I’m going to get the depressing news out of the way first. You ready? OK, here it is. Your body was at its best when you were 21 and since then it’s been downhill all the way. If you’re in your forties or beyond, unless you’re blessed with weirdly youthful genes or astonishingly good luck, you can probably already see – and feel – the effects of age. I know I can; I get injured doing sport far, far more easily than someone half my age (damn their lithe, flexible, supple limbs… not to mention their flawless skin…) and am currently nursing a sore shoulder that means I can’t row for a while.
But now I’ve got the bad news out of the way, here’s some good news. There’s a lot you can do to maintain your 40+ body, creaks, wrinkles and all… so long as you’re careful with your diet and exercise. This was the main message from registered nutritionist Liz Tucker, who advises 9Bar on nutrition and whom I interviewed at a recent event hosted by 9Bar to promote their relaunched range of seed energy bars.
I asked Liz what you should be eating if you’re over 40, especially in your upper 40s when you may be heading into perimenopause.
“From a nutritional point of view, your diet doesn’t need to be radically different from a young person’s,” said Liz, “but you should put an extra bit of nutritional care in. You need to look for more natural, nutrient-dense foods. In the pre-menopausal years a low GI diet is a good thing as you don’t want massive fluctuations in your blood glucose. Your hormones are made from nutrients, and as your hormones will be all over the place you should keep your diet balanced and your metabolism stable. You should keep everything on the level.
“I’m not a huge supplement fan, though you may get issues with your thyroid at this age, and selenium is very important for thyroid issues. If you’re getting thyroid symptoms but your tests don’t show anything up, you could try selenium and potassium iodide (which is better than iodine), but you should get professional advice before doing this.”
What about the fact that many of us feel that we only need to look at food to put on weight? Liz has more encouragement for us.
“Don’t be afraid of calories. They are simply units of energy and we need them. Calories should in theory make you feel energetic – unless, that is, they are empty calories. There’s a difference between 600 calories from a doughnut and 600 calories from Brazil nuts, where every calorie has a massive amount of nutrients. Nutrients work together to process energy for you, which is why you don’t want empty calories in your diet; you want the nutrients to burn your calories into energy. If you eat energy foods that lack protein, vitamins and minerals, you can process less of the energy in usable form, so you feel tired and gain weight. Your diet should have less in the way of starchy foods – we should eat more fruit, vegetables, pulses, seeds and nuts. The problem is that we live in a maladaptive environment. Our brain is still primitive – it wants to go out and get food and energy, but our actual environment means that we eat more than we should.”
So are there any wonder foods that we should definitely be including in our diet? Well, not surprisingly Liz is a big fan of seeds, which have been part of the human diet since paleolithic times (sunflower seeds were our first cultivated food).
“Seeds contain everything the plant needs to propagate – all the macronutrients, minerals and vitamins,” says Liz. “They are high in calories and fats – that’s why they taste so good – but they’re really healthy. The fat is mostly unsaturated – the fat in sunflower seeds, for example, is 90% unsaturated. and they have the right balance between omega 3 and omega 6.”
Liz also stresses the need to exercise. “You can’t separate a healthy diet from fitness, so get yourself fit. Most women of this age are dealing with children, work and parents, and the multiple demands fall particularly on women. It’s not selfish to put yourself first and look after your health and fitness; if you don’t, everyone else will suffer anyway.”
The message is pretty simple. Eat well. Make every calorie count. Move more. Make time for yourself.
And what about the 9Bars? Well, they’ve just relaunched with a reduced sugar and saturated fat content and a cool new look, and having worked my way through the entire range (not all at once, you understand – even I’m not that greedy), I can thoroughly recommend them. I ate them right through the summer when I was training for a rowing marathon and they were a fantastic pre-training snack. Each time I thought I’d found a favourite I would try a new one and pronounce a new love. I adored the cocoa kick range, and even took to the carob one, to my immense surprise after a traumatic experience many years ago involving a carob Easter egg (all kinds of wrong). All I can say is try them out and find the ones you love. They’re all vegetarian, they’re nearly all vegan and they contain no wheat, gluten, yeast, egg, transfats, preservatives or colours.
9Bar also, incidentally, support Solaraid, a brilliant social enterprise charity that aims to eradicate the use of kerosene lamps in Africa, replacing them with dinky, yet powerful, solar lamps which enable children to study in the evenings and removing the toxic effects of burning kerosene. For every bar sold, 9Bar will provide a night of light for a child in Africa. That’s why 9Bar have come up with the strapline, “Good energy, twice”. Learn more about Solaraid HERE and about 9Bar’s involvement HERE.