Over 50, vegan, and thriving: How to maintain your health on a vegan diet

Read Time:   |  25th February 2022

Lauren Craven-Niemczyk turns the spotlight on what people over 50 should do to maintain their health throughout all parts of the body through a vegan diet

There are many incentives for people to switch to a vegan diet, including ethical and environmental reasons.

However, there is a growing number of people removing meat from their diet for health reasons.

Evidence exists to suggest that plant-based diets may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, and may contribute to overall better health1.

For those over 50, it’s important to be aware of how to support your body on a vegan diet, without having to compromise on the essential nutrients it needs.

Fibre for heart health

Fibre is an essential part of any healthy diet; it’s a form of carbohydrate that helps keep food moving through our intestines at a steady rate, and is also studied for its ability to lower blood pressure and blood glucose.

Certain forms of fibre, such as oats and barley, contain beta-glucans, which contribute to normal cholesterol levels2.

Other forms of fibre also contain prebiotics, which is fodder for the bacteria that reside in our large intestines.

It’s important to keep these bacteria happy as they have a myriad of roles, one of which is producing some B-vitamins for energy, and vitamin K2 for supporting bone and cardiovascular health.

High fibre foods include whole grains like brown rice, barley, oats and quinoa, fruits and vegetables (skin-on where possible), legumes like beans and lentils, and nuts and seeds.

Legumes and beans. Source: Helen Camacaro via Getty Images

Legumes and beans. Source: Helen Camacaro via Getty Images

Support digestion

Our production of digestive juices (saliva, stomach acid and digestive enzymes) slows with age, as does food movement throughout our digestive system.

Digestive juices help break food down into smaller components, vitamins and minerals, to be absorbed further down the intestinal tract.

Incomplete digestion can lead to digestive conditions, such as stomach cramps, constipation and bloating.

As well as consuming enough fibre during the day, and keeping hydrated, you may want to include foods thought to encourage the production of digestive juices.

This includes apple cider vinegar, which can be used in salad dressings or even in water (drunk through a straw to protect tooth enamel), and bitter salad leaves, such as chicory, rocket, watercress, and radicchio.

Looking for more nutrition guides? Take a look at these next …

Sustain bones and joints with a vegan diet

As we age, our musculoskeletal system can require some TLC, with most people experiencing some level of wear and tear to their bones and joints.

Repetitive use of our joints can result in osteoarthritis, leading to joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Several risk factors can also affect the likelihood of developing osteoporosis (low bone density), including early menopause, family history, low body weight, certain medications, and health conditions.

Bone-supporting nutrients include calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and trace minerals such as boron, zinc and manganese.

Excellent plant-based food sources of these include leafy green vegetables3 like kale, cabbage and watercress, as well as tofu, sesame seeds (tahini), pumpkin seeds, beans and legumes.

It is difficult to obtain enough vitamin K2 from diet alone and so this is where supplementation comes in.

Joint-supporting nutrients include vitamin C, which contributes to collagen formation in the body (try broccoli, chilli and raw peppers and fresh fruit), and vitamin D for maintaining muscle function (try vitamin D-enriched mushrooms or fortified plant milk, as well as sunshine on exposed skin).

Source: Pete Dazeley via Getty Images

Source: Pete Dazeley via Getty Images

Spotlight on sleeping

With age, it can be slightly harder to sleep well without waking during the night. This is due to a change in the part of the brain that controls our circadian rhythm: the times when we naturally feel awake and tired.

There are plenty of ways to support a good night’s sleep: ensuring you are not hungry before you go to bed, (and if so, having a small low-sugar snack like oatcakes with nut butter), having a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding blue light from screens two hours before bed.

Nutritionally, magnesium supports the function of the nervous system4, which is responsible for our relaxation response. This in turn may help support sleep.

Magnesium (or Epsom) salt baths are a great way to absorb this mineral through the skin, and research suggests that a warm bath before bed may help with sleep quality.

Do vegans over 50 need to take supplements?

It can be helpful to supplement a balanced diet with additional nutrients to ensure you are meeting your daily requirements.

  • Feel Multivitamin This well-researched vegan multivitamin contains 32 ingredients including vitamin K2, vitamin D, zinc, and a bio-available B-complex.
  • Bimuno Daily A daily prebiotic supplement designed to support a healthy gut environment. Bimuno offers an easy way to increase the levels of good bacteria in your gut.
  • Feel Joints Support joint health, target collagen formation and maintain muscle function with this hard-working blend of Longvida Optimised Curcumin, Boswellia, and vitamins C and D.
  • Feel Digestion Support digestion with a blend of digestive enzymes to help break down food, and soothing herbs to support the gut and liver.

Excercise

For many reasons, it is important to exercise during every life stage. Exercise has full-body benefits, supporting bone health, helping to maintain a healthy weight, improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood pressure, even supporting cognitive function.

Post-menopause, women rapidly lose bone5, so exercise is important to keep bones as dense as possible.

Exercise builds strong muscles, and muscles are attached to our bones; therefore, strong muscles equal strong bones. Our bodies build bone density at sites of repeated stress – it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it’!

Weight-bearing exercise is great for bone health – this includes hiking, jogging, dancing, weightlifting, ball games and racket sports, even wearing a weighted vest or wrist/ankle weights.

Purely cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking, cycling, and swimming is also beneficial, not just for the heart, but also for maintaining a healthy weight, improving lung capacity, and it’s even thought to boost mood.

Here are some product ideas to help support a healthy diet and lifestyle:

  • Iron Gym Ankle & Wrist Weight
  • Strength/Cross training Weighted Vest
  • 10KG Weights
  • Hiking Boots
  • Epsom Salts
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Reusable water bottle.

Want to encourage a friend to try vegan?
Here are 10 reasons why older adults should adopt a plant-based diet …

Reference

  1. Aha Journals 
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192#:~:text=Soluble%20fiber%20can%20reduce%20the,to%204%20grams%20of%20fiber.
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28717804/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024559/
  5. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/menopause-and-osteoporosis

Feature image source: BlackCat via Getty Images

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