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By Joy Bauer contributor
updated 1 hour, 33 minutes ago//

Joy Bauer MS, RD, CDN
TODAY nutritionist and diet editor

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ating a healthy, balanced diet is important at every stage of the life cycle, but there are specific nutrition needs to consider as we get older.

The 20s: Building a strong, healthy future

You can’t live on coffee, alcohol and pizza forever (ah, the good ol’ college days). As you transition into the working world, now is the ideal time to lay down a healthy foundation for the decades ahead.

Best foods:

Skim latte: You’re a grown-up now! Trade in your sugary mocha-frapp-ccino-lata for a simple yet sophisticated latte made with nonfat milk. You still get a hearty dose of “stay alert” caffeine, and the milk provides a hit of calcium and protein for strong bones (they’re still growing, even in your 20s).

Oatmeal: Say goodbye to rainbow-colored, sugar-coated breakfast cereals from your school days and hello to healthy whole grains. Oatmeal is a quick, satisfying breakfast that will add a jolt of nutrition to your daily menu — and it will only take seconds to make if you nuke it in the microwave.

Spinach: Time to start eating vegetables! Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies on the planet, so adding some of these leafy greens to your meals is a one-stop way to dramatically boost the quality of your diet. Plus, you can buy the leaves in convenient, ready-to-use sacks, so it’s a terrific pick for young adults who don’t want to waste a lot of time in the kitchen.

The 30s: Boosting energy

Between building your career, running after kids and managing your social calendar, every day is a frantic whirlwind that can leave you feeling totally sapped. You need energy-boosting snacks that are easy to grab between meetings and meltdowns.

Best foods:

Nonfat yogurt: Yogurt offers both quality carbohydrate and protein in one convenient package. The carbs fuel your brain while the protein stabilizes blood sugar so you stay alert and focused.

Peanut butter sandwich: Toss a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread into your bag for an easy meal or snack on the go. The bread supplies slow-burning carbs to keep your system revved and the peanut butter provides protein and healthy fat.

Homemade trail mix: Create your own nutrient-packed snack to take on daily travels by combining healthy whole-grain cereal, nuts and/or dried fruit in a snack bag (if you have an insatiable sweet tooth, you can throw in a tablespoon or two of semisweet chocolate chips, too). Your homemade mix doubles as a terrific emergency snack for cranky kids.

The 40s: Protecting your heart and brain

Perhaps your latest checkup revealed that your cholesterol levels are creeping upward, or maybe your memory isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be. Some strategic additions to your diet will help keep your body’s most vital systems functioning at optimal levels.