Turning 40 changes us. We look back and we look forward. We start to think about things that never bothered us in our younger days - diet, aging, our contributions to the world. Some people dread the big "4-0" but it can be a wonderful time of reflection and renewal.

One of the greatest and most positive changes you can make after age 40 begins on your dinner plate.Here are 9 reasons why a vegan lifestyle can make the second half of life the best half of life.

  1. Reduce, eliminate or reverse disease. Your food choices can have a more profound impact on your health than any medication you are taking.  A vegan diet can prevent, eliminate or reverse cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, macular degeneration, migraines, erectile dysfunction and arthritis – to name just a few. Furthermore, the medications you might be taking for any of these diseases could be causing additional health problems and side effects. Many people think a vegan diet is extreme, but look at your medicine cabinet.  Are you putting chemicals in your body to alleviate any conditions?  As you get older, those medications are likely to increase and interact causing additional problems. In fact, side effects of prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.  (Source: http://www.forksoverknives.com/excerpt-from-whole-rethinking-the-science-of-nutrition/)
  2. Reduce mid-life weight gain. Eating plant-based foods can help you drop weight faster than you can say Jenny Craig. This doesn’t mean becoming a junk food vegan and living on guacamole and tortilla chips. It means shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store and eating foods that are not processed–fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  It means keeping fats–even healthy fats–like avocado and olive oil to low levels and avoiding the seduction of packaged foods when possible.The spare tire will disappear, the scale will become your friend, and you’ll realize that Mother Nature always provides what we need.

ranch dressing3. Feel more energetic. Who doesn’t start to get tired after 40? You’re working, you’re raising a family, and maybe you’re taking classes or volunteering. When you eat whole, plant-based foods, you feel more energetic without the brain fog that accompanies the highs and lows of heavy meats and dairy products or fast food. It sounds too simple to be true, but it really isn’t. Yes, you will have to train yourself to appreciate the flavor of fresh foods again. If you’re used to a diet of greasy fast food, high fat, high sugar, high processed meals, you will need to detox.  When you do, you’ll start to realize that a spoonful of almond butter on an apple slice tastes divine.  You’ll appreciate a soft, sweet pear, or fresh spinach sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic. A flatter tummy will appear and energy will return like an old friend.  It’s a great feeling and it doesn’t have to go away with age! If you can’t go cold turkey, simply start incorporating more fresh fruits and veggies into your diet and you’ll start to feel the difference.

4. Increase fiber and regularity. Most people don’t’ get the 25 grams a day of fiber that is necessary to keep us healthy.  Chronic constipation can lead to hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.  Why deal with these conditions when it’s so easy to add fiber?  Add a cup of garbanzo beans to your salad, have a sweet potato as a snack, enjoy a morning smoothie with bananas, blueberries and raspberries. The fiber not only helps with regularity but keeps you feeling full, which leads to less snacking and weight loss.

5.  Simplify Your Life. As I get older I realize that simplicity is my best friend. I don’t socialize as much as I used to – I need and value  my alone-time. I don’t desire as many material things as I once did.  It’s the same with food. Vegan food is simple food.  I know there are a lot of trendy vegan restaurants that give you a big white plate with a kidney bean in the middle of it and charge you $50, but that’s not what I believe vegan food is all about.  For me, it’s about a harvest of plentiful options.  It’s about shopping more frequently at a farmer’s market or at your grocer’s produce aisle and appreciating the beautiful bounty of the season–summer squash, autumn red pears, beautiful summer watermelons, ruby red grapefruit, bright orange mangoes.  When I bite into a mango, I’m in heaven.  Avocado is my idea of decadence. Find out what foods speak to you and build a meal around them–and meals don’t always mean cooking.  A fresh fruit salad with a sprinkle of nutmeg is an amazing way to start the day.  A bowl of fresh heirloom tomatoes, red onion and fresh basil leaves drizzled with Balsamic vinegar is so satisfying.  And so simple.

6. Practice kindness from the inside out. Something about getting older and closer to our inevitable mortality makes us put things in perspective and reminds us the importance of being a kinder, gentler person.  Every day on TV you witness everything from cyber-bullying to school shootings. You’ve witnessed rude behavior in the workplace. You find yourself saying, “What is wrong with people?”  It’s hard to understand what drives people to do such cruel and unimaginable things but we also have to look at what contributions we are making to the world, both kind and cruel. Kindness begins at home and on your plate – if we allow it to.  I won’t lecture about the inhumane torture that animals endure for the production of meat and dairy but if you saw footage of it you would be horrified.  There are plenty of online examples for the asking.  I know it’s hard to deny yourself the meat and dairy you’ve enjoyed for an entire lifetime. I grew up in an Italian family eating meatballs and pork and cheese. I get it. If you can’t give it up altogether, at least go one day a week without meat. It makes a huge difference.  For example, if you were vegan just one day a week, 52 days a year, you would save approximately 34 animals from being killed. You might say you don’t care about animals raised for food but you would never torture or mutilate your family dog or cat, so why is it okay to do so to any other animal that is capable of feeling pain? The TV commercials you see about “happy cows” are simply not true. The new surge of “humanely raised” livestock is a marketing ploy.  There is no such thing as humane killing unless the animals are anesthetized prior to being slaughtered and I can assure you that’s not happening.  Practicing veganism means going to bed at night with a clear conscious that you did not cause pain to another creature and that’s a great feeling. This calculator shows the impact of eating vegan on animals and the plant. http://vegetariancalculator.com/vegetarian-calculator-monthly

red chard7. Provide healthier meals for your kids and parents. Many people at the age of 40 find themselves in between two generations, caring for both children and elderly parents.  If you are cooking for your family, you have a profound influence on others.  Adding healthy food to their diets can keep them from being part of the growing number of individuals with health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Setting a good example is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family.

8. Eliminate cholesterol from your diet. High cholesterol comes from two sources.  First, it is genetic.  You might have been unlucky enough to inherit it–I was.  But there’s hope.  The second source of cholesterol is from animal products.  A plant-based diet contains no cholesterol.  It is not even in higher fat content foods like avocado, olive oil and nuts. I come from a family with high cholesterol – mine was 260 before I went on a plant-based diet.  After going vegan it dropped to 200.  After regular exercise, it dropped to 160.  And I didn’t take any cholesterol-reducing medication.  My doctor wanted to put me on medication and I said, ‘Give me a year to get my cholesterol down with diet and exercise.”  And I did just that.   My doctor was shocked and started asking me about my diet, listening with great fascination as I talked about eating a plant-based diet. That in and of itself speaks volumes about our healthcare system.

9. Leave a better planet for future generations. Being vegan has a profoundly positive impact on the environment. Meat and dairy contribute to significant use of water and land that can be used to grow grain and feed the world.  While people suffer from hunger around the world, 70% of grain grown in the US is for the purpose of feeding livestock. That’s why when people ask me if vegans like animals more than people, I inform them that by taking care of animals, we DO take care of people! We take care of their health; we reduce and eliminate disease; we provide more food for the masses; we live a kind life of gratitude and kindness.  We eliminate greenhouse gases from factory farms, not to mention the water usage – 70% of the world’s fresh water is used for animal agriculture.  The production of meat and dairy produces a staggering amount of waste and disproportionate amount of energy to feed fewer people than can be fed by plant-based diets. The meat and dairy industries are simply not a sustainable means of feeding our planet. We can be proactive and start plant-based lifestyle now, or be forced into it as we continue to devour scarce resources.  We talk about saving the plant.  We recycle and drive fuel-efficient cars.  We don’t litter.  We want less pollution.  But the answer is so simple.  Plant-based living can save the planet – but we have to take the first step.

So if you’ve hit the 40-year mark, there is compelling evidence to make a change.  It’s easier than you think. Vegan options are everywhere.  You don’t have to do it all at once, but start the process. Educate yourself.  Check out Forks Over Knives, read The China Study, and get some recipes at Forty-Year-Old Vegan.

“Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

Sandra Sellani is a 55-Year Old Vegan and food blogger living in Newport Beach, California.  She has an MBA from Pepperdine Univeristy, Malibu, California, and a certification in raw vegan cuisine from Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy, Venice Beach, California, and a certification in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies.