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Food & Nutrition

Midlife diet: what you must eat after 40

You can knock years off your age if you eat the right food. Here are nutrition expert Elizabeth Peyton-Jones’s rules

Elizabeth Peyton-Jones may be 49 but she could easily pass for thirtysomething. The naturopath and herbalist, whose clients include large corporations and celebrities including actress Thandie Newton, believes that everyone can look younger and healthier, simply by changing what they eat and how they cook it. “Food is very powerful,” she says, “but people have forgotten that. You wouldn’t feed a racehorse a pork pie, would you? And yet we expect to be at the top of our game without realising that if you want to have clear glowing skin, sparkling eyes and a body that works well, then your diet is fundamental.”

Peyton-Jones, a married mother of two stepchildren, has been practising for 20 years now. She became interested in nutrition after getting a bacterial infection and being brought back to health by a friend armed with healthy fruit and veg. She is amazed at how the world has changed since then, how ideas which used to be unusual (juicing good, sugar bad) are now mainstream. Her approach is heartfelt, but it is also refreshingly straightforward and, most importantly, practical. It’s for people who think they don’t have the time or dedication to follow every passing foodie trend. Peyton-Jones worries that thinking around nutrition has become too faddy. “If I could tell people one thing it is that there are no ‘superfoods’,” she says. “There are 2,000 great vegetables out there and variety is the way to go.”

Our approach to food, she says, has become too complicated. And thanks to celebrity chefs and cookery programmes we set our standards so high that we are afraid of cooking for ourselves. We need to get over that. “The only things you can do wrong with food are to over-salt it, over-sugar it, over-cream it, and over-cook it. If you’re not doing that then there’s very little you can do to ruin your food.”

Eating her way means that you eventually reach your own optimum weight. “You don’t eat as much, get as hungry, or crave food, so you lose weight. It is very difficult to be fat on this diet. You are just fitter and more energetic so you exercise more and look leaner and stronger.”

So does she attribute her youthful looks and slenderness to her way of eating? “One hundred per cent,” she says with a laugh. “I just don’t seem to get cravings like other people do, although I eat a lot. People are always surprised by how much I eat.”

In her new book, she says she wants to “reacquaint people with that fundamental food-body-power connection”. The rules below will help you get the nutrients you need to stay young and vibrant. As Peyton-Jones says, you don’t have to follow them slavishly: just let them inform your cooking, eating and thinking around food.
Eat yourself young: Peyton-Jones’s rules
Drop addictive foods
By addictive I mean processed foods, refined or hidden sugar, salt and “bad” fats. Pretty much everything in a box or packet. These are dictionary-definition addictive, as they make your body crave more of them.

There’s a myth that it takes 21 days to kick a habit. Food addictions are tough to crack and my rule of thumb is to allow a week for each year of addiction. So, if you are 36 and have eaten lots of refined sugar since the age of 16, don’t expect to be free of it until 20 weeks after you stop eating it. I know that’s longer than you’d expect, but be gentle on yourself.

If you pack your diet with nutrient-rich foods, your body will reacclimatise fast — and thank you for it.
Eat nuts
Nuts offer major youth-giving bonuses and can, with a little expertise, be easily substituted for every kind of dairy. Instead of cow’s milk, for example, use nut or seed milk. Just take one cup of nuts — almonds perhaps, or cashews — and whizz in a blender with two cups of water. Pour on cereals, use in smoothies, ice creams, add to hot drinks, use in baking. Or drink it fresh. I don’t recommend shop brands as they are full of either sugar or preservatives.

Eat widely for a range of flavours and benefits: almonds, brazils, cashews, coconuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. For example, eating a couple of brazil nuts a day is thought to decelerate the arrival of grey hair and reduce allergies and inflammation. Eating copper-rich hazelnuts neutralises free radicals, while pistachios contain an anti-inflammatory that alleviates dermatitis and strengthens skin.
Use herbs prolifically
I’m always amazed by how timid we are about using herbs in the western world. Herbs are antioxidant, alkalising and anti-inflammatory. They do pretty much all the youth-giving you need: strengthen cells, joints, muscles, veins, blood and organs (fennel and cumin are great for your stomach and indigestion); make eyes, hair and nails shine; heal skin; make you happy (vanilla is a mood elevator, and cinnamon is great for blood balancing).

You should use herbs prolifically. Chuck handfuls of parsley, coriander, dill and other leafy herbs (fresh is best, but dried is more concentrated and gives greater taste) into casseroles minutes before serving. Use herbs as vegetables: make soups with them, or eat them raw in salads. Add exotic spices to dishes and smoothies to bring flavour and nutrient intensity to your diet.

Garlic and turmeric are in my top youth-giving foods for their hormone-balancing, anti-inflammatory properties, and mint and nutmeg are up there, too. Eat lots of different kinds. Basil is fantastic: it’s from the same family as mint so it’s good for digestion. Sage is very good for the brain and alleviating menopausal symptoms. In other words, see herbs as a food, not a decoration.
Drink lemon and water
Do the following every day and you can consider your body youthfully cleansed:
1. First thing, make a 500ml drink using the juice of (preferably) a whole lemon squeezed into warm water. You can add ginger, if you like. The body detoxes at night, so this gives it a morning cleanse and rehydrates and re-oxygenates it.
2. Eat a small amount of fermented food (separately from other foods). These include miso, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and tempeh. Fermented food helps replenish the gut with good bacteria, and helps to feed the good bacteria. Take a probiotic pill daily.
3. Drink good fluids regularly: I’d advise 1.5 litres, or even more, each day. It can be water, herb or green teas, home-made juices — anything but caffeine or sugar-rich drinks. So no coffee, cola, fizzy or energy drinks.
Eat raw veg
Sometimes, because of poor diet and stress, our bodies become slightly acidic. An acidic body is an open arena for the development of inflammation and degenerative diseases.

Instead of eating acid foods (meat, dairy, lots of grains), boost your diet with alkaline vegetables (all vegetables are alkaline but potatoes and sweet potatoes are less so) and seeds. Try for around 60 per cent alkalising to 40 per cent acid-forming foods. Remember, fruit contains sugar so is essentially acidic. Eat it sparingly (no more than two servings a day).

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Life’s short and I like to keep it faff-free. So instead of studying food alkalinity charts before a meal, just eat 40 per cent of your food raw. That’s a salad for lunch, a green juice with breakfast, some mixed seed crackers and a salsa (such as a beetroot salsa: see accompanying recipes) during the day and you’re done.

Raw food is intrinsically alkalising because it is mostly vegetables, a bit of fruit, nuts and seeds. Vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds are nutrient-dense, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

You can eat meat two or three times a week if it is grass-fed and organic. But if not, then I would say once or twice a month. I don’t eat meat, but I eat fresh, non-farmed fish (halibut, sea bass, mackerel, salmon) four to five times a week. As far as dairy is concerned, if you don’t have a problem with allergies or inflammation, then you can have it four or five times a day.
Why cooking methods matter
The cooking process should retain maximum nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in all our food, to sustain us and keep us looking and feeling younger.

My preferred methods for cooking are steaming, slow-cooking, poaching and roasting. But steam-frying is my top way to cook rejuvenating, tasty meals because it brings the richness of frying with, typically, less than 1 tsp of oil (that tiny amount helps us to absorb the essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K).

Just heat a heavy-based pan over a medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add ½ tsp of avocado or coconut oil and swirl to coat. Add 4–6 tbsp of water, wait until it bubbles, then add the food. Cook as normal.

The good fat/bad fat debate rages on, so for sanity’s sake I like to keep it simple. For cooking, I use coconut oil or avocado oil. For drizzling, dipping and so on, I use hemp, olive and pumpkin seed oils. With these five, you have all the taste, nutrients and youth-giving benefits you want.

Fats are vital for our bodies to work properly, for healthy skin, for the proper functioning of cells, brain and liver, and to process the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Counter-intuitively, good fats even help weight loss: they make us feel satisfied so we eat less, but they also burn as energy rather than being stored in fat cells.

When you’re buying oils, go for first cold-pressed extra-virgin, as these have not been degraded by heat in the extraction process. Choose oils in dark bottles and store in a cool, dark place (not near the cooker).
The 20 best foods to keep you young
Tomato: The most versatile vegetable (or fruit, depending on how pedantic you are). Eat ripe and red as they then contain more lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against cell deterioration and keeps you looking and feeling younger.
How to cook: Raw, paste, canned, all are good (though I am not wild about the sugar and additives in ketchup or some cans, so avoid them).
Asparagus: Powerfully nutrient-dense, high not just in vitamins and minerals, but in cancer-fighting compounds and amino acids that help detox at a cellular level, this is the holy grail of anti-ageing. If you drink alcohol, asparagus can alleviate the after effects and protect hard-working liver cells.
How to cook: Serve as a starter or side, or chop into salad.
Avocado: Eat four times a week for younger-looking skin, hair and nails. It has 25 vital nutrients and antioxidants including five anti-inflammatories, so it’s a great all-round age-minimiser. It is 20 per cent fat, but this is healthy, cholesterol-reducing fat, which helps to suppress appetite.
How to cook: Eat in guacamole and salads or use for creamy smoothies, soups and puddings.
Cabbage: A nutrient-dense cruciferous vegetable with high levels of glucosinolates that boost antioxidant uptake, help with detox and protect against cell deterioration, so it’s a good all-round youth-giving choice (as are broccoli, cauliflower and other members of the cruciferous family).
How to cook: Eat raw (as coleslaw, in salads, juiced), fermented in sauerkraut or lightly steamed.
Carrot: Carrots contain high levels of beta-carotene and other antioxidants, with protective powers against cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and even sight problems.
How to cook: Juice, eat raw or — better still — cooked (the nutrients are easier for the body to access), in soups, breads and cakes. Buy organic, or always peel them, as the skin can harbour pesticide residues.
Chickpeas: These buttery, nutty legumes are a great low-fat high-protein option. They help to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar and are high in iron and molybdenum, a mineral that helps detox the sulphites in processed foods and wine. With plentiful fibre and folic acid, they’re great for the gut and encourage optimum cell functioning.
How to cook: Use in houmous, falafel, pies, curries, casseroles and soups or on salads.
Horseradish: I’m a huge fan of this; I eat it with salmon and adore the punch of horseradish mash. An antioxidant (especially high in vitamin C) and anti-inflammatory. It’s also a good detoxer: by stimulating bile it aids the digestion of fats and so helps to eliminate cholesterol and other wastes.
How to cook: Use raw for maximum pungency. Grate and mix with natural yogurt, cider vinegar or grated apple as a sauce for pulses or fish. To make horseradish mash, grate 1 tbsp into mashed potatoes, celeriac or beetroot. Always store in the fridge.
Cucumber: Nothing beats cucumber for dewy skin. It’s high in silica, which helps to keep connective tissue healthy (the muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and bone that hold you together).
How to cook: Use raw in juices, salads and cold soups. Buy organic, or else the skin is waxed or has pesticide residues and that’s the bit that contains the most silica.
Coconut milk: This is highly alkalising, a good source of minerals (potassium, manganese, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium and zinc) and fats that fight bacteria and fungi, which is why upping your intake can help with candida.
How to cook: Buy cans of whole milk, not the low-fat version (from which the “good” fats have been removed) and use wherever you would use cow’s milk, on cereal, in curries, soup and so on.
Blackcurrants and redcurrants: Yes, they have a short summer window but currants are super-rich in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which is very good for skin (including difficult-to-treat conditions such as eczema). They are also an anti-inflammatory that is also high in antioxidants.
How to cook: Eat raw with coconut cream or add to ice cream. Poach to make into a coulis. Try frozen when fresh is not available.
Kale: Kale is a nutritional powerhouse, probably the most palatable way to get a big shot of calcium in a low-cal way (though parsley, garlic and dandelion leaves are up there.). High in cancer-fighting sulforaphane and carotenes, it also helps the regeneration and repair of cells.
How to cook: Juice, steam, steam-fry; add to soups, casseroles, or mash to make colcannon.
Kiwi fruit: A good little youth-giving helper, full of vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium and dietary fibre. It’s a very low-sugar fruit so is great in the morning with yogurt or nuts and seeds. Or if you fancy a sweet snack that won’t shoot your blood-sugar levels sky high, this is it.
How to cook: Eat raw or juice.
Mackerel: Like all oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring), it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids that helps reduce cholesterol, protect against heart disease and cancer and ease joint pain and arthritis (the anti-inflammatory effect). Good for depression and memory, high in vitamin D that fights dementia.
How to cook: Grill or bake with tart or anise flavours (these flavours get your gastric juices flowing and allow digestion to take place more easily): try gooseberry or fennel.
Mushrooms: shiitake and maitake: Go for these over regular mushrooms: they offer a rejuvenating boost. They reduce cholesterol, while a compound called lentinan powers immunity and helps fight infection and disease. Maitake are hard to find (you might have to buy dried) but contain beta-glucans that are immune-boosting and destroy malignant cells while protecting healthy ones.
How to cook: Add to soups, casseroles, savoury dishes and omelettes.
Parsnip: Naturally high in sugars, parsnip is very high in soluble and insoluble fibre, which reduces blood cholesterol and helps gut function. It also contains minerals, especially phosphorus and potassium; the latter counteracts the huge amount of sodium in our daily diets and promotes a youth-giving electrolyte balance in the body.
How to cook: Juice (raw) with other vegetables (it adds sweet creaminess); roast; mash with swede or celeriac; use in soup.
Pomegranate: Crunchy, tangy, bittersweet, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and artery-declogger, and also protects against heart disease and viral infections.
How to cook: Use it in salads, in sauces with meat, or as a relish.
Quinoa: The “gold of the Incas”, this Peruvian grain is a great protein source for the gluten and wheat-free. I recommend it for its youth-giving properties as it’s a seed not a grain and contains all the essential amino acids, plus a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals and fibre. It’s high in vitamin B2 (vital for energy metabolism) and iron and potassium, which help every cell function.
How to cook: Cook on its own or chuck raw into soups and casseroles. Try quinoa flour when baking.
Radish: Under-rated and under-used in the West, radishes are fabulous detoxers; if ever you feel like an inner cleanse, eat a radish. One of the cruciferous vegetables, it has that trademark sulphurous zesty tang: it’s these chemicals that help improve digestion (and youthfulness). They are low-cal, high-fibre and anti-inflammatory.
How to cook: Delicious raw in salads or steamed with other vegetables (beetroot, carrots, sweet potatoes); they add a sharp antidote to any sweetness.
Squash and sweet potatoes: High in protective carotenes and anti-inflammatory, these help regulate blood sugar and are youth-giving for skin and muscles.
How to cook: Roast to make into soups, or add to casseroles, curries and risottos.
Watercress: It’s low-calorie yet bursting with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and contains sulfurophanes (age busting/detoxing compounds) which help cells defend themselves from carcinogens and degeneration. The deep green colour and peppery taste of watercress are a giveaway that it’s alkalising, detoxing and generally good for head-to-toe youthing.
How to cook: Eat raw in salads; juice; or even make into a tea (infuse for 10 minutes).

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