It is not only the younger generations that are embracing a plant-based diet, but many seniors have also decided to switch to a plant-based diet since they’ve heard that it can slow down aging. While there are benefits to the diet, those who are over 65 need to know how to create and follow a plant-based diet so that it doesn't have negative effects on their health and well-being. Let’s examine how you can make the most of a plant-based diet if you’re over the age of 65!
Is a Vegan or Plant-Based Diet Safe for Seniors?
The short answer to this question is yes, as long as the diet provides all of the essential nutrients and minerals a senior needs. Before we get into the long answer, we need to make a distinction between “vegan” and “plant-based” since they’re not synonymous.
A vegan diet completely eliminates animal products or animal-derived foods and byproducts.
Conversely, a plant-based diet means an eating pattern that consists “predominantly” of plants. You can, on occasion, eat meat or dairy products, but a true plant-based diet usually contains none of these foods or derivative ingredients.
It’s a very small distinction, but it can make a world of difference for seniors who have very special nutritional requirements, but want to eat more plant foods. In some cases, meat and dairy products can help nutrient-deficient or chronically-ill seniors meet their dietary needs. For them, a plant-based diet may be ideal since they can focus on eating more plant foods, but occasionally eating animal products for a balanced nutrition plan.
With that said, seniors who are generally healthy can eat a vegan diet (one that’s completely free of animal products), as long it provides them with all of their nutritional requirements.
If you’re reading about the benefits of a plant-based diet, maybe you want to feel how you did just 10 years ago or maybe you just want to maintain the youth you still have. If that’s the case, then you’ll be happy to know that eating a vegan or plant-based diet can help.
- Heart health - Research has shown that eating a plant-based or vegan diet may improve hearth health. Plant-based foods contain healthy monounsaturated fats that can lower the risk of heart disease.
- Youthful skin - Plant-based foods pack a ton of antioxidants and vitamins that moisturize and repair skin tissue. Eating an abundance of these foods can help keep the skin soft, moist, and prevent signs of aging such as lines and wrinkles.
- Cognitive health - Many plant-based foods contain nutrients that maintain the brain’s connectivity and plasticity. That means you’ll be able to think more clearly and you may even reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.
- Better sleep - Plant-based foods often contain nutrients (ie. magnesium, vitamin B6) that are calming and improve your sleep. That means you could have an easier time falling asleep and your sleep quality could improve.
- Increased energy - The same vitamins and minerals that help you sleep can also give you an energy boost. Getting an abundance of nutrients can also help the body function its best!
Keep in mind that you may not experience the exact same results as someone else who has adopted a plant-based diet. Nevertheless, if you notice some changes in your health and wellbeing (hopefully good ones), then it’s a sign that you’re on the right track.
Challenges of a Vegan Diet for Seniors
Of course, like any other diet, a plant-based or vegan meal plan may have its own challenges in order to implement successfully.
Risks of Vegan & Plant-Based Diets
- Lack of variety - Some vegan and plant-based dieters fall into the trap of repeatedly eating the same foods. When it comes to a plant-based diet, variety is key to ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients.
- Nutritional deficiencies - The result of a lack of variety tends to be nutritional deficiencies. If you’re a senior, a nutritional deficiency can be far more serious and noticeable than it would be in younger adults.
- Hormonal disruption - Poor nutrition can have far-reaching effects, hormonal imbalances being one of them. This could cause you to feel sluggish and fatigued.
The good news is that vegan and plant-based diets don’t have to end up in deficiencies or hormonal disruptions. The key to thriving on a plant-based diet is balanced eating choices.
How to Avoid Deficiencies
To stay balanced and avoid deficiencies, you need to pick and pair your foods well. One of the best things you can do is to learn the basics of nutrition, your own nutritional requirements, and the foods that’ll provide you with them. In essence, the principles of nutrition you knew before going vegan apply to a vegan diet as well.
Tips on How to Start
- First, check with a doctor - Make sure to get your levels checked. If your doctor finds that you are deficient or overloaded with a particular nutrient, they may recommend a modified version of a vegan diet or a plant-based diet with some animal products or supplements.
- Eat enough protein - Skipping meat, seafood, and poultry can make it easy for you to miss out on protein - that’s a quick way to become malnourished. Make sure to eat plenty of protein-rich plant foods such as tofu, quinoa, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.
- Get your vitamins - Older adults are more at risk for vitamin D deficiency, which can weaken the bone. Also, those over 65 have a higher likelihood of being deficient in vitamin B12, which can wreak havoc on the nervous system. So make sure to eat plenty of foods that are rich in these vitamins. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods, meaning a plant-based diet that contains little to no meat, eggs, or dairy would be lacking vitamin B12. Luckily, there are many fortified foods and options to supplement for someone who does not consume animal products.
Going Plant-Based Can Mean Healthy Aging
What and how you eat plays a major role in how you feel and look, especially as you age. A vegan or plant-based diet can help you feel and look great, well into your golden years. The key is to make the right choices. With the help of your doctor or registered dietitian and some smart meal planning, you can live and thrive off a vegan or plant-based diet.
Understanding your risks and how to minimize them is important. Knowing where to start when making changes to your diet and lifestyle is an important step. Meeting with a medical professional or registered dietitian may help provide additional guidance. Gaining a better understanding of how your body may respond to certain nutrients or eating patterns to further customize your diet and optimize your health can be a great first step. Learn more about how DNA testing and personalized nutrition can help you eat right for your genes.