Each January offers an opportunity to set new or renewed goals and intentions. For many adults, weight loss and improved fitness top the list of aspirations for the coming year to boost health, well-being and prevent illness and disability. In recent years, research has uncovered the importance of food choices in preventing chronic diseases and improving health, immunity, and physical performance – but there is conflicting information about what diet is best for healthy and sustainable weight loss.
According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging Portal blog post, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, mental illness, and cancer. A plant-based vegetarian eating plan can have a positive effect on health if it is based on a whole foods diet. It may reduce the risk for some chronic diseases and can contribute to weight loss.
When planning a vegetarian diet, it’s important to get all your nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D. People who are not consuming dairy products can get these nutrients through dark leafy greens and foods like cereals and juices that are fortified. Vitamin B12, which often comes from animal products, may need to be supplemented. Plant-based proteins like soy products, lentils, and nuts can supply enough protein if consumed regularly. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist to determine what supplements are recommended.
The key factor in any healthy diet is to consume plenty of whole foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and whole grains and to stay away from highly processed foods that can easily become part of a vegetarian diet. A sustainable eating plan focusing on nutrient-rich foods is more likely to result in long-term weight loss than any temporary radical diet change.
Increasing the number of vegetables people consume while limiting red meat and ultra-processed foods can boost health and help lower the risk for chronic illness. Older adults can adopt a healthy vegetarian diet provided they are getting adequate nutrients to maintain bone health and muscle mass.
For Canadians, who may not get enough natural sunlight in the winter months, supplementing with 1,000 units of vitamin D per day and getting enough lean protein to help prevent the loss of muscle mass is often recommended. Fiber, found in whole vegetables, fruits, and grains, is also important to protect overall health. Eating a variety of foods of different colors and types helps assure you will get the micronutrients needed for a healthy diet. Regular daily activity, limiting alcohol, and stopping smoking are also important components of a healthy lifestyle.
Need some inspiration for warm winter vegetable recipes? Follow this link to Well + Good for 7 warming vegetarian recipes. Sweet potato gnocchi? Yes, please!