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Diets for the Ages

Women's food choices should be keyed to age, lifestyle, and nutritional needs.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Most women reach a point where they taper off eating cheese fries and fix salads instead -- but nutritionists say there is more to "eating your age" than that.

People of any age need certain core foods, points out Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston. These are fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and certain fats. They provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that build strong bodies and stave off diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

How to get these -- and how much of them to eat -- depends on age and level of activity. You must eat less as a grownup than you did when you were younger.

In the teen years, most girls are pretty active. "Even though they are still growing, most American teens get enough protein," says Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical School, pointing to an otherwise regrettable intake of hamburgers.

Calcium is important during the teen years because the bones that will support you for a lifetime are being built up. "Some kids, especially girls, do not get enough calcium," says Audrey Cross, PhD, assistant clinical professor of nutrition at the Columbia University School of Public Health. "They need four servings a day of dairy or dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, or collards." Cereal with milk, a colorful salad at lunch, rice tossed with red and yellow peppers, chicken, a glass of milk with dinner, maybe a bowl of frozen yogurt later -- it adds up. "But some girls think dairy is 'fattening,' forgetting about skim milk and nonfat yogurt. Teens should drink skim milk instead of soda."

"Kids do not get enough vegetables," Heller agrees. "The best way to be sure kids eat enough is have veggies in the house and set a good example. Kids need to see parents eating a couple of vegetables [as well as beans, tofu, and nuts] with their meals." The beauty part of this is once the kids get "the habit," they will carry it over and show their own kids how it's done.

Eating Correctly in Your 20s and 30s

These are the childbearing years. Women must be sure they eat enough green veggies to keep their bodies ready with sufficient folic acid to prevent birth defects in any babies that come along. This means loading up on the dark green, leafy vegetables as well as taking a folic acid supplement before getting pregnant.

According to nutritionist Cross, eating correctly in your 20s and 30s can be a matter of visual aesthetics, rather than a tiresome exercise in milligram counting. "Eat by the colors," urges Cross. She explains that if you put a rainbow on your plate, you will probably be getting the nutrients you need. Iceberg, potatoes, white bread -- these probably are not as loaded with goodies as a riotously colorful plate of sweet potatoes, mixed greens, peppers and penne, and golden roasted chicken! Put the mushy next to the crispy, the smooth next to the noisy.

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