Q: What health benefits do seniors experience from the vegan diet?

A: The vegan diet focuses on the intake of plant-based ingredients and excludes meat, eggs, dairy products, or processed foods that include the ingredients above. Popular food choices associated with the vegan diet include fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, high-protein whole grains, meatless soy products, and healthful fats.

To maintain or improve overall health, some seniors consider adopting the vegan diet as they grow older. This lifestyle change can often lead to long-term benefits such as maintaining the body’s lean muscle mass. As we age, healthy amounts of lean muscle mass can prevent broken bones, improve balance, and maintain core strength needed for basic activities. Seniors who may be preparing for or recovering from medical procedures may also consider the vegan diet to avoid gaining unhealthy weight, taking pressure off their joints and bones.

Though it’s certainly as possible to make poor choices on a vegan diet as on any other, wise vegan dieting can benefit your physical, mental and emotional health in various ways.

Lose weight and lower cholesterol levels.

The vegan diet includes foods high in fiber and antioxidants, and lower in calories. As we age, our bodies naturally need fewer calories, which can make eating a nutritious diet even more difficult. A plant-based diet can achieve lower calorie intake with no sacrifice of nutrient-dense foods. Healthy weight loss goes hand in hand with other positive health benefits, such as lower cholesterol. Nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seniors, particularly, should be mindful of foods that can help, rather than hurt, cholesterol levels.

Decrease blood pressure to improve cardiovascular health.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, indicates the pressure of the blood on the blood vessels is abnormally high, causing damage to the arteries and heart, increasing the risk of stroke or heart disease. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet is essential in managing and decreasing high blood pressure, potentially decreasing further complications for seniors. The vegan diet is a great source for increasing “the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and for minimizing the intake of dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases,” according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For example, plant-based pasta dishes, such as zucchini noodles, are a great source of protein and nutrients.

Enhance behavioral health.

Behavioral health, including emotional and mental health, is closely related to diet and lifestyle. Quality of life is largely affected by everyday choices, such as food intake, amount of sleep, socialization, and our environment. More important, quality of life is affected by the fact that we have choices in our lives. And as we age this can become more difficult as we allow our younger loved ones to take care of us. It is important that seniors continue to make their own food choices for as long as possible. Consulting with a doctor and a registered dietitian can be helpful in making healthful, vegan food choices.

Jacqueline Wojciechowski is the corporate dietitian at Wesley Enhanced Living.