Getting older brings with it some mental and physical changes. Veronika Charvátová MSc, from Viva! Health, reveals how adopting a healthy vegan diet can help people over 50 stay fit as a fiddle!
An inevitable part of ageing is physical change. We don’t absorb some nutrients as well as before, our hormone levels decline, the immune system gets weaker and we may have some common ailments, such as joint or back pain.
Some of us also start indulging in junk foods and treats a little too much – there’s nothing wrong with treats, but if they become your main source of energy, you won’t be getting enough essential nutrients.
Too many ‘empty’ calories and too little of what our bodies truly need can cause a range of unnecessary health issues. Some old age maladies are partly caused by poor nutrition.
So what are the key elements of a healthy vegan diet for people over 50?
1. Bone-friendly foods
Decreasing levels of sex hormones can have a knock-on effect on our bones. These hormones, among other things, also stimulate bone maintenance.
When their levels drop, we need to make sure our diet is extra full of nutrients essential for strong bones to protect them for years to come.
Eat plenty of foods rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, such as the following:
- Nuts and seeds, and butters or pastes made from them – in particular almonds, tahini (paste made from sesame seeds), chia and poppy seeds.
- Green leafy vegetables – kale, broccoli, rocket, spring greens, Brussels sprouts and watercress.
- Figs (dried or fresh), tangerines and oranges.
- Tofu and edamame.
- Fortified plant milks and cereals.
2. Daily dose of vitamin D
Vitamin D is also needed for healthy bones and is vital for a strong immune system. Its main source is sunshine on bare skin, which triggers vitamin D production in the body.
However, in autumn and winter there isn’t sufficient sunshine and it’s not strong enough, while in spring and summer we often cover up or use sunscreen so we still don’t get enough.
The UK government recommends that we take a daily vitamin D supplement – a dose of 10 micrograms (400IU) is all we need.
3. Plentiful protein
Many older people eat too little protein1, favouring carbohydrates and fats over good protein sources.
Foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, cake and pies may take centre stage, along with some fruit and veggies, while protein-rich foods lag behind.
Wholegrain products, such as wholemeal bread, oats and whole wheat pasta, are also good sources.
4. B12 supplement is a must
Choose a supplement with a dose of 50 micrograms, but don’t go above 2,000 micrograms. Vitamin B12 deficiency may resemble mental decline that some expect in old age
– memory problems, brain fog, low energy or various pains and tingling throughout the body.
It’s more common in older adults than you may think, so don’t underestimate it.
5. Wholegrains for your heart
Swapping white flour products, such as bread, pies, cakes and biscuits, for wholegrain has a bigger health effect than you may think. Wholegrains are an excellent source of fibre, B vitamins, minerals and protein, and they protect your heart2.
Eating them daily can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and stabilise blood sugar, while white flour products can make matters worse3.
Wholegrains include wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats, whole wheat pasta, quinoa or buckwheat – eat at least two portions daily!
6. Digestion boosters
When it comes to keeping things moving, a sufficient intake of fibre is a must.
Wholegrains are great for that and so are pulses, such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas, nuts and seeds and, of course, fruit and vegetables.
Some of us avoid these foods if we have dental problems and chewing becomes an issue. If that’s the case, a blender can be your best friend – think soups, dips, sauces and smoothies.
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- Heart healthy foods: how a vegan diet can help maintain a healthy heart
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- How eating a plant-based vegan diet help prevent Alzheimer’s disease
7. Healthy appetite
It is not uncommon to lose appetite in advanced age. If you eat too little, it puts you at risk of multiple nutrient deficiencies.
When low appetite isn’t caused by an illness or medication, it can be down to a lack of exercise. Don’t worry, you don’t need to take up running – a simple walk can do the trick!
In other cases, low appetite may be caused by dehydration, so make sure you drink enough water or tea.
8. Antioxidants for respiratory and joint health
Both breathing and joint problems can have a common cause – inflammation of the tissues. It may be necessary to take medications, but food can also help.
An antioxidant-rich diet is known to reduce inflammation in the airways and joints, reducing bothersome symptoms. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily and bear in mind that those with the richest colours – dark green, red or orange – contain the most antioxidants.
9. Vitamin E from natural sources
Many plant foods are good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant vital for all organs, healthy vision and the immune system. It’s better to get it from foods – nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, soya or avocado – than from supplements.
Experts discourage taking vitamin E supplements, because high doses may cause blood disorders4
10. Healthy fats
A healthy body needs good fats – omega-3s. You’ll get a daily dose from a couple of tbsp of ground flaxseed or chia seeds or 2 tsp flaxseed oil.
Other good sources include hemp seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil. A well-balanced vegan diet for people over 50 can make you feel great, boost your immunity5 and energy levels. There really is no downside!
Now you know the benefits of a vegan diet for people over 50, it’s time to go vegan!
- Klein EA, Thompson IM Jr, Tangen CM, et al: Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA 306(14):1549-56, 2011.
- Neubauerova, E; Tulinska, J; Kuricova, M; Liskova, A; Volkovova, K; Kudlackova, M et al: The Effect of Vegetarian Diet on Immune Response. Epidemiology: September 2007 – Volume 18 – Issue 5 – p S196.