Making a simple lifestyle change such as improving your diet could help to reduce your risk of all sorts of health problems, from aching joints to heart disease and cancer. Experts believe that you shouldn’t just view the food on your plate as food, but as medicine, which has the ability to transform your health, energy levels and even your sleep.
Food helps you to think and move, it helps your body to regulate pain and inflammation and even helps it fight off bugs and infections. Your body can’t work properly without a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and essential fats. Packing your plate with nutrient rich foods is one of the best ways to protect your health for the future.
Our healthy eating guidelines
“Your body needs macronutrients such as proteins and carbohydrates to give it energy and help it grow and repair itself,” says nutrition expert Dale Pinnock. “But it also needs micronutrients, the vitamins, minerals, trace elements and essential fatty acids.” These are essential to help your body regulate hormones, ease inflammation and turn your food into energy.
Different foods contain different groups of nutrients. For example fruit is packed with Vitamin C and green vegetables are rich in magnesium. “Try to get as many different colours in your meals as possible,” says Dale. “Every different colour means you’ll be eating a different batch of nutrients that could help to protect you from disease.” Try beetroot, sweet potatoes, blueberries, red cabbage, carrots, peppers and spinach. The more colour the better.
As you get older and your digestion becomes less efficient it can be harder to absorb the nutrients from your food. “Keep your food as fresh as possible,” says Dale. “Do everything you can to get away from ready meals and over cooked vegetables. Heavily processed convenience foods have been put through the wringer so much that almost every nutrient has been destroyed.”
If you don’t like to cook and you rely on ready meals you can still add nutrients by serving a fresh salad on the side. Pack in grated beetroot, carrots, some spinach and sliced peppers. You could even sprinkle over some sunflower seeds for added essential fats. Or lightly steam some carrots or broccoli if you don’t fancy salad.
“One of the most important things we should all take out of our diets are refined carbohydrates,” says Dale. “White bread, white rice, white pasta, sugary drinks and snacks aren’t great for your health.” Eating too many of these foods could lead to insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Swap the refined carbs for complex ones instead – for example brown rice replaces white rice, use sweet potatoes instead of your standard spud, multigrain bread instead of white bread. These will keep you fuller for longer too.
Your body needs protein too from lean meats, eggs, dairy products and fish. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines are a brilliant source of omega-three fatty acids. Live probiotic yogurts are good for your digestion and eggs and are excellent source of protein.
Try to include something from each of the food groups in every meal. For breakfast try an omlette with a little cheese and spinach, for lunch a brightly coloured salad with salmon or tuna and a wholegrain roll and for dinner a baked sweet potato with a mixed bean chilli.
The benefits of healthy eating
If you have a specific health problem there might be certain foods that could really make a difference to your wellbeing. Here are Dale’s to picks for age-related health problems.
Arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition, so try to increase the amount of soothing omega three fatty acids in your diet. Eat plenty of salmon, herrings, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. You could also try pineapples, turmeric, and celery, which is a natural painkiller.
Osteoporosis – Calcium in dairy products and Vitamin D from sunshine are important but don’t forget magnesium, which is found in large amounts in green veg such as Kale. It helps your bones absorb calcium. If the sun is scarce mackerel and anchovies are a good source of Vitamin D. Test how healthy your bones are here.
High cholesterol – eat the right fats. Don’t cut out fat altogether, it’s important for your health, but instead of butter and red meat try oily fish, seeds such as pumpkins seeds and olive oil. These contain healthy essential fats to help lower cholesterol. Choose wholegrain carbs to because the sugar in refined carbohydrates can be turned into (bad) LDL cholesterol. Find more information on how to lower your cholesterol naturally.
High blood pressure – reduce your salt intake – the sodium in salt reduces how much you pee, this encourages your body to retain water. When this happens the watery part of your blood gets larger and you blood pressure rises. Potassium has been linked to lower blood pressure so eat more lentils, bananas and spinach. Find out more about how healthy your blood pressure is here.
Prostate health – eat plenty of tomatoes which are rich in lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid that is thought to stop an enlarged prostate developing into prostate cancer. Also stock up on avocadoes which contain an essential fat thought to reduce the symptoms of prostate enlargement and prawns which are a good source of zinc for normal prostate health.
“I feel younger now than I did 10 years ago”
Jill Tipping, 51 from Kent changed her diet and has never felt better.
My 50th birthday really hit home. Suddenly my health seemed like a huge priority. I was quite active but often felt tired. I rarely slept well and regularly needed a daytime nap. My brain felt fuzzy and my joints began to ache. I just started to feel old.
I didn't really have a bad diet but I ate a lot of bread, pasta, cereals, potatoes and I drank wine three or four days a week. I decided to cut back on the carbs and eat more fruit and vegetables.
On a typical day I have porridge made with water (you really can’t taste the difference) topped with honey and sultanas for breakfast, some almonds for a snack, sardines with spinach, tomatoes, walnuts, peppers and sugar snap peas for lunch, fruit mid afternoon and chicken with garlic, cauliflower mash, broccoli and carrots for dinner.
I’ve cut down on alcohol and tea and coffee and I try to think about what my body will need to get me through my day. I feel incredible. My joints don’t ache and I sleep so well. I have much more energy and I’ve started to exercise too. In fact I’m swimming the Channel next year as part of a team – last year I wouldn’t have even considered it. I love my new way of life and I don’t intend on going back to my old habits.
Meet our expert
Dale Pinnock is a leading nutrition expert, food-lover and author of The Medicinal Chef (£18.99, Quadrille). He regularly appears on ITV’s Lorraine and The Alan Titchmarsh Show. Find out more at www.dalepinnock.com