These can be the plate-spinning years. Our careers and relationships are falling into place and with that comes the stress of mortgages and family commitments.
We’re not as young as we were and it’s harder to bounce back as fast as we did. If your food mountain to this point has been a lighter shade of beige, then health niggles and observing ailing parents might have you reaching for the food rainbow.
While it might be tempting to put yourself on a restrictive diet of salads and excessive exercise, Tew warns that you still need a lot of energy at this age, “so carbs should be a third of your plate”.
These are typically also the parenting years, where folate, choline, iodine, vitamin D, protein and fibre become crucial for mothers. Nine in 10 women have low blood levels of folate – essential for protecting the foetus from neural tube defects.
“Most people are aware that folic acid should be taken during pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects,” says Wilson. “However, it is rarely made clear that, because population intake is so low, supplements should be taken for about three months before conception to get levels up.”
The British Dietetic Association recommends a daily supplement containing 400mcg during the preconception period. You can get folate from foods such as dark-green leafy vegetables, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds and whole grains.
She also worries about the level of iodine deficiency in women of child-bearing age in the UK. Iodine is required to make thyroid hormone, which controls the density of neurons in the brain.
The World Health Organisation describes iodine deficiency as “the single most important preventable cause of brain damage” worldwide. “Sadly, iodine deficiency is the norm, affecting 67 per cent of pregnant women in the UK,” says Wilson. You can find iodine in seaweed, fish, shellfish, dairy and eggs.
Once pregnant, vitamin D and high-quality protein is needed for tissue growth, as well as fibre for bowel health, as many pregnant women will experience constipation.
For men, cutting back on the beer excesses of their 20s is essential for fertility, says Hobson. “If fertility is a goal, then you should avoid drinking and smoking, as it affects the health of your sperm. A heavy drinking session can wipe them out for several months, as it reduces the hormones required to make them.”
It takes more than 30 days for a sperm to reach maturity, so every time a man drinks in a 30-day period, he’s exposing the developing sperm that many times to the alcohol.
Zinc is important for men, and especially those trying for a baby, as it is used for the production of male sex hormones. “Try eating foods such as eggs, nuts, seafood, seeds and wholegrains. Vitamin C is also important for fertility, as it has been shown to help prevent sperm from clumping together, which is a cause of infertility. You should get all the vitamin C you need from your diet by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.”
If stress is really prevalent, try taking magnesium, as the body is quickly depleted at times of prolonged stress. Low magnesium can also exacerbate anxiety, creating a vicious circle.
Those with one eye on the future will be laying down the nutrients now for a healthy later life by consuming a diet rich in antioxidant polyphenols (which may offer protection from the development of cancers, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and diabetes), potassium (associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones and osteoporosis), omega-3s (for heart and vascular health) and vitamin B5 (which has anti-ageing properties, as it soothes, softens and moisturises the skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles). Who doesn’t want to look good in old age?