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Diets for the Ages

Women's food choices should be keyed to age, lifestyle, and nutritional needs.

Eating Correctly in Your 20s and 30s continued...

"Stop worrying about counting things and worry about taste and eating," Cross says.

However, the 20s and especially your 30s may also mark the end of your participation in the work softball team; you may go salsa dancing less than you did before. Your caloric requirements begin to drop. An active woman in her 20s, Nelson says, may get away with 2,500 calories a day -- she has to see if she is gaining weight on that. Two thousand calories are probably a better target.

Calcium is also important in your 20s. Bones aren't fully formed in your teens, they continue to strengthen until age 30. Vitamin D is also important in these years -- you may get enough from milk if you drink it, or the sun, but Nelson says some women should supplement. You need 200 IU of the vitamin up to age 50, increasing to 400 IU a day from age 50 to 70, and 600 IU above 70.

Molly Kimball, RD, sports and lifestyle nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation and Hospital in New Orleans, says magnesium is also important at this age because it can help with PMS. Load up on spinach, peanuts, black beans, brown rice, and sea bass. Similarly, vitamin B-6, found in garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, and avocado, can help with fluid retention.

Women who menstruate heavily may need additional iron. "Many breakfast cereals are supplemented or you can cook in an iron skillet," advises Heller. Other sources include red meat, dried fruits, and dried beans. Kimball adds that iron from non-meat sources is absorbed better if vitamin C is added -- so throw some orange slices in that spinach salad.

The 40s and 50s

These are the menopausal years. All of a sudden, your body is using food very efficiently, socking away excess fat the second after you miss your morning jog. That Toll House cookie can take a toll compared with a serving of fruit salad.

Constipation may become an issue -- women should increase their fiber to 20 to 30 grams a day -- not a problem if you are eating those five to seven servings of colored veggies.

Thinning skin crinkling to wrinkles is also calling out now for fatty fish -- salmon, tuna -- those omega-3 oils you've heard so much about. They also act as an anti-inflammatory -- potentially decreasing the risk of heart disease and possibly even Alzheimer's disease.

Now, too, you have stopped actively building bone and in fact, some bone cells may be deteriorating, resulting in bone loss. This, of course, can lead to osteoporosis. You need to be sure to get plenty of calcium and vitamin D. At this point in life, it's recommended that women take in 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day -- along with vitamin D -- usually as a supplement since most women aren't into downing milk and yogurt. Kimball also recommends moderating sodas and coffee -- they make you excrete calcium.

In your 40s and 50s, you may also be losing muscle mass, but you can slow this down with aerobic exercise and strength training (weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running, or using an elliptical machine also helps build up bone against osteoporosis). "Remember," says Heller, "you can be thin and still not have appropriate muscle mass." In fact, thin women are more at risk for osteoporosis.

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