From Good Fats to Leafy Greens, How Boost Your Diet After 40

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When I had my annual checkup the first thing my doctor asked was, “Are you eating enough dairy? Dark leafy greens?” She hadn’t asked that question a year ago so I wondered why now? Part of that answer lies in the fact that I’m over 40. Call it 40-something.

Though I lean toward good-for-you and good-tasting foods, I didn’t know exactly why she singled out dairy and leafy greens for this particular time in my life — or if I needed to add more. That’s when I got on the phone with Lisa Sasson, clinical associate professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, to shed some light on the “why dairy and dark leafy greens now” for those of us who are 40-something — er, 39 again.

First, let’s clear some things up: Nutritional requirements don’t actually go up just because you hit the big 4-0. But chronic illnesses, in addition to those pesky crow’s feet and occasional aches and pains, do tend to rear their ugly heads, thus shifting our focus to what we can do now to impact how we look and feel. We just become more aware as we age.

“If you weren’t active enough or eating healthfully enough or sleeping enough, it’s not too late to change,” says Sasson. She explains it is still possible to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and prevent muscle and bone loss, which happens as women get closer to menopause. “If you are someone who has been eating healthy, continue,” says Sasson. “And if you haven’t, now is a great time to start.” How can you do that? Stick to Sasson’s tips.

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Soak Up Vitamin D

The sun is actually an amazing source of vitamin D. Be sure to get 15 minutes of exposure per day, but “not during peak hours, and avoid overexposure,” warns Sasson. Supplement your sun time with vitamin D-rich foods, especially between September and May, like dark leafy greens. Kale soups, kale salads, kale anything (!) — and plenty of dairy products, but stay away from the fakes. “Low-fat, not fat-free,” is Sasson’s motto.

Create a Colorful Cart

“I would tell the same thing to a 20-, 30- or 40-year-old: Make sure you have a lot of colorful food,” says Sasson. When you’re at the supermarket, look in your cart. It should be filled with a rainbow array from nature’s own packaging, plus whole grains and beans. Guy Fieri’s Roasted Beet Salad with Chickpeas and Red Onion offers a colorful lunch or side salad chock full of vitamins.

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Up Your Calcium Intake

Sasson recommends eating sardines, as the fish’s bones are a great way to absorb more calcium. If you aren’t a milk drinker, Sasson suggests buying orange juice fortified with calcium or eating tofu, which is immersed in a calcium solution and is a great addition to stir-fries and tacos.

Don’t Forget the Citrus

Citrus is rich in vitamin C, also important for bone health. Toss orange and grapefruit segments into winter salads or chicken and fish dishes like Valerie Bertinelli's Baked Branzino with Citus Gremolata.

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Replace Bad Fats with Good Fats

Find good sources of fat, like avocado, fish and nuts. “They should not be in addition, but as a replacement for other fatty foods that were once in your diet,” says Sasson. Snacks like Union Square Cafe’s Nuts are tasty and elegant for a cocktail party.

Build Muscle and Bone

“Be physically active and do weight-bearing activity,” says Sasson. “Take the stairs — when you stress your bones, it helps build bone.”

Sadly, as much as we try, we can’t stop the aging process. “Part of naturally aging is we are going to lose some bone mass and muscle mass, and we’re going to need glasses as we grow older,” says Sasson. “It’s just the way life is.” Instead of lamenting the fact that you can’t read a menu without a candle, focus your energy on being healthy and fit. “Stick to the things you can change, like minimizing muscle and bone loss, sleeping enough and eating right,” advises Sasson. “All of these things will make you feel better, look better, and the most important: make you more productive.”

Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor.