More and more Americans are embracing vegetarian and vegan lifestyles — to capture the health benefits of a more nutritious diet, as well as to battle the country’s obesity epidemic. And this trend cuts across all socio-economic demographics.
Harris Poll reported that:
- 2.7% of U.S. adults ages 55-64 are vegetarian
- 1.8% of U.S. adults ages 65 plus are vegetarian
Increasingly, even seniors are considering a vegan diet. But, what does a vegan diet mean for seniors? And are there any additional steps that seniors need to consider so that they stay healthy and strong even as they move to eating a more plant-based diet?
Types of Vegetarians and Why Does It Matter?
Most people are familiar with the words vegetarian and vegan but aren’t familiar with the categories in-between. Terms like pescatarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, and lacto-vegetarian are often unheard of but are essential when trying to make a distinction.
When people say, vegetarian, they are often referring to lacto-ovo-vegetarians (thespruce.com). These are people who do not eat pork, shellfish, poultry, beef, or fish but do consume dairy products and eggs.
Those that follow the vegan diet do not eat any meat, eggs, dairy products, or processed foods that include the ingredients above. For some, a vegan approach requires too much discipline, but there is flexibility.
Consider the following vegetarian categories:
- Pescatarian – Those who do not consume any meat, except fish.
- Lacto-vegetarian – Those who do not consume meat or eggs, but do eat dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian – They who do not consume meat or dairy products, but do eat eggs.
Seniors that follow a vegetarian or vegan diet report having a lower incidence of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (livestrong.com). However, it is important to ensure that those who follow these diets are getting the right amount of protein, calcium, and calories.
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Consult with Medical Specialists prior to Embracing a Plant Base Diet
Second, it is critical for all individuals — and particularly seniors — to carefully consult with their doctors and preferably a dietician/nutritionist before they make significant changes in their diet. These consultations should address any unique health needs that the seniors may have, as well as important vitamins, minerals, and food products to include in the new modified diet.
How to Meet Your Unique Dietary Needs
Every individual has unique dietary needs. For example, some people need more protein than others do — or some people will need to consume more iron-rich food to keep their hemoglobin levels up. However, despite the unique aspects of dietary needs, there are individual needs or concerns that most seniors will have.
What about Calcium and Protein?
One specific need, as noted above, is calcium. Many seniors—and particularly women—have been diagnosed with osteoporosis that can leave them susceptible to debilitating broken bones, including broken hips. And, these seniors are often reluctant to make the transition to a plant-based diet, because they are worried that it will not provide them with enough calcium. However, many plant-based food sources are high in calcium, such as green leafy vegetables and fortified orange juice.
Another important concern for many seniors is protein. As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass — and this loss in muscle mass can cause a range of health problems. Therefore, it is vital that seniors maintain enough protein in their diet so that they can keep healthy muscles. Many people tend to think that animal-based foods are the best protein sources. However, there are many plant-based protein sources, such as nuts, legumes, and soy-based foods.
Delicious, Vegan Meal Choices for Seniors
In other words, the decisions by seniors to adopt a plant-based diet does not mean that they will need to sacrifice their health. And, they will also not need to sacrifice delicious taste as they make these transitions. Hundreds of cookbooks and websites are entirely focused on making healthy and delicious vegan meals — and some of these recipes are specifically focused on seniors. These vegan recipes for seniors may be specially adapted to take into account other health issues that seniors may be facing, or they may be scaled down — recognizing that many seniors are cooking meals for only one or two people.
The most important thing to remember is that it is never too late to embrace a vegan diet. And, if you are going to make this decision, ensure that you do it only after extensive research and careful consultation with your medical providers. This study and additional information will help guarantee that your dietary change makes you happy and healthy.