How to eat in your 30s: What you need to know about nutrition and health

A healthy diet will ensure you are not approaching 40 troubled by health complaints

We can’t control everything about the aging process as our genes and certain environmental factors will have an impact on our bodies. We can, however, focus on our diet, mental wellbeing, and exercise to encourage a strong body and mind as we age.

Our priorities in our 30s can have a significantly different focus as to when we are younger and again from our older years. It is now that we are likely to be cementing our careers. We may, as a result, be busier with a strong determination and focus leading to exhaustion or burnout. It’s also a time when starting a family may be at the forefront of our minds, or we may already be attempting to juggle careers and commutes along with raising young babies. Our 30s may come as a tiring and overwhelming decade. So much so that our main concern will likely not be our nutritional health yet eating well will positively affect our 30s and beyond.

"In our 30s, most people will be balancing work, social life and fitness," says Aveen Bannon, registered dietitian with the Dublin Nutrition Centre. "They might be thinking about having kids, or looking after them already, so routine is key. Let batch cooking become your best friend and consider planning meals for the week ahead. Stock up on healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, yoghurt, nuts, and seeds to curb hunger between meals."

A primary concern in our 30s may be trying to conceive with little understanding as to how our nutrition can play a part in improving our fertility.

Women should supplement with at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D and 400 micrograms of folic acid at least 12 weeks before trying to conceive

“In terms of fertility,” says Bannon, “it takes two to tango and so both men and women should aim to optimise health and nutrition before trying for a baby, especially since it takes two to three months for sperm to mature and reflect in our dietary and lifestyle changes.”

Whether or not we are trying to conceive, a healthy and well-balanced diet will ensure we are not approaching the next decade already slow, tired and troubled by health complaints that could have otherwise been avoided. A diet low in saturated fats, full of fruits and vegetables, and with as little as possible processed and junk food is ideal.

When it comes to fertility, Bannon advises that men aim for their five a day with a focus on a range of colours of fruit and vegetables to get a variety of nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin C which can reduce oxidative stress and improve sperm quality. Folate rich foods such as spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, avocado, and fortified breakfast cereals should also be incorporated into a daily diet, along with a focus on healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. She further recommends reducing higher saturated fat foods such as takeaways, chocolate, crisps and reducing alcohol. In addition, men should include lots of seafood which provides omega 3, zinc, and selenium, all of which are important for supporting sperm quality.

Women should supplement with at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D and 400 micrograms of folic acid at least 12 weeks before trying to conceive suggests Bannon. She reminds us that folic acid is recommended for all women of child-bearing age as 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned and inadequate folic acid can lead to neural tube defects in babies. Bannon also suggests maintaining a BMI between 19-30kg/m2 to support healthy ovulation, and to reduce caffeine to 200mg per day which is two cups of coffee or three cups of tea while also pointing out that chocolate and energy drinks also contain caffeine.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are a great source of omega 3 and also iodine, both of which are important for egg quality and development of the baby. Bannon also advises getting enough calcium which is also important for embryo development. Calcium can be added to our diet through milk or plant-fortified alternatives, with yogurt and cheese being great sources. Iron deficiency is also common in menstruating females so focusing on getting iron through a variety of sources such as eggs, green leafy veg, nuts, seeds, pulses, and beans is also important.

The best foods to eat in your 30s

"Regardless of your age," says Dr Conor Kerley, Founder & CSO at Phytaphix, "Irish research demonstrates that average diets are too high in fat, especially saturated fat, sugar, and salt. Average intakes of fruit and vegetables in Ireland is less than 2.5 portions daily, less than half of the recommendation. Furthermore, over 80 per cent of Irish adults do not get enough fiber. Remember, fiber is only found in whole plant foods such as legumes, seeds and nuts. In addition, vitamin D is a nutrient of concern because the major source is sun. Few foods contain vitamin D so look for fortified foods and speak to a dietitian, pharmacist, or GP about a supplement."

Prioritise exercise by committing to a healthy regime which will help with better sleep, more energy, and a positive mental wellbeing

Folate is critical for supporting a healthy pregnancy and preventing neural-tube defects and it may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Folate can be found in foods such as chickpeas, avocados, orange juice, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, and fortified whole grains.

Lean beef, pork, and beans are iron-rich foods along with fortified cereals which are necessary to prevent digestive issues and boost our immune system. Continue to strengthen your bones with calcium-rich foods and keep your blood pressure in check with potassium-rich foods such as potatoes, beans, and tomatoes.

Top tips for nutrition and health in your 30s

1 Trim back on calories from refined starchy foods, including sweets and sugars found in beverages and foods. Aim for foods rich in calcium, folate, and iron.

2 Avoid fad dieting which leads to rapid weight loss followed by gaining the weight back and then some. Dieting in such a manner has been recognised to increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and depression, with the potential for higher weight in the long-term.

3 Being in your 30s does not make you immune or less at risk for illness. Take the opportunity now to begin testing for issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and be proactive in screening if there is a family history of cancer or heart disease.

4 Prioritise exercise by committing to a healthy regime which will help with better sleep, more energy, and a positive mental wellbeing. Exercising smarter, not harder, is what you should aim for.

5 It's advised to cut back on alcohol consumption in your 30s as it can have a detrimental effect on egg quality and sperm quality and production.