENDLY FATS TO YOUR DIET

Fats are a use­ful fuel, but there’s an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion. “We want to steer peo­ple to­wards polyun­sat­u­rated fats, which are found in fish, av­o­ca­dos, olives and seeds,” Collins says. “These im­prove brain health and car­dio­vas­cu­lar func­tion, and there’s ev­i­dence they have an anti-in­flam­ma­tory func­tion, which is very im­por­tant for midlif­ers.”

You should, how­ever, limit your in­take of sat­u­rated fat, which is found in prod­ucts such as red meat and cheese, and trans fats, found in shop-bought cakes, bis­cuits, and pies. These can cause a rise in the type of choles­terol that con­trib­utes to a fatty build-up in your ar­ter­ies and is linked to var­i­ous health is­sues, says Collins.

7 EAT PRO­TEIN AT EV­ERY MEAL

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, midlif­ers don’t think about pro­tein,” says Collins. “It wasn’t a talk­ing point when they were grow­ing up.” And yet pro­tein is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for this age group be­cause of sar­cope­nia, where mus­cles lose mass and strength with age. Pro­tein, along with re­sis­tance train­ing, helps to main­tain mus­cle strength, re­pair and growth.

Collins rec­om­mends hav­ing a serv­ing of pro­tein with ev­ery meal – and that in­cludes break­fast. “So many peo­ple have toast and jam in the morn­ing, but there’s no pro­tein there,” he says. “Add a serv­ing of low-fat Greek yo­ghurt along­side it.” Other good pro­tein sources in­clude fish, nuts, chicken and other dairy, but limit red meat to once or twice a week.

8 WATCH YOUR CAF­FEINE IN­TAKE

Caf­feine is a good thing, says Collins. “It helps cog­ni­tive pro­cesses, it helps re­duce feel­ings of how stress­ful ex­er­cise or work feels. And con­trary to the myth, it doesn’t de­hy­drate you.”

But he says to con­sider two things: “The first is tim­ing. If you’re hav­ing prob­lems with sleep, work back­wards and find your cut-off point. The sec­ond is strength. Be wary that this varies dra­mat­i­cally across brands of cof­fee. One cup might con­tain 90mg, an­other 180mg.” The cur­rent daily safe limit for most peo­ple is 400mg.

9TIME YOUR TREATS

These are high in sugar and trans fats – and they’re also de­li­cious. So what should you do?

“Midlif­ers tend to un­der-fuel dur­ing the day and overeat at night, so I’d say if you’re go­ing to have a choco­late bar, have it early in the day,” says Collins.

How­ever, this is a last re­sort, he adds. For a health­ier daily treat, in­dulge in a pro­tein ball in­stead.

10 DON’T FOR­GET TO EX­ER­CISE

Once we hit our 30s, our bod­ies nat­u­rally tend to­wards at­ro­phy – our aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity de­creases, our or­gans get smaller and our mus­cles shrink and lose strength. Es­sen­tially, we get less ef­fi­cient. “Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise slows this de­cline,” says Collins. “By putting strain on your mus­cles and bones, it forces your body to make new, fresh, health­ier, hap­pier cells. And good nu­tri­tion helps with the process.”

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