AS THE CAREFREE DAYS of childhood slip away and you take on the responsibilities of work and family, chances are your life has become much busier. You might be pregnant, or contemplating it. You may be up for 3 a.m. feedings, then off to the office at 8. You could be trying to fit in graduate school, trips to the grocery store, home maintenance projects, get-togethers with equally time-pressed friends…and yoga classes to help you cope with it all. To keep your energy up and stress down, you need to eat. It sounds obvious, but, it’s easy to forget. “When you’re stressed, you forget to honor your own body, to feed your body,” says Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., co-author of Intuitive Eating (St.Martin’s Press, 1 995), which debunks dieting and teaches readers to get in touch with their bodies’ natural appetites and needs. “Remember to never go more than five hours without eating, to keep your blood sugar and your energy stable.”
If you’re a woman, chances are these will be your childbearing years. If you’re even remotely considering conception, you need to make sure that you get 400 micrograms (mcg.) daily of folic acid, a B vitamin found in beans, spinach, brewer’s yeast, fortified cereals, orange juice, wheat germ, asparagus and romaine lettuce among other foods. In 1992, a Hungarian study (New England Journal of Medicine, 327: 1832-1835) proved a clear link between low folic acid intakes and neural tube defects in fetuses, resulting in spine bifida, anencephaly and other birth defects. Since this tube is busy forming before pregnant, all women in this age group should keep up the folic acid.
For that matter, everyone in this age group and beyond should try to get 400 mcg. of folic acid. “Folic acid intake is associated with lower homocysteine levels, and lower homocysteine levels reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is just beginning to get a lot of attention; researchers theorize that it is somehow toxic to the vascular system.
If you’re in your 20s, you may feel full of boundless energy, and the thought of facing heart disease, cancer or osteoporosis may seem unfathomable. But during these years you’ll be laying the railroad track that will take you full-speed into middle age and beyond, when disease looms ominously. If you gradually become more sedentary, as many Americans do, the dreaded middle-age spread will appear, and your cholesterol may creep up. Both factors increase your risk of heart disease, and extra pounds have been linked with various cancers, including those of the prostate, colon and breast–so now is the time to establish or reinforce exercise and low-fat eating habits.