It’s a stage of life where self-care should be a top priority, and your diet plays a starring role. You know what you eat is important, but what is the best diet for women over 40?
Hi! I’m Kate. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), I’m here to help you cover all your bases so that you can start feeling like you again.
What is Different After 40?
As a woman in your 40s or beyond, you’re no stranger to the fact that your body is going through some significant changes. Metabolism is shifting, hormones are fluctuating, and life’s demands are ever-evolving.
You may notice you have gained some weight, or that your shape has changed. You may be experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, or mood swings. Your digestion and sleep patterns may be out of whack, or your knees, hips, or back may have started aching.
The good news: by making some really doable changes to your diet, you can get back to feeling like YOU!
Elements of a Healthy Diet for Women Over 40
Once you are over 40, you may find the foods you’ve been eating for decades are no longer your friend. Lactose? More like Lact-NOs.
This can feel really frustrating and confusing!
Maybe you want a bit more energy? Or a bit more room in the waistband? Or a good night’s sleep?
As a dietitian, I would say the best diet for women over 40 is based on nutrient-dense whole foods. Nutrient-dense is dietitian speak for foods that give you a lot of nutrition for the calories, such as:
Whole foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. All these goodies are what nourish every cell in your body so that your skin is glowing, your mood is boosted, and your energy level soars.
At the same time, you want to limit (or even eliminate) highly processed foods like:
Eating too many of these kinds of foods can contribute to weight gain and health issues. (P.S. it is definitely OK to eat these foods sometimes – they’re fun! You might just want to consider having them less frequently.)
An important factor once you’re over 40 is to maximize the nutrition you get from the calories you eat. Nutrient-dense foods help you get the most nutritional bang for your calorie buck. Because you likely need fewer calories now, each one has to count.
While there are a lot of fad diets that I recommend that you skip, one diet plan that is supported by abundant research is the Mediterranean diet.
For the rest of this blog post, I’ll walk you through the specifics of following a nutrient-dense diet such as the Mediterranean diet. For even more info, check out this post: Mediterranean Diet for Menopause: Your Symptom Solution.
Step 1 of eating well after 40? More fruits and veggies, please and thanks.
Fruits and Vegetables
It is probably no surprise that fruits and veggies are at the top of my list. But did you know that even though most adults know that they’re healthy, only 1 in 10 of us are getting enough fruits and veggies each day (1)?
If you only make one change based on this blog post, I’ll suggest that you have more fruits and veggies.
Fruits and veggies are high in nutrients and low in calories (nutrient-dense). They should be your go-to meal and snack items.
Get at least 5 servings a day of fruits and veggies (bonus points if you get 6 to 9). It’s very helpful to choose a rainbow of colors since they provide different nutrients:
Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They support bone health with calcium and vitamin K and provide folate, which is essential for heart health and they may protect brain function as you age (2).
Reds, oranges, and yellows like squash, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and strawberries are high in vitamin A and vitamin C plus other antioxidant compounds that help maintain eye health and decrease the risk of high blood pressure and cancer.
Blues and purples like blueberries, grapes, red cabbage, eggplant, plums, and cherries, these beauties are rich in anthocyanins which are powerful antioxidants that are known to promote brain health.
Whites like onions, cauliflower, bananas, and garlic provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that can help regulate blood pressure, support immunity, and aid digestion.
Wondering which one is best? We have several blog posts comparing your favorite fruits and veggies:
And after you have upped your fruit and veggie intake? On to conquering protein!
You want protein to maintain muscle mass as you age, but you don’t want a huge amount of fat and calories with it.
My top choices for protein-rich foods:
Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon that contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Plant-based proteins like tofu, quinoa, edamame, chia seeds, and nuts offer a combination of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
Beans and legumes like lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans are not only rich in protein but also high in fiber and other essential nutrients.
Low-fat dairy like Greek yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese provides protein plus calcium.
Eggs are a fantastic source of high-quality protein. They’re versatile and can be enjoyed in many forms, from scrambled to hard-boiled.
Chicken (preferably pasture-raised)
Lean beef (preferably grass-finished)
Still curious about the many benefits of protein? Check out these posts on some of our favs:
Dialed in on your protein? Let’s discuss whole grains!
Don’t give up your carbs entirely, but make sure they count!
Opt for whole grains – think brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and oats. These grains are packed with fiber and nutrients. They help keep your digestive system moving, and decrease risk of heart disease thanks to their effect on cholesterol and blood pressure.
The fiber content also means they have a gentler effect on your blood sugar than refined grains, which makes them a great option for helping prevent or manage diabetes. The fiber also fills you up, so you eat fewer calories and avoid overindulging.
Whole grains, check! Let’s talk about healthy fats!
You also don’t want to eliminate fat. You need it for energy and to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamin D and vitamin K which are crucial for strong bones).
Healthy fats are also important for heart, brain, and joint health. You might be surprised to know that healthy fats can also be your allies in managing your weight as you age. They have a unique way of making you feel satisfied, curbing those cravings, and preventing overindulgence.
Where do you find these miraculous fats? Look to fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Need more info on these healthy fats? See these posts:
Healthy fats on lock, now let’s review the importance of hydrating.
Water is vital for every function in your body. Being dehydrated can make you feel tired, and irritable, and make it hard to think clearly.
To stay properly hydrated, aim for about 8-10 cups (64-80 ounces) of water each day, adjusting as needed for your activity level and climate. Pay attention to your body’s thirst signals and the color of your urine (pale yellow is good).
Not a huge fan of plain water? Add a squeeze of lemon or lime or try herbal or green tea or seltzer water. Eat plenty of foods like cucumbers, watermelon, and zucchini as these help with your overall hydration; they’re mostly water!
(And if you’re wondering if zucchini or eggplant is better, you’re not the only one. I covered the ratatouille controversy in this blog post).
Now that you know what to eat, let’s talk about how much.
Portion Control and Mindful Eating
Watching how much we eat becomes increasingly important over 40. Those few extra calories start to add up! Watch portion sizes and pay attention to hunger and fullness cues to avoid excess weight gain.
Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause can affect your appetite and weight distribution. Mindful eating lets you truly enjoy your meals, feeling satisfied with smaller portions and reducing the urge to overeat.
Nutrition is the Key to Thriving Over 40
After 40, aging and menopause start to increase our risk for certain diseases.
But you know what? What you have on your plate can be a great tool to dramatically lower your risk.
Here’s what you need to know and how to fight back!
After 30, both men and women start losing bone density, but it really speeds up for women after menopause due to hormonal changes (3). Weaker bones can lead to fractures, which can be painful and limit your activities.
What nutrients will help you maintain your bone strength?
Calcium is a primary building block of bones. It’s crucial for maintaining bone density and strength. Dairy products, leafy greens, fortified foods, and calcium supplements can help meet your calcium needs.
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption in the gut. Without enough vitamin D, your body can’t actually use the calcium you eat. Fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified foods, and sunlight exposure are good sources of vitamin D.
Magnesium is a key nutrient in bone formation and density. It helps activate vitamin D and contributes to the structural development of bones. Magnesium-rich foods include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens.
Vitamin K is involved in bone mineralization and helps calcium bind to bone matrix proteins. Leafy greens like kale and spinach, as well as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are good sources of vitamin K.
Next on the common concern list: hormones!
Managing Hormonal Changes
Hormonal fluctuations can lead to changes in mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Are you experiencing hot flashes or night sweats? These vasomotor symptoms (VMS) are common from perimenopause on, but a healthy diet may help relieve these symptoms (4).
Limiting refined sugars and processed foods can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing mood swings and energy crashes. Opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Both caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate symptoms like hot flashes and sleep disturbances. As much as I love an iced coffee, I also know that reducing or eliminating these things from your diet may be helpful.
But what can I do to keep my weight in check you ask? Let’s discuss.
Weight Management and Metabolism Boosters
Starting to see the number on the scale creep up? Or maybe your pants feel a bit snug? Weight gain is common as we go through middle age.
Where you carry your weight may shift too. Decreased muscle mass and fluctuations in hormones often mean more weight around the middle. And unfortunately, this type of weight is linked to health risks like heart disease and diabetes (5).
How do you turn the tide and accomplish your weight maintenance or weight loss goals? Focus on nutrient-dense foods and avoid empty calories (foods full of sugar and no nutrition).
We lose muscle as we age and postmenopausal women are at higher risk. The good news is that a healthy diet and physical activity can have a significant impact. Getting enough protein is key (6)!
Muscle is the energy-burning factory of our body, so the less muscle we have, the easier it is to take in too many calories and gain weight.
Try to incorporate some type of strength training (weight lifting or resistance exercises) into your routine a couple of times each week.
Be sure you are getting enough sleep and managing stress. Both are important to maintaining a healthy weight.
Love Your Heart
Heart health is a top priority for women over 40 due to the increased risk of heart disease associated with aging and hormonal changes.
To counteract these changes, emphasize a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars. Make sure you get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids which are heart-protective (7).
Remember the fish we talked about earlier in the lean protein section? Fish like salmon is both a rich source of protein AND heart-healthy omega-3s. Flax and chia seeds also help you boost your omega-3 intake.
In addition, make sure you follow other healthful lifestyle recommendations like not smoking, exercising regularly, getting adequate and restful sleep, and managing stress.
Both obesity and menopause are associated with an increased risk of diabetes (8).
To protect yourself, embrace a balanced diet filled with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and be mindful of portion sizes.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, do so through gradual and sustainable changes to your lifestyle.
Regular physical activity, like walking or dancing, can make a significant difference, along with strength training exercises (see? Strength training has SO many benefits).
Keep an eye on stress, prioritize quality sleep, and limit alcohol consumption. If you smoke, quitting is crucial for reducing your risk.
Gut health can go through changes as you enter your 40s. Hormonal shifts during perimenopause and menopause can influence digestion and the composition of gut bacteria. This can sometimes cause uncomfortable side effects like bloating, gas, and constipation.
Additionally, a slower metabolism and potential changes in dietary habits can affect how your gut processes and absorbs nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 (9).
Medications, lifestyle factors like increased stress, and common digestive disorders that may become more prevalent with age can also play a role.
To support your gut health, aim for 25 grams of fiber each day. To get there, focus on plenty of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These foods can help manage digestive issues, like constipation, which may be exacerbated by hormonal changes.
Incorporating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi which nourish your good gut bacteria can also be beneficial.
Staying hydrated, managing stress through techniques like meditation or yoga, and maintaining regular physical activity can further promote gut health. If you’re taking medications that might impact your gut, discussing strategies with your healthcare provider is a good idea.
If you are wondering what yoga poses will help tame your stress, check out this post:
And now, how to make your diet look like the best diet for women over 40?
Three Ways to Get Started
Now you know why a nutrient-dense diet is so good for you, but how do you achieve it?
Load up on Fruits and Vegetables
Aim for at least 5 servings each day. Have some at every meal or get them in as snacks. Eat a rainbow of colors to get a variety of nutrients.
Need some guidance? Get out our FREE checklist. It can help you while shopping or meal planning:
Incorporate Healthy Fats
Replace butter with avocado or olive oil when possible. Incorporate more nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon or mackerel into your meals.
Choose Whole Grains
Opt for whole grains such as whole wheat, brown rice, and quinoa instead of refined grains. Swap out white bread for whole-grain varieties and choose whole-wheat pasta. These grains are not only nutritious but also a source of complex carbohydrates.
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Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.