Donna Peters column: Nutrition for life and our body’s changing needs

It is important to establish a healthy eating pattern.
It is important to establish a healthy eating pattern.

At different life stages it’s important that our diet meets our body’s changing needs to help us stay healthy. We all need the same nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals), but the amounts differ depending upon our age.

Diet has an immediate impact on our health and well-being, it either supports or hinders normal growth and development, and childhood nutrition has long-term 
consequences for our health as adults. Eating habits formed within the first two years of life are thought to persist throughout life, therefore, it’s important to establish a healthy eating pattern and attitude to food as early as possible.


Infancy: Birth-12 months – Rapid period of growth and development. Birth weight can double during the first month and triple by the first birthday. Breast milk and infant formula are the main sources of nutrition until around four to six months, when the weaning process starts.

Vitamin D is especially important to support healthy bone development, calcium absorption and the immune system.

Childhood: Two-10 years – Physical growth is slower between the ages of two and five years, with the average child gaining approx five pounds per year, but increases again between six and 10 years. In addition to good nutrition, physical activity of approx 60 minutes per day is also important.

Protein, healthy fats, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and D are the key nutrients to support health.

Adolescence: 11 – 18 years – Girls aged 11-14 and boys aged 12-15 under go major physical and emotional changes as they enter puberty. Energy and nutrient requirements change. Once girls start their periods their need for iron increases. As boys enter puberty, their energy requirements increase significantly. Physical activity levels should be kept high.

Protein, healthy fats, calcium and iron are important nutrients, along with vitamin C, which aids the absorption of iron.


19 – 50 years – Nutrition requirements do not change greatly between 19 and 50 years, except during pregnancy/lactation, but they do vary depending upon gender and activity levels.

Bone density decreases after 35, and for some, it can lead to osteoporosis – more common in women, especially post menopause. A healthy balanced diet can help minimize the symptoms associated with the menopause. Most common deficiencies are iron and vitamin D.

Nutrients for male health; lycopenes (prostrate health); vitamins B6, B12 and folate (heart health); selenium, vitamins C and E, zinc and folate (fertility); vitamin D (bone health, mood, immune system).

Nutrients for female health; folate (healthy pregnancy); iron (reproductive system); vitamin D and calcium (bone health); vitamin D (mood, immune system).

51+ years – Metabolism slows, muscle mass decreases and body fat increases, which leads to decreased energy requirements.

Increased risk of developing conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, and changes to the digestive system can affect how well we digest and absorb food, leading to depletions/deficiencies. Dehydration and constipation are common; therefore fluid and soluble fibre intake are important.

Key nutrients include healthy fats, vitamins B6 and B12, folate, vitamin D, calcium.

l Supplements can be useful to provide an extra boost of certain nutrients, however, extra care needs to be taken if already on prescribed medication. It’s advisable to check with your healthcare practitioner before embarking upon any supplement plan.