We've long been told of the health benefits of wholegrains - with organisations such as the British Dietetics Association saying that a diet full of these will "keep us healthy and may also help to reduce the risk of many common diseases".
Usually low in fat, rich in fibre and starchy carbohydrate and often having a low glycaemic index, wholegrains provide B vitamins and folic acid, essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fats, protein, antioxidants (including vitamin E and selenium) and micronutrients such as copper and magnesium.
If eating breakfast is part of your morning routine, opting for porridge could be an easy way to improve your nutritional habits, giving you the energy boost you need first thing in the morning.
Sticking to the habit of eating a healthy breakfast in the morning is not always feasible for people's lifestyles nowadays. It's no secret that many of us find ourselves pushed for time before we begin our day - while many people opt to intermittently fast, meaning they don't eat until a certain time during the day.
Whether you're someone who wants to eat a wholesome meal first thing, or you prefer to skip it altogether, keeping to a healthy diet is key to staying energised throughout the day.
A 2021 study, conducted by Tufts University in Boston, found that eating porridge as you get older can help adults lose weight. Out of 3,000 people in their mid-50s monitored, those who ate three servings of wholegrains a day came out having smaller waist sizes (by two inches), as well as lower blood pressure and bloody sugar levels, than those who didn't consume the same amount.
The US researchers believe the wholegrains found in oats, as well as brown bread and brown rice, are the key to midlife weight loss.
“Our findings suggest that eating wholegrain foods as part of a healthy diet delivers health benefits beyond just helping us lose or maintain weight as we age,” says Nicola McKeown, one of the study's authors.
“In fact, the data suggests that people who eat more wholegrains are better able to maintain their blood sugar and blood pressure over time. Managing these risk factors as we age may help to protect against heart disease.”
A healthy diet of wholegrains
Caleigh Sawicki of Tufts University says: “There are several reasons that wholegrains may work to help people maintain waist size and reduce increases in the other risk factors. The presence of dietary fibre in wholegrains can have a satiating effect, and the magnesium, potassium and antioxidants may contribute to lowering blood pressure.
“Soluble fibre in particular may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes.”
Further findings from the study showed that nuts, chicken, seafood and yoghurt are all foods to add to your diet - if you want to avoid putting on weight as you age.
After examining the diets of 120,000 men and women in the US over 16 years, the researchers found that there was correlation between those who predominantly ate red meat, white bread, potatoes and sweets and weight gain.
Though high in calories, food such as nuts and yoghurt appeared to aid the process of losing weight as people aged - prompting Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, the senior researcher, to conclude that "our study adds to the growing research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention."
Dr Jessica Smith, the corresponding author, adds that the evidence showed that "diets including fewer low-quality carbohydrates, such as white bread, potatoes and sweets, and more protein-rich foods may be more efficient for weight loss."
She suggested that when people consumed more low-fat dairy products, they increased their carbohydrates consumption - leading to weight gain.
Although dairy products such as cheese and milk didn't contribute to weight gain or loss themselves, when they were served with foods high in starches and sugar they were linked to weight gain.
The NHS recommends incorporating starchy foods as part of a balanced diet, as they have health benefits such as being a good source of energy. Wholegrain starchy foods are especially good for losing weight as they are good sources of fibre.
Choosing wholegrain cereals or plain porridge with fruit are great breakfast options for those looking to eat healthily and keep their weight in check - whole oats with fruit and low-fat yoghurt is another beneficial breakfast meal.
Nutritionist Fiona Hunter believes the foods mentioned in the study are all good choices for middle-aged people attempting to lose weight, although she says we should still take calories into account. She says: “The rules for middle-aged people who want to slim are exactly the same as for younger – or indeed older – people who want to slim down.
“If you want to lose weight, the calories consumed need to be less than the calories burnt, which comes from a combination of your base metabolic rate and any exercise.
“The only difference is that once you hit 40 your metabolism starts to slow so your body needs fewer calories. Around this age, we also start to slow down physically so we are less active. These two things are often the root cause of what we call middle-aged spread.”
Foods to help avoid weight gain in your 40s and 50s
It is high in protein and low in fat. High-protein food helps you to feel fuller for longer so you should be less tempted to snack after a protein-rich meal and should feel fuller more quickly.
This is also high in protein and low in fat. Fat contains twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate, so food that is high in fat is also high in calories.
A useful snack because nuts are high in protein, which can help curb hunger pangs. However, they are high in fat. Although this is healthy fat (unsaturated), which helps keep your heart healthy, nuts are still calorific, so watch your portion size.
A good source of protein but it can be high in fat and sugar so choose carefully. Zero per cent Greek yoghurt is usually the best choice for anyone watching their weight. Yoghurts are a good source of calcium, which helps keep bones strong – after the age of 30 the loss of calcium from bones is accelerated, particularly for women after menopause. It's important to make sure your diet contains plenty of calcium. Some studies even suggest that eating low-fat dairy products can help with weight loss – one theory is that calcium in dairy unlocks fat cells making it more easy for the body to get rid of them.
This article is kept updated with the latest advice.