Eating healthily post-50 can be a challenge. Women's dietary needs change later on in life, whether as a result of menopause-related hormonal changes or a slower metabolism, and many older women require fewer calories, yet additional nutrients to support their health and wellbeing.
While there's no need to have a major overhaul of your diet, just a few nutrition-savvy tweaks should boost your general health, and help lower your risk of certain age-related conditions, such as heart disease, breast cancer and osteoporosis. Make a start by upping your intake of the following superfoods for women.
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Superfoods for women over 50
Fond of soy milk, tofu and edamame beans? You're in luck. Several studies indicate that soy isoflavones, plant oestrogens that mimic the structure of the female hormone, help regulate oestrogen levels and lower the risk of breast cancer when eaten during and post menopause, as well as calm the hot flushes.
A soy-rich diet can also lower your cholesterol by around 6% according to Heart UK and reduce your risk of heart disease, the second leading cause of death for women in the UK. On top of that, soy is one of the best sources of riboflavin (vitamin B2), which many older women lack in their diets.
The pros and cons of soy
How to add tofu to your diet
Women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis than men. To help lower the risk, the National Osteoporosis Society recommends a minimum of 1,200mg of calcium a day for 50-plus women – a glass of milk contains 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDI).
A diet rich in milk may also help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia, the leading causes of death for women aged 80-plus.
A 2015 study from the University of Kansas reported that regular milk-drinkers have higher levels of the brain-boosting antioxidant glutathione, and a lower Alzheimer's and dementia risk.
Learn more about how calcium benefits health
A 2009 study found that eating turmeric foods at least twice a week may help prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Curcumin, the active ingredient in the yellow-hued spice is thought to heal brain cells and help stave off the mental decline associated with age.
Turmeric in fresh root form is best, but if you can't get hold of it, the powdered spice is almost as potent. Try it in curries, marinades, rice dishes and soups, or add some of the root or powder to a virtuous fruit or veggie smoothie.
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Although pre-menopausal women who experience heavy periods are at a significant risk of developing anaemia, a large cohort study conducted in 2010 found that the risk of anaemia actually increases with age.
If you suspect you may be anaemic, make an appointment to see your GP. Otherwise, a diet rich in iron can help prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. Believe it or not, pumpkin seeds are the best dietary source of the mineral, weight for weight. Other rich sources include liver, shellfish, nuts, red meat, pulses and beans.
Seeds of goodness – which seeds to add to your diet
How much iron do we need?
Older women, especially women over 65 are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. “It's recommended that over-65s take a supplement of vitamin D of 10 micrograms per day,” says British Dietetic Association spokesperson Priya Tew. “Try to get out in the sun for 10-15 minutes a day without sunscreen, too.”
Upping your intake of dietary vitamin D should help as well. The Portobello mushroom is one of the best sources, as are oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals. Mushrooms also contain folate (vitamin B12), an essential nutrient that becomes more difficult to absorb as we age.
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Vitamin d – getting the balance right
Try our delicious mushroom recipes
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in women aged between 50 -79, and while smoking is of course the main risk factor, diet can play a part too in upping or lowering your risk. Cancer Research UK suggests a diet rich in flavonoids may help minimise the chances of developing lung cancer.
Flavonoids are found in many fruits and vegetables, but tea is one of the richest sources of these disease-fighting antioxidants. Black tea consumption may also help lower the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, not to mention reduce and regulate cholesterol levels. Time for a cuppa?
Tea and coffee health benefits
Carrots are rich in powerful antioxidants called carotenoids, which have potential cancer-protective properties. Cancer Research UK quotes a summary of published studies which shows that women with higher levels of carotenoids in the blood may have a lower breast cancer risk.
Other research indicates that people who eat carrots are less likely to develop lung cancer. On another note, the beta-carotene in carrots converts to vitamin A in the body, which helps protect the eyes from degenerative damage.
Is veg healthier cooked or raw?
There's a good reason we're constantly being told to increase our dietary intake of oily fish such as mackerel to at least two portions a week – they are bursting with health-enhancing omega-3 fatty acids, which offer all sorts of benefits, from lowering the risk of breast cancer, to providing decent levels of vitamin D, heart-healthy fats and high quality protein.
New research published in the British Journal of Community Nursing suggests older people increase their protein intake and eat several portions throughout the day to mitigate age-related muscle loss.
Sources of omega 3 for people who hate salmon
10 healthy reasons to eat more fish
Protein alternatives to meat
Chowing down on nuts is a great way to reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body. In fact, a handful of nuts a day has the potential to lower cholesterol by an average of 5%, according to Heart UK.
Walnuts in particular have been shown to reduce breast cancer risk, boost cardiovascular health, support the brain and help prevent diabetes type-2. And they're rich in essential iron to boot. Try them sprinkled over your breakfast cereal, in salads, smoothies or rice pilafs.
10 healthy reasons to eat more nuts
Try this walnut and black bean wrap recipe
The world's most popular berry is packed with a myriad of key nutrients that support older women's health. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C – many women post-50 don't get enough of this crucial vitamin in their diets – as well as folate (vitamin B12).
The sweet red-coloured berries also contain cancer-fighting flavonoids and are high in fibre to help prevent constipation, which is particularly common in older adults, and affects twice as many women as men.
Eat the rainbow – why colourful food helps your health
Visit our strawberry recipes section