Many people debate for years. Should I go vegan or not?
If you’ve been on the fence, now is the perfect time to make the transition. With a healthy vegan lifestyle, it is entirely possible that your golden years will be more enjoyable than the prime of your youth!
Now is the Time
There are several reasons why senior citizens can benefit from a vegan diet.
First, your caloric needs have decreased. As we age, we need fewer calories to sustain us. That means you won’t need a hearty steak to feel full. You can get the calories you need from a non-meat diet.
Our eating habits also change. In fact, a vegan meal plan might be easier to eat than tough, hard-to-chew meat-based meals.
And, it is much easier to prepare vegan-friendly meals for just one or two people. There is a lot less food wasted when meat is eliminated.
Four Levels of Non-Meat Eating
Anyone who is considering a non-meat diet must decide their level of commitment.
- Flexitarian: A flexitarian is a semi-vegetarian. This type of eater only reduces the meat intake; animal products aren’t eliminated entirely.
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: This non-meat eater will still enjoy eggs and milk products.
- Lacto Vegetarian: This eating plan eliminates all meat and eggs, but still allows for the consumption of dairy products.
- Vegan: A vegan abstains from all animal products—including meat, eggs, and dairy. Many vegans also feel strongly about animal rights and refrain from using other animal products—like leather.
Special Nutrient Considerations
While seniors’ caloric requirements decrease, there is no evidence that nutritional needs decrease. In fact, seniors probably need more nutrients than they did earlier in life.
Because of the restricted diet, there are certain nutritional needs that are difficult to meet.
There is no reason why seniors—or anyone, for that matter—should be fearful of a vegan diet. There are ample ways to meet your nutritional needs.
However, you will need to pay attention to the specific vitamins and minerals you consume. You can’t just assume your needs are met.
This is especially important because certain deficiencies are linked to age-related health concerns. Osteoporosis and a shortage of calcium is one such concern.
Most carnivores traditionally reach for milk when they think of calcium. Vegan-friendly calcium sources include blackstrap molasses, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified orange juice or soy milk.
As we age, most of us naturally reduce our level of physical activity. As a result, our muscle mass decreases.
Therefore, it is important to monitor protein consumption. Protein helps keep your muscles at optimal health.
Again, traditional meat-eaters will reach for animal products to fill their protein requirements. Vegans can opt for soy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
All seniors—even meat-eaters—are susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiencies.
As we age, there is decreased production of stomach acid and intrinsic factor. This means the body struggles to absorb vitamin B12 from the foods we eat.
Vegans have a hard time getting enough vitamin B12 since it is only naturally found in animal products. Few vegan-friendly products (mainly fortified nutritional yeast) have the vitamin. It has been reported that the elderly need vitamin B12 supplementation to keep nutrient levels in check.
Since the production of intrinsic factor has decreased, utilizing the nutrient that is consumed—even from oral supplements—is difficult. For many seniors, vitamin B12 injections are essential.
A vitamin D deficiency isn’t necessary common among vegans—but it is quite prevalent among senior citizens. Because seniors typically spend less time outside in the sunlight, a shortage is common.
The only reason we draw attention to vitamin D levels is because the nutrient is necessary for the absorption and utilization of calcium. Since vegans sometimes struggle with calcium consumption, it is important to monitor both nutrient levels.
Many people agree that going vegan is one of the healthiest lifestyle changes. However, the change does bring about certain issues for seniors.
Talk with a nutritional expert before making drastic changes. If you reside in a senior living community, talk with the dietician on staff. Otherwise, your regular doctor can help answer any questions.
Do you have any hesitations regarding going vegan? What you think of this major meal plan change?
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