Whether it’s spin class, pool laps, Pilates or some combination thereof, our workouts only take us so far, especially as our metabolisms start to decelerate in our 40s. As dispiriting as it is to admit, exercise is only half the battle. And while I eat my fair share of spinach, I need to be much more disciplined about everything else I consume — for my long-term health as well as my waistline. So I asked Lindsay Jang, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver, for pointers on choosing the most nutrient-dense food possible.
What nutrients do 40-ish women need?
As our metabolism slows and we approach an age where our risks for chronic disease start to increase, we really want to make sure we are getting the most out of our foods. Magnesium is essential to help the body generate energy, regulate blood pressure and fend off heart disease; you can find it in legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Whether it’s lean meat or plant-based, protein helps to build muscle, which impacts our metabolism. We need about 1,000 mg a day of calcium: firm tofu and chia seeds are both good non-dairy sources. And we all need to pack in the antioxidants — vitamin C, E, lycopene and so on from fruits and veggies.
What’s the best way to ensure you get all that?
I always recommend food first. Our bodies are made to digest and absorb nutrients from whole foods. There are other important compounds in those foods — not just that one concentrated, isolated nutrient. But when life gets in the way and you find you aren’t getting everything you need, a multivitamin that delivers low doses of everything can help cover the bases. And since we don’t get sunshine all year round, I recommend taking 1,000 mg of vitamin D a day because you can’t get enough of it from food. As far as other supplements, you should always talk to your doctor or dietitian first. More isn’t always better.
Why is nutrient density important?
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When you’re eating nutrient-dense food, you will end up eating less of other things that might not have as much nutritional value. Any time you add in vegetables, for instance, you’re going to get the benefit of fibre, which will fill you up quicker, keep you full longer and balance energy and blood sugar levels.
So what should be on my grocery list?
Fruits and vegetables — it seems simple but per calorie they have so many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I always try to get an extra vegetable in, whether blended into a sauce or a smoothie. In terms of nutrient density, nuts and seeds are really easy. Just one or two tablespoons of flax, chia, almonds or walnuts are going to give you a really big bang for your buck. You can add them to your oatmeal, yogurt bowl, stir fry or a salad — they’re really versatile.
Are certain fruits and veggies better than others?
I consider all of them superfoods, each colour represents a different category of nutrient. So orange and red ones often have vitamin C or vitamin A, dark leafy greens have vitamin K. Berries are really potent with antioxidants. We tend to think the deeper the colour the more nutritious, but mushrooms and cauliflower are actually two of the most nutrient-dense vegetables. Mushrooms, for instance, have powerful antioxidants, are high in selenium and phytonutrients, and are anti-inflammatory, which is great for the immune system and cardiovascular health.
Aside from salad and smoothies how can I sneak in more nutrition?
Mix a big batch of spiralized zucchini noodles into your pasta — the fibre will fill you up without the calories. Cook up diced mushrooms and potatoes and mix with some ground meat to make burritos. Make a wrap of collard greens with tofu or chicken and other vegetables. There are lots of ways to get creative.
It sounds like a lot of work.
Meal planning is crucial. It helps to look at this as a lifestyle change — and that includes allowing yourself treats every now and then. My philosophy is to focus on what you are adding into your diet, versus what you shouldn’t eat. It’s not about being good or bad, it’s about finding that balance.
Kathryn Hayward is a fortysomething senior editor at Today’s Parent, and a mom of two.