A few years ago you might not have even heard of what a vegan diet was, but nowadays veganism is infiltrating our news, social media feeds and shopping aisles daily. You might’ve even considered a vegan diet yourself for its supposed positive health, ethical and environmental benefits.
Although it is easier than ever to go vegan - with more access to vegan products and an internet full of tips and recipe ideas than ever before - there are some people who might struggle with the transition of going vegan, and these are those with eating disorders, those with autism, the malnourished and older populations; to name a handful.
Older populations sometimes struggle with getting out to the shops to buy ingredients and also with cooking for themselves, which might make it difficult to go vegan for them. There is also the problem of malnutrition within older populations and the risks of osteoporosis, which we know dairy products can help protect against thanks to the calcium in them.
That isn’t to say that all older people cannot attempt to go vegan, however, should they want to. A report commissioned by The Telegraph showed that more over-60s than ever before are ditching meat and dairy to go vegan. In fact, a new documentary on Netflix called The Gamechangers interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at 72 has now adopted a new plant based diet. Previous research from The Vegan Society in 2016 found that close to half of all vegans (42%) were in the 15-34 age category and only 14% were aged 65 and over, but that seems to be shifting slowly.
Older people might consider going vegan to improve their health, as age is well known to make it deteriorate. An article published on Livestrong said that “on average, vegetarians of consume less saturated fat, salt, protein and overall fewer calories than those who eat meat, and according to the American Heart Association, the plant-based diet is generally healthier, regardless of age. Vegetarians not only pile more fibre and fresh vegetables on their plates, but also have a lower incidence of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure—conditions that often plague older people.”
If you are considering going vegan as an older person, the NHS have some healthy eating guidelines which may be helpful.
For a healthy vegan diet, they suggest:
• Eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
• Basing meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose wholegrain where possible)
• Having some dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower fat and lower sugar options)
• Eating some beans, pulses and other proteins
• Choosing unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts
• Drinking plenty of fluids (the government recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day)
If you do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.
The NHS goes on to say that good sources of calcium for vegans include:
• green, leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
• fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
• calcium-set tofu
• sesame seeds and tahini
• brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)
• dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots
A vegan diet can be high in iron, according to the NHS, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less well than iron from meat.
Good sources of iron for vegans are:
• wholemeal bread and flour
• breakfast cereals fortified with iron
• dark green, leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens
• dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes and figs
The NHS adds that the body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system. “It's only found naturally in foods from animal sources. Sources for vegans are therefore limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.”
Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include:
• breakfast cereals fortified with B12
• unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
• yeast extract, such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12
If you are thinking of changing your diet, it’s important to consult a doctor or medical professional first to see if you are suitable for a vegan diet, especially if you are over 60.