Plant-based nutrition is a way of eating that focuses on foods that come from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It can include a wide range of dietary patterns, from vegetarian and vegan diets to diets that simply emphasize plant-based foods over animal products.
Plant-based nutrition is important for healthy ageing because it has been linked to a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, improved cognitive function, reduced risk of sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss), increased longevity and some types of cancer. Plant-based diets can help people maintain a healthy weight and improve their overall well-being.
Key considerations for plant-based eaters
There are a few key considerations for plant-based eaters, especially those who are older adults. These include:
Ensuring adequate protein intake:
Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, which is important for older adults. Good plant-based sources of protein include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and tofu. For example, a cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein, and a half-cup of tofu contains 10 grams of protein.
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D:
Calcium is important for bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Good plant-based sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables, fortified plant milks, and tofu. Good plant-based sources of vitamin D include fortified plant milks and mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light. For example, a cup of fortified plant milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium, and a cup of cooked kale contains 137 milligrams of calcium.
Meeting vitamin B12 needs:
Vitamin B12 is essential for neurological function and red blood cell production. It is not naturally found in plant foods, so plant-based eaters need to get it from fortified foods, such as fortified plant milks and cereals, or from a supplement. For example, a cup of fortified plant milk contains 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12, and a B12 supplement can provide 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B12.
Choosing healthy fats:
Healthy fats are important for overall health and well-being. Good plant-based sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. For example, a quarter-cup of almonds contains 14 grams of healthy fats, and a tablespoon of olive oil contains 14 grams of healthy fats. Walnuts, flaxseeds, cashew nuts, melon seeds, chia seeds and many other nuts and seeds are rich in essential fats needed for healthy ageing.
Tips for following a plant-based diet for healthy ageing.
Here are some tips for following a plant-based diet for healthy ageing:
1. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods:
Whole, unprocessed foods are the most nutritious and beneficial for overall health. When choosing plant-based foods, focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
2. Include a variety of plant-based foods in your diet:
Eating a variety of plant-based foods helps ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients you need. Aim to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in your diet each day.
3. Make sure to get enough protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12:
As mentioned earlier, these nutrients are especially important for plant-based eaters. Focus on good plant-based sources of these nutrients in your diet, and if needed, consider taking a supplement.
4. Limit processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats:
Processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats are low in nutrients and can contribute to health problems. Limit these foods and drinks in your diet.
Additional dietary tips for healthy ageing
Here are some additional tips for following a plant-based diet for healthy ageing:
Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time. This will help you ensure that you have healthy and nutritious foods on hand when you need them.
Make it easy to eat healthy at home. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds on hand. You can also prepare plant-based meals and snacks in advance and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Get regular exercise. Exercise is important for people of all ages, but it is especially important for older adults. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
Getting enough sleep: Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Getting enough sleep can help improve your overall health and well-being.
Managing stress: Stress can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise
Eat out with your health in mind. Be mindful. When eating out, look for plant-based options on the menu. If you can't find anything plant-based, you can ask for modifications, such as substituting tofu or vegetables for meat.
Be patient and consistent. It may take some time to adjust to a plant-based diet. But with a little planning and effort, you can make it work for you.
Talk to your registered dietitian if you have any questions or concerns about following a plant-based diet for healthy ageing.
Sample meal plan for healthy ageing
Here is a sample meal plan for healthy ageing:
Oatmeal with berries and nuts
Fortified plant milk yoghurt with fruit and granola
Smoothie made with fortified plant milk, fruit, and nuts or seeds
Lentil soup with whole-wheat bread
Salad with grilled tofu, quinoa, and vegetables
Chickpea salad sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Stir-fry with tofu, vegetables, and brown rice
Pasta with marinara sauce and vegetables
Lentil tacos with brown rice and all the fixings
Fruits and vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Fortified plant milk yoghurt
This is just a sample meal plan, and you can adjust it to fit your individual needs and preferences. Be sure to include a variety of plant-based foods in your diet to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.
Plant-based nutrition is a healthy and sustainable way to eat for people of all ages, including older adults. By following the tips above, plant-based eaters can ensure that they are getting the nutrients they need for healthy ageing.