Veggie Young: How a Vegetarian Diet Reduces Aging

Vegetarian man mixing vegetable salad in bowl

Key Points

  • Due to its numerous health benefits, a vegetarian diet helps reduce the signs of aging.

  • Many of the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables fight inflammation — one of the main aging aggressors.

  • When properly followed, a vegetarian diet reduces aging by aiding in weight management.

  • Eliminating meat from your diet reduces your risk of developing harmful chronic illnesses as you age.

Plant-based diets are all the rage for a long list of reasons: environmental consciousness, animal welfare, and health benefits (to name a few). But does being a vegetarian reduce aging? Your diet is a huge part of your health both inside and out. Junk food has never been known for its beauty benefits.

What can a vegetarian diet specifically do? Here are the basics.

Vegetarian Versus Vegan Versus Plant-Based

Do you know your plant-based diet lingo? If not, here's a refresher: Simply put, a vegetarian diet consists of no animal meat whatsoever but does not restrict all animal products like a vegan diet does. If you're following a vegetarian diet you won't eat any meat, poultry, or fish but could still eat dairy and eggs. Most vegetarians also won't eat substances containing animal products, like animal stock or gelatin.

Vegans — as mentioned before — don't eat any animal products and often don't wear leather or use other products made from animals. They also avoid using cosmetics that are tested on animals.

On the other hand, a plant-based diet is exactly what it sounds like. It's a diet that doesn't entirely restrict you from eating meat but keeps you limited to foods made from plant matter as much as possible. This is sometimes referred to as a "flexitarian" diet.

Person eats avocado and veggie salad

Can a Vegetarian Diet Be Limiting?

If you're not already a vegetarian, you may be worried about the limitations of taking meat out of your diet. The notion that vegetarian dishes aren't as good as dishes that include meat is simply untrue. Once you realize that most of the ingredients recipes rely on for flavoring are from plants — spices and herbs! — vegetarian cooking won't seem so daunting.

There has also never been a better time to be a vegetarian with the popularity of meat substitutes like Beyond Burgers becoming a staple in households and restaurants alike. However, some vegetarians forego meat substitutes altogether and still eat delicious plant versions of mainstream meat items.

Portobello or black bean burger, anyone?

How and Why Do We Age?

To understand how a vegetarian diet reduces signs of aging, you'll need to understand exactly how aging works.

Your body is made up of trillions of cells. That's right, trillions! Throughout your adolescence, these cells multiply rapidly throughout your body in a process you know as growing. Throughout life, cells routinely die and are regenerated with more cells — kind of like an internal maintenance crew.

However, as time progresses, your cells lose their ability to divide and multiply, resulting in cell death. This leads to many tissues in the body losing mass in a process known as atrophy. The most obvious signs of aging are wrinkles and fine lines on the outer layer of your skin (also known as the dermis). Simply put, skin sagging is atrophy of the dermis. This is due largely to a slowing down in the production of collagen.

Mature couple taste dish on the stove

Aging doesn't just affect how you look — it also plays a major role in how you feel on the day-to-day. Muscle loss is a huge factor in how you look and feel. With time, you may feel stiffer and weaker than you used to; this leads to immobility often associated with aging. And all of this is due to your cells not quite working the way they used to.

While it's impossible to stop aging, you can certainly reduce the speed and discomfort you may feel from the process. How can a vegetarian diet help you age with grace? You're about to find out.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Inflammation

The effects a vegetarian diet can have on aging skin are backed by science. Much of skin aging is accelerated by inflammation, making the many anti-inflammatory compounds found in your fruits and vegetables a great tool in your quest to slow the aging process.

Inflammation comes both from within our bodies — from loss of cell function over time — and from external factors like pollution, UV radiation, and poor nutrition. These inflammatory factors lead to undesirable results like loss of skin elasticity and dryness.

Don't fret. Antioxidants in plants are here to help! Below you'll find some of the commonly found antioxidants and vitamins that fruits and vegetables offer.

Pro Tip: In general, dark leafy greens have the highest levels of antioxidants in the vegetable sphere, and berries are the most potent on the fruit side.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a super soldier for your skin. Appropriate levels of vitamin E are essential for maintaining healthy, youthful skin. Your skin uses vitamin E and needs a constantly replenished store to keep up with demand. Some foods rich in vitamin E include nuts like almonds and peanuts as well as veggies and fruits such as asparagus and avocado.

Bowl and plates of all vegetable dishes, beans, seeds, and, fruits

Vitamin C

You might as well just go ahead and call it vitamin collagen! Vitamin C is integral to collagen production, which is crucial to keeping your skin firm and elastic. More than a repairing factor, vitamin C excels at mitigating future damage to your skin. Its cousin, vitamin E, also requires vitamin C to work its magic. Find vitamin C in common foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries.

Fun Fact: Did you know that humans are one of the only animals that can't synthesize vitamin C? If you've ever heard of scurvy — the disease famous for its effect on sailors who were without fresh fruit and vegetables for long periods — then you know that making sure you get enough vitamin C is not just integral to your beauty regime but to your overall health as well.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role in boosting your skin's defense against the sun. This doesn't mean that you should ditch your sunscreen, but every little bit helps. Vitamin A blocks the breakdown of collagen from sun exposure making it a less-known but a very important warrior for your skin. It also helps keep your skin hydrated as you age by helping your oil glands stay up and running.

Some vegetarian-friendly foods that pack a lot of vitamin A include eggs, spinach, and kale.

Mature couple smile as they fill wicker baskets with vegetables


You may remember learning about chlorophyll when you learned about plant anatomy in biology class. Chlorophyll is most famous for making plants green, but don't worry. It won't change you into the hue of envy. Chlorophyll is found in just about anything you eat that's green.

This super compound contains high levels of all the vitamins listed above. If you want to pack an extra punch you can also take chlorophyll in supplement form to be sure that you're getting all that your skin wants.

Hydration Station

There is practically no end to the benefits of being well-hydrated. Staying hydrated is crucial for not just keeping your body feeling good but looking good, too. Studies show that up to 75% of American adults are chronically dehydrated.

It all comes down to the cellular level. Considering proper hydration is integral to cell function. You should do everything you can to ensure you are properly and consistently hydrated, and your diet may play a bigger role than you think. You get up to 20 percent of your hydration from your diet alone, and the foods with the highest water content are raw fruits and veggies. Raw versions are the best since water is always lost during cooking due to evaporation.

Some fruits and veggies that pack a hydrating punch include iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, and watermelon — all of which have a water content above 90%! You may also recognize some of these names from your earlier reading because no fruit or veggie has just a singular benefit! They're here to help in so many ways.

Is a Non-Vegetarian Diet Bad for Aging?

So far you've learned that eating lots of fruits and veggies has numerous benefits for your overall health and reducing aging. What about a regular meat-eater diet? Is it so bad? Does it truly make a difference whether or not you eat meat?

Researchers believe red meat and processed meats can have negative effects on your body's biological age — a term that refers to how your body is aging based on certain biological markers as opposed to chronological age in years. Have you ever seen someone who seemed years older or younger than their actual age? They likely have a biological age that differs from their chronological age.

Because so much of aging is hastened by inflammation, it's important to mitigate inflammation through your diet. Meat generally contains more inflammation-inducing compounds than fruits and veggies do.

Someone holds box of vegetables

Processed Meats

Sulfites and other preservatives high in salt can increase inflammation and reduce hydration, which is no friend to your aging process. This can not only leave you feeling sluggish but can also leave your skin dehydrated, exacerbating the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Sulfites are especially prevalent in highly processed meats like sandwich meats, sausages, and bacon –yeah, the stuff that tastes good is often the worst for you! These highly processed meats have also been linked to an increased chance of developing dementia and age-related cognitive dysfunction.

Red Meat

Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb increasingly have been shown to have negative health effects. Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition at Harvard Medical School, said "regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death."

Although red meat does have nutrients and health benefits beneficial to a balanced diet, some healthcare professionals are saying that the risks outweigh the potential benefits. Red meat has been linked to numerous cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Red meat is also linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Weight Management

Your risk of obesity and unwanted weight gain increases as you age and your metabolism naturally slows. Ever felt like the junk foods you enjoyed without a care when you were younger are sticking around (your midsection) a bit more than you would like? You may need to be more conscious of your diet as you age to maintain a healthy weight.

Meat is generally higher in caloric density than plant food, so cutting out meat can be a great way to help regulate your calories. Gram for gram, meat certainly has more calories than any vegetable, which means you can eat larger servings on a vegetarian diet than you can with meat!

Mature couple embrace while chopping veggies

What Should You Know Before Starting a Vegetarian Diet?

Once you start a vegetarian diet, you may need to put a bit more thought into where you get your protein. Don't worry. There are plenty of high-protein plant foods that can easily fit into your diet, and no, it's not all tofu. Foods like lentils, beans, spinach, and green peas are protein-packed and easier to work with than the notorious tofu.

Tofu and other soy products like tempeh are naturally full of protein and generally get a bad rep from meat eaters — probably because these foods haven't been cooked or seasoned properly. In the right hands, these meat substitutes are flavorful and filling in their own right.

Iron is another nutrient to keep an eye on if you cut meat out. It is still relatively easy to replace the iron you once got from meat with vegetarian options. Nuts, dried fruits, and whole-wheat pasta and bread are great options for keeping your iron levels healthy on your new vegetarian diet.

Many new vegetarians commonly make the mistake of relying too much on foods like pasta and bread to fill in the gaps they feel from meat. Be sure you don't fall into this trap. Focus on fresh fruits and veggies as a much larger part of your new diet than processed carbs!

All Veggie-Wrapped Up

A vegetarian diet has numerous graceful aging benefits from helping with skin elasticity due to higher levels of vitamins and hydration to keeping your weight and biological age down. If you've been thinking of giving it a go, make sure to give yourself the resources you need in the form of a few good vegetarian cookbooks — or Pinterest boards — to broaden your food horizons.

Enjoy the adventure and how the superfood powers of fruits and veggies will make you look and feel!

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