A bowl of porridge a day keeps the midlife spread away: the best foods to eat in midlife

Eating porridge in later life can help you avoid the dreaded middle-aged spread, according to a new study. Researchers from Tufts University in Boston monitored 3,000 people in their mid-50s and found that those who ate three servings of wholegrains a day had waist sizes two inches less than those who didn’t consume the same amount, as well as lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels.

The US researchers believe the wholegrains found in oats, as well as brown bread and  brown rice, are the key to midlife weight loss.

“Our findings suggest that eating wholegrain foods as part of a healthy diet delivers health benefits beyond just helping us lose or maintain weight as we age,” says Nicola McKeown, one of the study’s authors.

“In fact, the data suggests that people who eat more wholegrains are better able to maintain their blood sugar and blood pressure over time. Managing these risk factors as we age may help to protect against heart disease.”

Caleigh Sawicki of Tufts University says: “There are several reasons that wholegrains may work to help people maintain waist size and reduce increases in the other risk factors. The presence of dietary fibre in wholegrains can have a satiating effect, and the magnesium, potassium and antioxidants may contribute to lowering blood pressure.

“Soluble fibre in particular may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes.”

The study’s authors also found that nuts, chicken, seafood and yoghurt are among the foods you should be eating to avoid putting on weight as you age.

The researchers examined the diets of 120,000 men and women in the US over 16 years. They found that those with diets that were high in red meat, white bread, potatoes and sweets were associated with more weight gain, while nuts, skinless chicken, seafood and yoghurt can all help people lose weight as they get older.

Foods such as nuts and yoghurts are traditionally high in calories, prompting Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, the senior researcher, to write: “Our study adds to the growing new research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention.

“We should not only emphasise specific protein rich foods like fish, nuts, and yoghurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches and sugars in order to prevent weight gain.”

Dr Jessica Smith, the corresponding author, adds: “There is mounting scientific evidence that diets including fewer low-quality carbohydrates, such as white bread, potatoes and sweets, and more protein-rich foods may be more efficient for weight loss.

“The fat content of dairy products did not seem to be important for weight gain. In fact, when people consumed more low-fat dairy products, they actually increased their consumption of carbs, which may promote weight gain. This suggests that people compensate, over years, for the lower calories in low-fat dairy by increasing their carb intake.”

The study also looked at whether eating certain foods as part of the same meal contributed to people’s weight.

Eating foods linked with weight gain, such as red meat, with vegetables mitigated the weight gain.

Although dairy products such as cheese and milk didn’t contribute to weight gain or loss themselves, when they were served with foods high in starches and sugar they were linked to weight gain.

Nutritionist Fiona Hunter believes the foods mentioned in the study are all good choices for middle-aged people attempting to lose weight, although she says we should still take calories into account. She says: “The rules for middle-aged people who want to slim are exactly the same as for younger – or indeed older – people who want to slim down.

“If you want to lose weight, the calories consumed need to be less than the calories burnt, which comes from a combination of your base metabolic rate and any exercise.

“The only difference is that once you hit 40 your metabolism starts to slow so your body needs fewer calories. Around this age we also start to slow down physically so we are less active. These two things are often the root cause of what we call middle aged spread.”

What should you eat?

Fiona Hunter’s suggestions for keeping your weight down 

Chicken: It is high in protein and low in fat. High-protein food helps you to feel fuller for longer so you should be less tempted to snack after a protein-rich meal and should feel fuller more quickly.

Seafood: This is also high in protein and low in fat. Fat contains twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate, so food that is high in fat is also high in calories.

Nuts: A useful snack because nuts are high in protein, which can help curb hunger pangs. However, they are high in fat. Although this is healthy fat (unsaturated), which helps keep your heart healthy, nuts are still calorific, so watch your portion size.

Yoghurt: A good source of protein but it can be high in fat and sugar so choose carefully. Zero per cent Greek yoghurt is usually the best choice for anyone watching their weight. Yoghurts are a good source of calcium, which helps keep bones strong – after the age of 30 the loss of calcium from bones is accelerated, particularly for women after menopause. It’s important to make sure your diet contains plenty of calcium. Some studies even suggest that eating low-fat dairy products can help with weight loss – one theory is that calcium in dairy unlocks fat cells making it more easy for the body to get rid of them.

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