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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Veganism over 50: Embracing a plant-based diet later in life

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Hear from Macclesfield strength athlete John Machin, a vegan for over 50 years, about being plant-based later in life.

There has been a drastic rise in the adoption of vegan diets among people over 50 and the older generation. A 2019 study conducted by Vegetarian for Life discovered that care homes in the UK have seen a rapid surge of 167% in vegan residents since 2014.

Smashing vegan stereotypes since the age of five, John Machin, a vegan strength athlete from Macclesfield, has devoted a staggering 59 years to a plant-based lifestyle. Now 64, Machin believes it is never too late to transition to veganism.

He states: “Even on day one of veganism, you send a powerful message to the market that you care about animal welfare.”

Machin adopted a vegan diet in the 1960s, when plant-based milk, vegan cheese, and soya mince were non-existent. Dubbed a “fussy eater”, Machin encountered a lot of criticism. The term vegan was virtually unheard of. He says he was 50 years old before he met another vegan.

The importance of protein for over 50s

It is vital to maintain a healthy diet and an active lifestyle to decrease the chance of a variety of diseases, injuries, and health complications. Angela Foster, a health coach and nutritional specialist, recently wrote about specialising in healthy foods for over 50s.

“For those over 50, the foods that provide plentiful protein are the most beneficial,” Foster states in the article. “Protein ensures that muscle strength is supported, so, when coupled with regular exercise, particularly that of strength training, you can work to avoid sarcopenia.”

Machin confesses he uses vegan protein shakes. At 64, protein synthesis becomes less efficient, “so we oldies need more to attain the same results”. This, alongside training intensively a couple of hours a day, means he requires more protein than normal, too.

A balanced, plant-based diet

Foster highlights the importance of protecting the most abundant form of protein in our bodies: collagen. She explains that to support and protect collagen, the most effective food groups to include in your diet are vitamins A and C, Glutathione-enriched foods and Omega-3 fatty acid-enriched foods. These food groups comprise an abundance of plant-based products.

Vitamin A

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots

Vitamin C group

  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupes
  • Kiwis
  • Oranges
  • Papayas
  • Red, green, or yellow peppers
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Strawberries

 Glutathione group

  • Spinach
  • Avocados
  • Asparagus
  • Okra

Omega-3

  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds 
  • Flaxseeds

A plant-based diet usually entails an abundance of fruit, vegetables, legumes, beans, and grains. This ensures that vegans are obtaining the correct nutrition to maintain a healthy diet. Foster emphasises the significance of incorporating beans and legumes into an over-50s diet. These food groups are “linked to longevity” and are a “fantastic source of protein”.

Cardiovascular complications can arise in old age but your diet can have significant effects on cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Foster explains that including nuts into your plant-based diet can improve cardiovascular health, provoking lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation, as well as lower blood pressure. However, it is important to soak nuts before their consumption, as this facilitates digestion and allows for greater absorption of nutrients, accessing their full nutritional potential.

Making the transition

veganism over 50
Photo: John Machin/Facebook

Altering your diet as you age is often inevitable, as certain foods may trigger health complications, which can lead to discomfort. After reaching 50, Machin committed to a 100%-raw vegan diet for seven years. He felt he had “stopped ageing during that time”, revealing that he enjoyed the cleansing effects. Despite this dedication, Machin ditched the raw diet, claiming he never got enough calories. He returned to a more conventional vegan diet, with lots of leafy greens, tomatoes and baked beans. 

As a lifelong vegan, Machin offers encouragement to older adults considering veganism. “If transitioning to the vegan diet seems too dramatic, try vegan a couple of days a week initially. After a few weeks, add an extra day, then another day. Before you know it, you’ll be eating vegan 24/7 — and loving it,” he says.

Anna
Anna Fox
Anna is a journalism undergraduate at City, University of London, who as a keen sportswoman, is fascinated by the effects a vegan diet has on athletic performance. Motivated by the Netflix documentary ‘Game Changers’, she is keen to continue her research into veganism and its significance within sport. Lover of all things Lush; a kimchi convert, and an animal admirer, Anna’s strong will and passion for the planet, will have you questioning that beefy Bolognese.