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Are Plant-Based Diets Safe for Seniors and Why?

Are Plant-Based Diets Safe for Seniors and Why?



Plant-based diets are popular among younger generations. Many older adults likely have children or grandchildren who have adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet. Their reasons for doing so may range from worries about their health to concerns about animal cruelty.

Some older adults are beginning to explore alternative diets of their own. A growing number of physicians, especially cardiologists, are recommending seniors adopt a lifestyle based on the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. Other older adults are finding their way to a plant-based diet, too. 

Older Adults and the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet 

The risk factors for health problems such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease increase with aging. Diet can influence whether or not you develop many of them.

A few benefits of a plant-based diet include:

  • Improved telomere activity: Telomeres are the enzymes that rebuild the caps at the end of our DNA strands. While they are important for human life, they shorten with age. Research conducted by the University of California San Francisco showed that adopting a plant-based diet for three months can significantly increase the production of telomeres and slow the aging process.
  • Boosts the immune system: When your diet includes animal products, you are likely to eat less fruits and vegetables. That combination puts you at higher risk for heart disease, while also preventing you from reaping the rewards fruits and vegetables can provide. The most common benefits of plant-based foods include decreased risk for cancer, a stronger immune system, healthier weight, more energy, and better sleep.

Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet

If you are moving toward a plant-based diet during your retirement years, there are a few factors to keep in mind.

  • Protein: The body relies on protein to build and maintain muscle mass. This can begin to decline as early as our 30s. If you eliminate meat and dairy from your diet, replace it with other protein-rich, plant-based foods. A few examples are seeds, nuts, and legumes.
  • Vitamin B12: The body doesn’t absorb vitamin B12 as easily in senior years as it did during young adulthood. Because this vitamin is found in animal products, moving to a plant-based diet can lead to a deficiency. Talk with your physician to see if they recommend a vitamin B12 supplement or injection.
  • Calcium: Osteoporosis is a condition that is more common with age. It is a leading cause of broken bones and fractures but calcium helps to protect against it. If you eliminate dairy from your diet, you will need to incorporate plant-based foods that are calcium-rich. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, turnips, collard greens, and broccoli are a few of these.

Forks Over Knives has a guide, Plant-Based Primer: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Plant-Based Diet, that may help you transition to a new way of eating. It covers a variety of topics including how to make substitutions so you can still enjoy your favorite recipes.

At Five Star Senior Living communities, we know how important nutrition is to aging well. Our Signature Dining program balances healthy nutrition with great taste. Call the Five Star community nearest you to set up a time for a personal tour and lunch in the dining room! 

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