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Curious about going vegan?

Reap the rewards of a plant-based diet

Created date

February 21st, 2014
Sweet potato burritos
Sweet potato burritos

So much of what we eat is a trend, a fad that comes and goes. In recent years we’ve been inundated with probiotics, juice cleanses, and flax seeds. In the quest for better health through eating, Americans are happy to embrace the latest and greatest food fashion as readily as we embrace skinny jeans or wedge sandals. 

One increasingly popular diet choice is veganism, but unlike most food fads, veganism is about more than what we eat. It’s a lifestyle change. Like vegetarians, vegans abstain from meat, but vegans take it further by eschewing animal products entirely. Eggs, dairy products, honey, lard, gelatin, and whey are all eliminated from a vegan diet. Ethical vegans also forgo wearing or using wool, leather, and other fibers or products that come from animals. 

Since 1944

The term “vegan” was coined back in 1944 by Donald Watson, who went on to establish the British Vegan Society. Back then, going vegan was a choice based mostly on the ethics of exploiting animals, but over the years, study after study has shown that an entirely plant-based diet can have a significant impact on your health. Not surprisingly, more and more people are going vegan. 

Dr. Neal Barnard, researcher, president, and founder of Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, believes that older people in particular should “run, not walk toward a vegan diet. It’s very, very good for people of any age, but especially for people over the age of 60,” says Barnard. “That’s when a lot of people may have been gaining weight over time and a vegan diet will turn that around. They may have developed diabetes and a plant-based diet is the best possible approach there. They may have high blood pressure and a plant-based diet will bring that down, too.”

Are there any particular risks associated with going vegan later in life? Barnard says, “There are risks in not doing it. It’s totally safe if you follow these simple rules. First, eat from four healthy food groups; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. And second, everyone, but particularly those over the age of 60, should take a supplement of vitamin B12.”

Never too late to go vegan

Once a rather lonely and confusing journey, today’s new vegans will find a world of support for their lifestyle choice. The new book Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting & Thriving on a Plant-Based Diet by Carol J. Adams, Patti Breitman, and Virginia Messina, R.D., is a roadmap for older people interested in going vegan. The authors say, “the best advice we can offer for going vegan is this: Don’t focus on what you can’t eat, but look at the many foods you can.” 

The book profiles numerous people who made the change to veganism later in life. For many, the hard part isn’t meal planning or cooking, it’s how becoming vegan impacts their social life. Never Too Late to Go Vegan is packed full of “vegan etiquette” such as dealing with family and friends who may be puzzled by your new diet or how to navigate social events like dinner parties or barbeques. 

Vegan support 

While going vegan is certainly easier than ever, making the change is not without its challenges. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent websites and smartphone apps that help vegans meet those challenges head on. 

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (pcrm.org). Get Dr. Barnard’s enormously popular (and free) “21-Day Vegan Kickstart” program delivered via email (pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs). The plan is simple. The recipes are tasty. They even have a smartphone app to make grocery shopping easy. 

PETA (peta.org). People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offers a simple plan with suggestions and brand names for things that may be unfamiliar to new vegans. 

Happy Cow (HappyCow.net). So you have a big vacation abroad planned—how in the world are you going to stay vegan? HappyCow has you covered. Created as a public service to assist travelers find vegan, vegetarian, and healthy food, HappyCow instantly generates a list of vegan-friendly stores and restaurants in any given city.

Recipe: Sweet potato burritos

Serves 4

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that strengthens your memory and your immune system. They are also the dietary staple of Okinawans, the longest-lived people on Earth who are known for maintaining mental clarity into old age.

Ingredients 

• 2 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes

• 1 cup frozen corn kernels

• 1 15-oz can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 tsp very thinly sliced green onion

• 1 tbsp fresh lime juice

• 1 tsp chili powder

• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas, warmed

• 1 cup prepared salsa

• 2 cups shredded lettuce

Directions

Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan and add water to come an inch up the sides. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook for 5 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Add the corn and cook 1 more minute.

Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add the black beans, green onion, lime juice, and chili powder; season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the filling among the tortillas, top with the salsa and lettuce, roll them up, and serve.

Per serving (1 burrito): 298 calories, 13 g protein, 62 g carbohydrate, 8 g sugar, 2 g total fat, 7% calories from fat, 15 g fiber, 891 mg sodium

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