How a Meatless Diet Can Help Seniors Live a Better Life

You shouldn’t be surprised that America, as a whole, is overweight…in fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than one third of our country’s population is considered to be obese. Obesity is linked to increased incidences of heart disease, cancer, stroke, acid reflux, and type 2 diabetes.

It used to be the “middle age spread” that people were worried about, and that was when they were most likely to become obese. These days, obesity doesn’t discriminate, and is just as likely to affect both younger and older people alike. According to the experts, this epidemic is the result of our Western diet, which is high in fat, excessively sugary foods and drinks, red meat, refined grains, and processed meats all combined with a lack of consistent physical activity. It has even been said that extended sitting is as risky as smoking…although that is a controversial topic.

Keep in mind, not only are Americans eating the wrong foods, we are eating far too much of them. Super-sized portions at restaurants and fast food chains have made us accustomed to eating much larger quantities of food than we need.

You might be asking, ok, what does that have to do with seniors?

One simple way that seniors may escape the obesity epidemic is by reducing or eliminating meat from their diet. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegans tend to be thinner and have healthier cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.

With a diet that excludes fast food, animal products, and excessive sugary treats, and is high in fruits and vegetables, people consume more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This helps promote a healthier heart. A diet with reduced meat products might also help to lower the risk for many kinds of cancer including colorectal and prostate cancer, which researchers believe may have links to meat consumption.

Another benefit, that may come as a surprise to some, is that a diet with smaller portions of meat, tends to cost less than diets containing meat. For a retiree on a fixed income, that can be a real advantage.

Different types of diets that reduce or eliminate meat.

We aren’t going to cover all of the variations, we simply want to hit the highlights, so that if you hear these terms, you know what they are referring to. The list goes from the most restrictive, in terms of meat consumption, to the least restrictive.

  1. Vegan – a diet that excludes all meat, fish, poultry, and pork products, as well as any products that came from animals, like eggs, dairy products, gelatin, whey, honey, etc.
  2. Vegetarian – a diet that excludes all meat, fish, poultry, and pork products, but may still include animal products like eggs, dairy products, gelatin, whey, honey, etc.
  3. Pescatarian – a diet that excludes eating all meat and animal flesh (like red meat and poultry) with the exception of fish.
  4. Flexitarian – a diet that is mostly vegetarian but occasionally includes meat, including red meat, poultry, seafood and fish. Also referred to as a semi-vegetarian.

There are other categories, and subcategories, but this is the general breakdown of various low or no meat diets.

Some things to keep in mind when considering switching to a reduced meat diet…

If you don’t already, you may want to consider taking supplements. Some nutrients, like vitamin B12, are only found in meat. Also, calcium is another important nutrient for seniors and ay need to be supplemented in your diet, since many diets rely on dairy products for their daily calcium dose. Fortunately, lots of vegetables contain calcium, like spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Choose high-protein foods: Many seniors are concerned they won’t get enough protein if they cut meat from their diet. However, many plant-based foods are high in protein. Soybeans, tofu, and lentils are excellent options.

With that said, here are seven health benefits of reducing or eliminating meat from your diet:

  1. Slow Down the Aging Process: Research into plant-based diets have shown that they are effective in reversing aging, and a great addition to any seniors’ life. Plant-based diets are shown to increase telomerase, which is an enzyme that rebuilds telomeres at the end of human cell’s DNA. Telomeres are caps at the end of our DNA strands that are shortened with age. Once they are gone, we are gone… 
  2. Look Younger: Seniors that switch to a plant-based diet report improved complexions. This is because plant-based antioxidants remove free radicals from your skin that cause premature aging. Plant-based foods help to moisturize our skin and heal skin tissue, so that you can look and feel even younger. 
  3. Increase Immunity to Diseases: A heavy animal-based diet is associated with higher levels of chronic disease and cholesterol, and elevated levels of dairy have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Plant-based diets work as a medicine to reduce the number of doctor visits in seniors who want to fight any of these diseases. Getting your daily protein from beans and other plant-based sources, rather than meat, helps to lower cholesterol. Adding protein from vegetables like broccoli and kale increases the disease-fighter, calcium. Not only do plant-based diets lower your risk for cancer and heart diseases, but it also helps reverse their progression. Plant-based diets have been found to reverse aging and the progression of certain diseases that you may have been exposed to throughout your life.
  4. Increase Energy Level: Switching to a plant-based diet provides seniors with more energy to complete activities and increase exercise levels during the day. Digestion is linked to energy and since it is easier to break down plant-based foods in comparison to meat and dairy, you will have more energy throughout the day. Certain foods have been shown to increase your energy levels, such as almonds, quinoa, and whole grains. Since increased exercise and daily walks are associated with extra happiness, increased balance and resistance to falls, plant-based diets can help seniors live a longer, happier life.
  5. Get a Clearer Mind: People on plant-based diets report having clearer minds. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and chickpeas have brain-boosting properties that help us think clearer. Properties of plant-based diets also help to lower cortisol, which is associated with stress, and lowers the risk of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  1. Lose Weight: Weight loss occurs with the increased consumption of fiber and vitamins, which is an effect of switching to a plant-based diet. According to wellness expert Kathy Freston, people lose five pounds within two-weeks of starting a plant-based diet.
  1. Sleep Better: Foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes, kale, and nuts contain vitamin B6, tryptophan, and magnesium which increase levels of melatonin and help to promote a healthy sleep cycle. Better sleep also reduces the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attacks in seniors.

Tips to Help You Get Started

Build your dinner around plant-based food: A lot of people put meat in the center of the plate and the vegetable dishes on the side. Throughout life you’ve gotten used to this habit; however, to help get started on a plant-based diet, place your side dishes as the centerpiece of your plate. These side dishes are made up of vegetables like potatoes and corn, grains like brown rice and quinoa, and high-protein beans and lentils.

While some of these may seem unhealthy, the preparation of the ingredients is key. You must leave out the oil and dairy when cooking. Many retirement homes have adopted this cooking style, and if you are in an assisted living facility, you can ask to see if this is possible for you.

Diversify your food: To prevent boredom with your diet, try different fruits and vegetables that you have never had before. Be adventurous and it will help you stick to your diet. Experiment to develop better eating habits in older age – the more you try new foods, the more you’ll figure out which are the most exciting and motivating to eat.

Do not think of a single ingredient but the whole meal: Many people think about how a single ingredient will give them the nutrients they need for the diet. However, it is much more important and fun to think of the whole meal. Find a meal you enjoy and alter it to substitute in plant-based foods. Thinking about the whole package will increase your success and motivate you to keep going through the diet.

We at Silver Companions are committed to helping you care for your aging family members, and helping you better balance your life between care and your other obligations and responsibilities. Contact us today for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, so we can help you objectively assess your needs, along with your budget, and help you find the solution that works best for you and your loved ones. Contact us today using this form, and put “No Cost Consultation” in the Subject line, so we can align you with one of our specialists to set up your call.