Unlike much of the western world, people who live on the Greek island of Ikaria have a good chance of reaching their 90s in good health. Experts believe there are several reasons for this. One is regular exercise. Ikaria is mountainous, so just visiting a store is physically demanding. Another is a strong sense of community, which keeps depression rates low. And another is diet.
Ikaria is one of the five official blue zones in the world. Like Okinawa in Japan and Nicoya in Costa Rica, its population eats a 95-100% plant-based diet. And we’re not talking vegan meats and processed foods, but rather fresh fruits, leafy greens, grains, beans, and legumes. So, is a whole, plant-based diet best for the health of older adults? If blue areas are anything to go by, it certainly seems to be. Here we take a closer look at why.
Food and aging
Research confirms that as human beings age, food becomes more important than ever. And that’s because bodies start to change as they get older; muscles, bones and organs need more vital nutrient support.
Thinning skin, for example, is a common symptom of aging. But it makes it more difficult for vitamin D to be absorbed from the sun. Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption, which can lead to calcium deficiency. Both of these nutrients can be supplemented through the diet.
Protein is also essential, as it helps preserve muscle mass. Without it, older people are at greater risk of muscle deterioration, which can lead to mobility issues and slower recovery from illness. A study, published in Gerontology journalsfound that out of 2,900 older people, those who ate the most protein were 30% less likely to suffer from functional impairment.
Potassium, omega-3s, magnesium, and iron are also common deficiencies in older people. According to the British Geriatrics Society, 30% of people aged over 85 in the UK suffer from anaemia.
Diet can help play a role in maintaining optimal health in older adults, which can, in turn, reduce the risk of certain diseases.
The World Health Organization notes that the risk of dementia, for example, is reduced when people eat a nutritious diet and limit their alcohol intake, among other healthy behaviors. And the Alzheimer Society recognizes that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains, and low in red meat and sugar, can help reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Research also suggests that a diet rich in plant foods may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, all of which are common causes of death in older adults.
“While some people may be tempted to believe that veganism is a diet for young people, the fact is that there are many benefits to eating vegan foods for older people,” says registered dietitian Amber Dixon, MPH , who is also a geriatric nurse and founder of Elderly Guides, a platform that provides health resources for older adults and their families—says.
She repeated that it can reduce the risk of dementia and help people maintain their weight. “Eating vegan means you’ll get plenty of fiber and complex carbs,” she notes. “Which helps you feel full longer and also helps regulate blood sugar.”
Vegan diet for senior health
There are different types of vegan diets. For example, a diet of only fries and donuts isn’t very nutritious, but it’s still vegan. For optimal health in seniors (and other ages as well), a specific type of vegan diet is recommended: whole, plant-based foods. Just like the Icarians.
However, like everyone on a vegan diet, older adults may need to consider vitamin B12 supplementation. Research suggests that the likelihood of vitamin B12 deficiency increases with age and affects 6% of people over the age of 60. Vitamin B12 can be found in nutritional yeast and fortified cereals, but it is not found in fruits and vegetables.
That said, a diet rich in grains, leafy greens, beans, legumes, and other whole foods will help seniors get nearly all of the essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain good bone, muscle, and organ health. Here are some of the best foods to put on your plate, recommended by dietitians.
The best foods for seniors, recommended by dietitians
1 Protein-rich foods, such as tofu
“Tofu is one of the highest sources of protein among vegan foods,” says registered dietitian Patricia Kolesa, MS RDN. This, she says, is due to the higher protein needs of older people. She notes that tofu, which contains about 8 grams of protein per 100 grams, “may be a useful source to prevent the process of muscle breakdown.”
“Protein foods can also help you feel full after a meal,” Kolesa adds. “Additionally, tofu is high in calcium, which may be helpful in maintaining strong bones in older populations who are at higher risk for fractures and arthritis.”
For more tips on how to cook with tofu, check out our guide to the best preparation and cooking methods. Other protein-rich vegan foods include tempeh, which has 19 grams of protein per 100 grams, and seitan, which has 75 grams of protein.
2 Beans and legumes
Kolesa also notes that beans are a good source of protein for seniors. “Combined with rice, they can make a complete protein,” she explains. Kidney beans are a particularly good source, with 24 grams per 100 grams. To find out which beans have the most protein, we’ve created this handy guide to everything from cannellini to edamame (plus high-protein recipes).
But, aside from protein, beans have other benefits as well. “Beans also contain fiber,” says Kolesa. “In older populations, it may be more difficult to form a bowel movement and fiber may aid the digestive process by helping to form poop and remove waste from the body. Another problem in older people is anemia, which results from a lack of iron. Beans are a huge source of iron and should be paired with a vitamin C food like red bell peppers for the body to absorb it best.
Dixon agrees that beans are a good source of nutrition for older adults and also recommends other protein- and vitamin-rich legumes, such as lentils and peas. “Beans and legumes are rich in protein, fiber and other important nutrients for older people,” she says. “They can be used in a variety of recipes and are easy to incorporate into everyday meals.”
3 Leafy greens
Dixon also recommends seniors pack their diet with green vegetables, like spinach and kale. “They’re high in vitamins A and C, which are important for eye health and preventing age-related vision loss,” she says. “They also contain antioxidants that help fight free radicals, promote healthy skin, and reduce inflammation.”
Other good examples are arugula, bok choy, cabbage, watercress, and romaine lettuce.
To pack in the leafy greens (with a side of all-important beans and legumes!), try this Zesty Vegan Charred Chickpea Salad, this Vegan Spinach, Chickpea & Lemon Pilaf, or this Vegan Kale Salad with Chickpeas and Mustard- Dill Vinaigrette.
4 Whole grains
Whole grains are another essential part of a balanced plant-based diet. They include foods like brown rice, wild rice, oats, barley, durum wheat, and rye.
“Whole grains provide many essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc (which helps prevent anemia), selenium (which helps protect the immune system), B vitamins (which support energy production), chromium (which helps balance blood sugar levels) and manganese (which supports bone health),” notes Dixon.
For examples of how to enjoy whole grains in your diet, check out this vegan fried rice from the garden, this vegan Jamaican-inspired oatmeal banana porridge, or these healthy vegan oatmeal bites. strawberry chia.
5 A rainbow of fruits and vegetables
Other foods that can make up a wholesome, plant-based diet include berries, like bananas and strawberries, which are rich in vitamins like vitamin B6 and vitamin C, as well as colorful vegetables like bell peppers, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets. , pumpkins, carrots, etc.
All of these examples have unique properties. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, for example, contain beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A in the body. To stay healthy at any age, but especially in old age, people should aim to, quite simply, do like the Blue Zone-rs and eat the rainbow.
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