Are Vegan Diets Safe for Older Adults?

America is in the midst of an obesity crisis, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC estimates, more than one-third of Americans are considered clinically obese. It’s a condition that causes both mental and physical health problems. Obesity is linked to depression, as well as cardiac disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

Experts say the obesity epidemic is the result of a sedentary lifestyle that involves a poor diet combined with a lack of physical activity. A solution for older adults to consider, one that helps to avoid the perils associated with obesity, is a vegan diet.

What is a Vegan Diet?

Adhering to a vegan diet means eating only plant-based foods. Similar to vegetarians, who do not eat meat, a vegan goes one step further and does not eat any animal-sourced foods. This means no meat, cheese, eggs, milk, or any food substance containing ingredients sourced from animals (i.e. gummy bears). While that might sound a bit too restrictive, a vegan diet allows for many options.

A vegan diet can include any of the following foods:

    • Protein sources: Tofu, tempeh, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, lentils, and mushrooms are all rich with protein and can take the place of meat, fish, and poultry.
    • Smoothies: Unlike smoothies purchased at your local shopping mall, fruit and veggie drinks you make at home can be very healthy. Incorporate fruits, spinach, almond milk, flaxseed, and plant-based protein powder into your smoothies for protein, vitamins, and minerals.
    • Healthy fats: Legumes, nuts, and seeds are all good sources for the healthy fats (and protein) the body needs.
    • Calcium: Kale, spinach, figs, and black-eyed peas can provide calcium, as do many types of non-dairy milk, including almond, soy, and oat milk. These non-dairy milks also contain much-needed vitamin D.
    • Salads: Hearty salads are another staple in the vegan diet. Leafy greens, mixed vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Make your own salad dressings from herbs, vinegars, and oil olive.
    • Grains and oats: Breads and pastas made from brown rice, quinoa, and barley are good sources of fiber, as are oats. These help with everything from weight management to controlling cholesterol.
    • Imitation foods: There are plenty of vegan-friendly options that imitate meat and other dairy products. For example, cheese can be made from soy or coconut milk and the Beyond Burger resembles a hamburger.

Benefits of a Vegan Diet during Retirement

When your diet is free from fast foods, trans fats, and animal products, and rich with fruits and vegetables, you consume more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s a combination that promotes a healthier heart.

What are other benefits of a vegan diet?

According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegans are less likely to suffer from obesity, have healthier cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. A vegan diet might also help to lower your risk for many kinds of cancer including colorectal and prostate cancer, which researchers believe may have links to meat consumption.

Another benefit for seniors on a fixed income is that vegan diets are typically easier on the budget. Meat and dairy often cause grocery bills to be higher. When you eliminate those, you can usually save money.

As is true of any lifestyle change, talk with your primary care physician first.

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