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Does a green diet hold the key to healthy ageing?
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Does a green diet hold the key to healthy ageing?

Green diets may be good for the planet, but they can also be good for a range of health conditions
green diet and healthy ageing
Representational image | iStock

A few years back, T.R. Das, then 75, decided to revamp his eating habits. From a menu high on fish and meat, Das switched over to one with plenty of greens and minimal meat portions.  

“I have not just introduced more vegetables and greens in my diet but also reduced the meat and egg intake. I also make sure I have meat or fish for lunch and not for dinner. This shift has really helped me with digestion, sleep cycle, and constipation-related issues,” he beams. 

Das is certainly not alone. He shares that many of his friends have switched over to a diet that is not only easy on the stomach but is also nutritious. Luckily for him, his diet pattern falls into the category of what experts call a green diet, one of the types that dieticians tout to be a good food practice for healthy ageing. Happiest Health takes a scoop of the goodness of a green diet.  

What is it? 

One might wonder how this is different from a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet includes eating only plant-based food without meat, whereas a ‘green’ diet includes food rich in plants and small portions of meat – red or processed. A low intake of salt is its other feature. Green diets are said to have a low carbon load on the planet compared to red meat diets. 

Benefits aplenty 

Following this diet plan has its benefits. One study found that a green diet is good for health, especially for elderly people who may have congenital heart defects (CHDs), diabetes and certain cancers. The review also stresses that a diet rich in plants and low in meat is associated with beneficial health effects against chronic conditions.  

Nutritionist Natasha Pereira points out that green diet should be an integral part of our lifestyle as it is packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals and most importantly, fibre. “Most green vegetables are low in calorie count and rich in folic acid, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C and phytochemicals. The high level of magnesium and low glycaemic index is ideal for diabetics,” she says.  

Leafy greens are in rich in Vitamin A which is known to prevent macular degeneration. Carotenoids, antioxidants and flavonoids found in greens are ideal for preventing cancers as well. 

Longevity countries 

A look at the population-based Food Consumption Survey in Hong Kong gives us clues to why Hong Kong has the highest life expectancy in the world. The survey that studied the Hong Kong Diet revealed that vegetables and fruits eaten in day amounted to 202.65 g and 120.31 g respectively. Leafy vegetables and brassica vegetables contributed over half (112.04 g) of the daily vegetable consumption. On an average the diet had 78.6 g of meat and 32.12 g poultry a day. Those aged 50-64 years and those aged 65 and above had more fruits than the two youngest age groups.  

Another 2021 review was done by Dr Shoichiro Tsugane, from the Center for Public Health Sciences, National Cancer Center in Tokyo, on why Japan became the world’s most long-lived country. It highlights that the typical Japanese diet – characterised by plant food and fish, and complemented by a modest Westernised diet of meat, milk and dairy products – might be associated with longevity of the Japanese.   

Not to forget the Swiss diet which is considered one of the healthiest in the world. The Swiss Society for Nutrition recommends that a healthy and enjoyable adult diet should include larger portions of sugar-free drinks, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses along with small portions of dairy, meat, fish, eggs and tofu. 

Combating acidity  

Another takeaway is that a green diet is loaded with alkaline foods (fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables) which act on the acid levels and keep the body in a desirably neutral state. Natasha Pereira points out that an acidic state is the main cause of poor energy levels and chronic degenerative problems such as heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer.  

“One of the important focus areas [for staying healthy] can be to keep the body in an alkaline state. Avoid highly processed and refined food items as they tend to make the body sluggish and accelerate the aging process,” she says.  

This explains why Mr. Das’s stomach health improved after he changed over to green diet. “I do not feel stuffy or other acidity-related issues after the conscious diet change,” he avers.  

Tailored for you 

Although a green diet can help with healthy longevity, experts feel that meal plans need to be tailored to suit each. There will be challenges that come with ageing such as impaired senses of vision, smell, hearing and taste; poor teething, illness, multiple medications, limited finances and problems of mobility and transportation.   

Keeping all these in mind, dietician Ramya Mahesh suggests making simple meal plans for the elderly. “Nutritional goals should be to provide simple, balanced, consistent meals that fit their eating habits and their physical and psychological needs. When planning a meal, one should remember that the calorie requirement of a person decreases with advancing age,” she says.   

If following this diet, one can get their protein intake from green peas, yellow split grams, and mostly all the sprouted split pulses. In fact, seeds play an important role in this diet as well. A combination of chia, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are high in amino acids which are required to form protein in one’s body and are a major source of minerals. 

Mind that salt 

Another handy expert advice is that even if your green diet platter ticks all the boxes, do not add too much salt to make the dishes more palatable. It has been found that reduced salt intake is of particular significance to the elderly as they are at a high risk of hypertension.  

The World Health Organization also finds that salt reduction has been shown to be one of the most cost-effective and cost-saving ways of reducing the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, primarily cardiovascular diseases and strokes. 

But diet alone is not enough. Pereira suggests having a set pattern daily and introducing regular physical activity. “Following a routine like finishing supper before 8 pm, not skipping breakfast, consuming fresh fruits, drinking at least 2,000 ml [or 2 litres] of water daily and exercising daily can make a marked change in overall health,” she says.  

The United Nations World Population Ageing 2020 estimates that globally over 700 million people were above the age of 65 in 2020. And that this number will continue to grow and reach over 1.5 billion by 2050. Hence a dietary pattern that can reduce the risks of various chronic diseases among the elderly people is crucial.  

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