Is vegan food really healthy for the elderly?

Eating more plant-based foods is healthier, according to the Nutrition Center. But if you don’t eat fish or meat or even no animal products at all, it is difficult to get enough protein. The elderly in particular can run into shortages, say researchers at Wageningen University. They are conducting research into plant-based food for the elderly and are still looking for participants.

Eating less meat is hip, as was recently confirmed by figures from research agency Marktbureau. The number of Dutch people who eat meat every day has fallen from 55% in 2019 to 45% in 2021. More and more people are avoiding meat (occasionally), with an eye on the environment and increasingly for health reasons. The Nutrition Center also points out that more plant-based food is good for health. But is there a limit to that? Pol Grootswagers is a postdoctoral researcher at Wageningen University & Research and an expert in the field of nutrition, protein and aging. He is investigating this.

Need more protein

The elderly need proportionately more protein than young people to maintain their muscle mass and strength, but often consume less. That is why it is extra important for people aged 50 and over to get good quality protein,’ explains Grootswagers. ‘Vegetable proteins are less digestible and absorbable in the gut, and unlike animal protein, they lack some essential amino acids. These are substances that the body cannot produce itself, but which it desperately needs for the construction and maintenance of bones, muscles and other tissues.’

5 soy burgers

The Nutrition Center therefore advises vegetarians to eat 20% more than the recommended amount of 0.83 grams per kilogram of body weight of protein, and vegans even 30% more. For a 65-pound woman, that amounts to 65 and 70 grams of protein per day, respectively – the equivalent of more than 5 soy burgers or almost 15 serving spoons of chickpeas.

“It is certainly a challenge for elderly people in fragile health to meet this recommendation, because you need to eat large portions to get enough. This while plant-based food is very satisfying due to the large amount of fiber it contains,” explains Grootswagers.

Research

How can the elderly reap the benefits of plant-based eating without experiencing its drawbacks? Grootswagers and his colleagues in Wageningen are researching it. “This year we are mapping out the health effects of switching to a plant-based diet at a later age. What happens to the muscle building of participants, in the short term and over a period of three months?” The team is also looking for solutions. ‘If we combine different vegetable protein sources, or add extra amino acids and vitamins to meals, does this have a positive effect on muscle building?’ Grootswagers illustrates. The first results of this study are expected in early 2022.

Participate

Would you like to participate in this research? And are you between 65 and 79 years old?

You can, read more about it on the Wageningen University website.

Knowing more?

In November Plus Magazine there will be an article about meat substitutes and health.

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