Do Vegans Age Better? Experts Share Their Thoughts
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If you’re thinking about switching to a vegan diet, you might be asking yourself, “do vegans age better?”
The reality is that you won’t look like you’re 25 forever – no matter how “clean” or “healthy” or your diet might be. While there are a variety of health benefits associated with following a vegan diet, eating a vegan diet won’t make you age faster or slower in and of itself.
If you’re considering making the switch to a plant-based diet, here’s what you need to know about the effects of veganism on aging and overall health.
Do Vegans Age Slower?
Are you going to stay young forever if you follow a vegan diet? Sadly, no.
Cellular damage occurs naturally as we age, but it can be prevented and stabilized with a vegan diet.
According to Registered Dietitian Catalina Ruz Gatica, MS, RDN, LDN, ”Following a vegan diet may very well support the aging process better compared to other diets that focus on less nutrient-dense foods. It is important to note, however, that this may be due to higher intake of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and seeds- as opposed to exclusively the vegan diet. The key to aging well seems to be more about achieving adequate nutrient intake, avoidance of nutritional deficiencies, and an emphasis on nutrient dense foods.”
The idea of “aging slowly” is a bit of a misnomer – everyone is going to age at the same pace, since we all have the same number of days in a calendar year. However, foregoing animal products may help you feel better and look healthier, perhaps younger for your age than you actually are.
Plus, since certain kinds of animal products (like cured meats containing nitrites) have been linked to age-related diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzehimer’s, there’s a chance that eating a vegan diet devoid of these products could help you stay sharp as you get older, too.
A vegan diet won’t necessarily make you age slower – but it may help you look younger and get around many of the aches, pains, and degenerative diseases that affect us as we get older instead.
We’ll take it!
“A vegan diet can contribute to a boost in metabolism given its high fiber content. These insoluble fiber compounds trigger the body to work harder to digest them, causing an increase in energy expenditure. This will result in an increase in metabolism, promoting a boost in the calorie burning process. Over time, this process can prevent excess weight gain and improve metabolism.”
– Catalina Ruz Gatica, MS, RDN, LDN / nutriving.com
Do Vegans Have Better Skin?
Over time, your skin loses its volume and its youthfulness.
A vegan diet tends to be higher in antioxidants and other nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties. These are linked to better health and brighter, more glowing skin. So yes, in many cases, vegans do have better skin!
The one thing to take into consideration is that, if you aren’t consuming any meat or dairy products, you won’t be able to take advantage of the skin-improving benefits of collagen as easily. Collagen is a protein that naturally gives our skin volume – it is the most abundant protein in the human body.
Unfortunately, as we get older, our collagen levels rapidly decline, which is what makes our skin appear saggy and develop wrinkles. You can take a collagen supplement to help fight wrinkles- however, many of these supplements aren’t vegan friendly, since they’re also derived from the connective tissues of animals.
That said, there are numerous plant-based collagen supplements out there to take advantage of if you are a vegan. Plus, if you’re eating a vegan diet, you probably are consuming more vitamin C, lysine, antioxidants, and other plant-based nutrients that can help improve your body’s natural production of collagen without having to consume any extra.
Beta-carotene can also help improve the health of your skin, giving it a healthy, glowing appearance. This nutrient is found in many vegetables and fruits – so you’re likely getting lots of beta carotene if you eat a balanced vegan diet.
Finally, some studies suggest that dairy might play a role in acne and acne-related scarring. By eliminating dairy from your diet, you might see increased healing of acne and scars.
Do You Live Longer If You Are Vegan?
“Vegans who include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are more likely to consume adequate fiber as compared to individuals who include less of those food groups. Research has shown that adequate fiber is associated with improved digestive health, reduced risk of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Chronic disease prevention is a key component of aging better.”– Kelly Wagner, MS, RD, LDN / nutriving.com
Various studies suggest that vegetarians tend to live longer than non-vegetarians, but most of those studies are not population-based, and other healthy lifestyle factors may confound apparent protective effects.
One meta analysis of seven studies with a total of 124,706 participants concluded that vegetarians have a 9% lower risk of death from all causes, compared with omnivores. You might, therefore, expect a similar result for vegans.
Another study suggested that vegetarians and vegans may benefit from a 12% lower risk of death.
If a vegan diet does lead to a longer life than omnivores, it may be because vegans and vegetarians, as a whole, tend to pay closer attention to what they eat. Vegan diets are rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Research shows that vegan diets may increase your lifespan by giving you more fiber, plant protein and antioxidants to eat. Eating vegan also reduces red meat intake which can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A vegan diet can also reduce your risks of osteoarthritis (a fact that might surprise you, given the fact that dairy is one of the most abundant and common sources of calcium). Of course, you’ll need to supplement your diet with calcium in other ways (such as dark, leafy greens).
Plant-based diets are also linked to reduced risks of kidney disease and chronic kidney-related complications. When you don’t eat meat, your kidneys have to do far less work to process protein and other nutrients, meaning they can stay healthier longer.
“The vegan diet is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which play a key role in helping prevent the development of chronic illnesses. As we age, the prevalence of chronic illnesses increases, adding to the deteriorating factor of aging. Antioxidants, found in mostly vegetable sources, help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. This, in turn, prevents further inflammation and further cell damage associated with aging. If can we think about the oxidation that occurs to a sliced apple that has been exposed to oxygen. The apple turns brown and eventually will become inedible. Antioxidants can help to stabilize these reactions by delaying the process of oxidation, keeping its longevity for longer. A diet rich in antioxidants, like the vegetarian and vegan diet, can help do this very thing. Will the vegan diet keep you young forever? Unfortunately, no. But it can help prevent and stabilize cellular damage that occurs in the process of aging.”– Catalina Ruz Gatica, MS, RDN, LDN / nutriving.com
What Age Is Best To Go Vegan?
If you’re thinking about going vegan, whether for ethical reasons or for your health, there’s no time like the present!
Some doctors recommend against young children and teens going vegan because it can be difficult for them to get the nutrients they need. Calcium, vitamin D, iron, and protein are four nutrients traditionally found in animal-based proteins that need to be thoughtfully included in a vegan diet in other ways.
As long as you go about things in a conscientious way, you can go vegan whenever you are ready. Even babies can consume a vegan diet, as long as meat products are replaced with other healthy foods like beans and pureed tofu.
As an older adult, you can take advantage of the many benefits of going vegan later in life. Your 50s and later is a time when you are more likely to experience weight gain – and when women, who are going through menopause, may have an increased risk of heart disease. Going vegan may help prevent this weight gain and risk of heart disease. It can also help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes, which is most common in older adults.
When done correctly and with attention to proper nutrition, going vegan as you age can offer the following benefits:
- Lowered risk of weight gain and heart disease
- Improved health and quality of life
- Improved sleep
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduced risks of certain cancers
What Are The Health Risks Of Being Vegan?
“The problem is that it is hard to keep up with vital health-restorative anti-inflammatory nutrients with a vegan diet. Almost invariably, the community of health-seekers that find me is dealing with higher levels of inflammation in their bodies, and the vegan diet is largely absent or low in key nutrients that quench inflammation: omega-3 fatty acids. There are plant/algae sources of omega-three fatty acids; however, in a state of disease, the need for high-dose fish oil to quench an inflammatory process may be very great indeed.
Another disadvantage of a vegan diet is it is relatively low in energy-promoting mitochondrial nutrients such as B12, carnitine, coq10, and zinc, to name a few. Dysfunction in your mitochondria contributes to many chronic diseases, and it has been implicated in at least one theory of aging. Eating a diet low in mitochondrial nutrients may be one that further promotes mitochondrial dysfunction or simply does not afford the ingredients for mitochondrial healing and restoration so often needed for deep healing.
Some mitochondrial powerhouse foods such as salmon and liver/organ meats are clearly not vegan. If you consider being a vegan, it takes careful planning to do it reasonably well. It will likely also require careful supplementation with mitochondria promoting nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids.
Something labeled as vegan does not at all imply it is healthy. Pasta and sauce, peanut butter and jelly- are vegan meal options, however not health-promoting. A vegan diet may be higher in carbohydrates, gluten, sugar, and pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Veganism is very far from the panacea for health it may be perceived by some to be and begs careful consideration.”– Miriam Rahav, M.D. / rahavwellness.com
The biggest health risk of going vegan has to do with muscle loss as a result of inadequate protein intake. Eating meat is often considered the best way to consume large amounts of protein, but as long as you pay attention to what you’re consuming, you can get all the protein you need as a vegan.
A well-balanced plant-based diet should include proteins like pulses, seeds, nuts, beans, and quinoa. All of these offer plenty of protein.
It’s important to note that it’s not just consuming large amounts of protein that helps prevent or reverse muscle loss, either. Muscle loss with aging typically occurs in people who have a high calorie intake from processed foods as well as from a sedentary lifestyle. By making healthy diet choices and keeping up with your exercise routine, you shouldn’t notice any difference in your muscle loss from that of a person who consumes meat.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is another major concern. B12 only comes from animal-based foods and, according to Harvard University, is essential for maintaining our nervous system, DNA, red blood cell formation, glucose metabolism, regulating new cell growth, and aiding in our cognition. Without adequate amounts of B12, you can suffer some pretty serious health consequences.
Fortunately, you can combat this by consuming foods fortified with B12 (such as breakfast cereals, certain plant milks, and some soy products). You can take a plant-based B12 supplement, too.
Calcium is another nutrient in which vegans tend to be deficient. It is essential for blood, bone, heart, dental, and nerve health. The most obvious source of calcium is dairy, but you can also get all the calcium you need from things like green, leafy vegetables (broccoli and cabbage are two of the best – spinach also has lots of calcium but the body has a harder time digesting it), calcium-set tofu, kale, and sesame seeds. Oranges and figs are high in calcium as well.
You will also need to make sure you are taking extra steps to get the essential fatty acids your body needs. Vegans are often deficient in the essential omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the DHA and EPA subtypes. These are most notably found in fish, but you can consume them in a vegan-only diet by consuming products like spirulina and chlorella.
If these two algae-based products sound less than appetizing, don’t worry – there are also marine algae omega-3 supplements you can take.
Vitamin D is another nutrient to pay attention to. Almost all of us are deficient in vitamin D. You can take it as a supplement (but make sure it’s vegan-friendly). Cereals tend to be fortified with vitamin D but one of the best ways to get the vitamin D you need is to spend lots of time outdoors, in the sun.
Some vegans turn to soy or plant-based meats as a substitute for meat products in their diet. These are fine but check the ingredients list. While soy can be a good substitute in moderation, you’ll want to avoid it if you have any issues with acne. Soy can lead to hormonal imbalances that can result in unpleasant breakouts.
Is Veganism Safe Long-Term?
When done safely, going vegan is safe, whether you plan on doing it for three days, three years, or for an entire lifetime.
There are lots of people who embark on a vegan diet only to find themselves suffering from just as many health problems as those who consume a diet rich in meat, dairy, and other animal products.
One of the main reasons why it is so difficult to determine whether vegans and vegetarians live longer is because the data is somewhat skewed. Few people are true vegans, consuming diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other non-animal products. Most vegans should instead call themselves “pasta-tarians” since they’ve replaced seafood, dairy, and meat with bread, starches, and processed meat substitutes.
Unfortunately, most of these are high in sugar, chemicals, and other ingredients that don’t really do much for your overall health.
However, when you pay special attention to the foods you are eating to make sure your diet is low in processed foods and high in fruits, vegetables, and other “whole” plant foods, being vegan is safe for the long term. Avoid food that is rich, fried, or highly processed – look for foods with as few ingredients as possible.
“If you are lean, you will age better no matter what you eat. A meat-eater with a six-pack will certainly do better than a vegan who is carrying around 30 pounds of fat in their midsection.”– Dr. Charlie Seltzer: Weight Loss MD, DABOM, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Personal Trainer / drseltzerweightloss.com
Can A Vegan Diet Prevent Alzheimers?
Although there hasn’t been much research on a vegan diet and its impact on the development of Alzheimer’s and related degenerative diseases, several studies have linked a healthy diet to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia and is a progressive disease starting with mild memory loss before it involves thought, mood, memory, and language.
In one study that assessed Canadians aged 45 to 85, it was found that individuals who consumed more nuts, pulses, vegetables, and fruits scored higher on tests of verbal fluency. The best outcomes were among individuals who consumed more than six servings a day, indicating that a Mediterranean or vegan diet can dramatically reduce your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.
Of course, you don’t have to commit fully to a vegan lifestyle in order to tap into these benefits – the results of this study suggested that the benefits can be reaped even by individuals who eat meat but still make sure to get adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits.
The best way to prevent Alzheimer’s, according to this study and others, is to eat a diet that’s high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and plant phytochemicals such as sulforaphane. Check out this list of the best brain foods for seniors here!
“A condition of concern within the older population is the development of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Vegans follow a diet that is rich in antioxidants due to their regular consumption of nuts, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark leafy greens. Individuals with these dietary patterns are significantly less likely to develop AD compared to those who consume high-fat dairy products and red meats. (Gu et al, 2010).”Catalina Ruz Gatica, MS, RDN, LDN / nutriving.com
Should you go vegan? Only you can decide that. There are many good reasons to go vegan – animal rights, concerns over the meat processing industry, and more – but your health should be right at the top of the list.
Eating a vegan diet isn’t always better for your health, but when done correctly, it certainly can be. Just because a diet is vegan doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy – you will need to do some planning to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need. Try to avoid highly processed foods (including those that are marketed specifically for vegans – these can be loaded with preservatives).
Before you embark on a vegan diet, be sure to get the go-ahead from your doctor. And if you’ve been a vegan for most of your adult life, getting a check-up done isn’t a bad idea. Your doctor will be able to let you know if any supplements are necessary and whether your vegan diet plan is providing you with everything you need. A bit of extra planning might be necessary to make sure you’re incorporating key nutrients – but in most cases, a vegan diet can help combat many of the effects of aging.
Chat with your doctor to make sure you aren’t deficient in any major nutrients – and then continue rocking that vegan diet with confidence!