Although most older Americans still enjoy their steaks and chicken, an estimated 2.5 million of those ages 55 and older have abandoned red meat and poultry in favor of a predominantly plant-based diet. Some people decide to go vegetarian or vegan because they can’t bear the thought of harming any living creature. Others do it for the health perks, of which there seem to be many.
“There’s certainly some research on the benefits of the vegetarian diet,” says Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She ticks off the various advantages associated with this way of eating—lower body mass index and blood pressure; reduced risks for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; and longer life.
If you’re thinking about going vegetarian or vegan but are worried about making a big change in how you eat, know that there are many different layers to this way of eating. “There are options within a vegetarian diet if a woman wants to get her feet wet,” McManus says. The most common approaches are these:
- Semi-vegetarian.You still eat animal products, but more selectively. Many semi-vegetarians eat chicken and fish but not red meat.
- Pescatarian. You avoid meat and poultry but still eat fish and seafood.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian. You skip all meat, fish, and poultry but include dairy and eggs in your diet.
- Vegan. This solely plant-based diet is the strictest form of vegetarianism. You eat no animal products at all—not even eggs or dairy products.