Meal of a lifetime: what to eat at every age

From training toddlers to socialising septuagenarians – here are the ideal ingredients to eat healthily at every stage of life

‘Nutrition is one of the hardest sciences to do well,” says Graham Lawton, a science writer whose first book, This Book Could Save Your Life, aimed to debunk a number of contemporary health fads. “Humans are terrible research subjects,” he says. “Recording what they actually eat is virtually impossible, they either forget or they lie.” And, he says, “everybody’s different. Everyone has a different gut microbiome and metabolism.”

While Lawton is clear that it’s almost impossible to pull out any kind of generalisation, there is some consensus over the sorts of food we might want to prioritise at various life stages. Generally speaking, ultra-processed foods are always best avoided regardless of age, due to the high sugar, salt and artificial trans fats that characterise them (also called “partially hydrogenated oils”, artificial trans fats can be found in hard margarine, fast food and commercially produced baked goods, and have been so closely linked to heart disease that they have been banned in Denmark, Switzerland, Austria and certain US states). As for everything else? “It’s about moderate doses,” says Lawton. Here’s what to eat by age.

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