You may have read in the news recently that Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been vocal about his belief that people should ditch animal meat for synthetic meat to help battle climate change. Many others, from well-known actors like Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, who championed animal rights in his speech, to successful athletes like tennis player Venus Williams and ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, ascribe to a vegan diet for its many health-boosting effects. Some choose to not eat meat for health, others for ethical or environmental reasons, or all three. Setting celebrity and athlete endorsements of a vegan or vegetarian diet aside, medical evidence does show that going meatless can provide positive health benefits. Decide for yourself, along with a dietician or nutritionist, if making the change to a plant-based diet is right for you.

You can choose to go either vegan or vegetarian – it’s is up to you. It’s helpful to know the levels of vegetarian before committing to one. According to the Vegetarian Society, “a vegetarian is someone who does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of animal slaughter.” Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat but do consume diary and eggs. Lacto vegetarians don’t eat meat or eggs but do consume dairy products. Ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat or consume dairy but eat eggs.

Vegans follow a stricter diet by not consuming, using, or wearing any animal-derived products. According to the Vegan Society “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment.”

Both vegetarians and vegans support a plant-based diet. Whether you decide to try or adopt for life such a diet, know that you will be in good company. According to the “Vegetarianism in America” study, published by Vegetarian Times, showed that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans, who consume no animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of U.S., adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.”

There are countless studies that reveal evidence that plant-based diets offer notable health benefits. The following results are provided by Nutritioned.org

  • Healthier weight
  • Lower risk of cancer and diabetes
  • Longer life
  • Better cardiovascular health/reversal or prevention of heart disease
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer medications
  • Improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Nutritioned.org also cites other additional findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition regarding vegan diets:

  • Vegan diets increase the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and minimize the intake of dietary factors related to some chronic diseases.
  • Vegans (compared to omnivores) consume greater quantities of fruit and vegetables, which are associated with lower blood cholesterol, lower incidences of stroke, and lower risk of mortality from stroke and heart disease.
  • Vegans consume more whole grains, soy and nuts, all of which provide significant cardiovascular protection.
  • Vegans consume more legumes, fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, allium vegetables, fiber and vitamin C than omnivores, all of which are protective against cancer of the lung, mouth, esophagus, stomach and prostate.
  • Because red meat and processed meat consumption are associated with an increased risk of esophageal, liver, lung and colorectal cancers (ranging from 20 to 60 percent), this risk to vegans is greatly reduced.
  • Vegans tend to have a high intake of tofu and other soy products, which are suggested to have a beneficial effect on bone health in postmenopausal women.

According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health nutrition expert and professor of epidemiology and nutrition, Walter Willett asserts that though it’s “not necessary to be 100 percent vegan in order to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet,” he does claim that veganism is good for the planet. He explains it’s “because cattle grazing generates massive amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, both of which are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”

The Vegetarian Society states that eating a vegetarian diet means 2.5 times less carbon emissions than a meat diet and that by eating such a diet for a year “could save the same amount of emissions as taking a small family car off the road for six months.

Though there are numerous health benefits for vegetarians and vegans at any age, it is important to consult a registered dietician or nutritionist to ensure you make the change properly and include the right foods to provide all the recommended daily allowances for essential nutrients. A dietician can also help seniors plan and prepare do-able meatless meals by suggesting some pantry modifications and must-have staples and ready-to-eat snacks to have on hand. Livestrong.com says “Many dishes such as vegetable soup, veggie chili and pasta dishes can be prepared in bulk and frozen in individual servings.” A dietician can also make sure seniors switching to a plant-based diet will get enough vitamins and minerals and maintain the right daily calorie intake from quality foods—not junk with empty calories. “Daily calorie requirements decline with age, according to the American Dietetic Association. But while seniors may require fewer calories, they usually require increased amounts of some nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, protein and vitamin B12.”

If you need support and encouragement for your meatless endeavors, there are websites on the Internet that offer guidance by mentors and registered dieticians. A website like Challenge 22 (https://challenge22.com/?group=733) invites users to join with others in a supportive environment to “go vegan” for 22 days. Participants can check out plant-based recipes and meal plans as well as informational blog articles.

The Vegan Society found at http://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/how-go-vegan also offers a free downloadable VeGuide app (via Google play or the Apple app store) that presents “everything you need to start your vegan journey.”

There are also more than a few meal-delivery services that offer vegetarian (e.g., Hello Fresh or Sun Basket) or vegan plans! And for more plans, check out WomensHealth (http://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/g31093492/vegan-meal-delivery/)for a list of 10 of its recommended vegan meal-delivery services.

Leah has adhered to a vegan diet for over 20 years. Her husband, a meat-eater, has adopted a mostly vegetarian diet (except for when dining out) and admits experiencing health benefits from the plant-based meals cooked at home. Their kids have been raised vegetarian and are healthy and thriving. Leah can be contacted at leahlancione@gmail.com

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