Baby boomers are embracing the new diet trends designed to eliminate certain foods or ingredients or create a healthier balance.
Among the biggest trends are vegan diets, which prohibit the use of any animal products; paleo (short for Paleolithic) diets, which attempt to mimic the diet of hunter-gatherer humans by excluding any modern-day processed foods; and gluten-free diets, which eliminate gluten, a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten is seen as effecting people with celiac disease, but a growing number of people claim to suffer from what’s known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Many people believe changes in wheat production over the last century are causing the adverse effects.
Also ?growing in popularity ??are non-dairy ?and/?or lactose-free products. Replacing regular milk are products such as Lactaid, soy milk or almond milk. Soy and almond milk are popular with vegans because they do not come from animals. Almonds are also rich in fiber, Vitamin E, zinc, potassium, iron and calcium, a benefit also associated with regular milk.
Chris McClay has been touting the benefits of a plant-based diet for years, and with her Westbrook-based business, Modern Vegan, she offers event catering and private cooking lessons. While she recently decided to end the meal-delivery portion of the business, McClay estimated last week that about 80 percent of those clients were boomers
“In my experience, the largest population – and my primary clientele – is over the age of 50,” she said. “With health in mind, they learned that eating a plant-based diet has the power to prevent and reverse common degenerative diseases, and that it tastes better, is filling, is less expensive, and is a wiser choice than the standard American diet.”
One of McClay’s customers, Andy Charles of South Portland, has been a practicing vegan for 18 months, and says he’s never felt better. Charles, who owned well-known local candy company Haven’s Candies for more than a decade until selling the business in September, said he made the jump strictly for health reasons.
Now 57, Charles said he’s seen a difference in his health since he began his vegan diet, with his blood pressure and cholesterol both down. He also says he feels better. But, he said, he calls himself a “flexitarian.”
“A lot of times when I tell people I’ve been eating a vegan diet, they say, ‘Well then you’re not allowed to have this, are you?’ I tell them I can have anything I want, I just choose not to,” he said.
Charles said that after switching over, he has lost weight and has more energy, signaling for him that a vegan diet wasn’t “just a fad.”
Throughout the 18 months, Charles said, he’s been learning easier and better ways to cook for himself, a process that began with some help from McClay and her meal service.
Charles believes there are three reasons why a person might choose a vegan diet or lifestyle: health, concerns for animal cruelty, and the environment.
As for the baby boomer generation, Charles said he feels more boomers may be getting on board or trying new diet or health trends because they’re simply getting older.
“We’re all starting to confront our mortality, because we’re all in our 50s, 60s and 70s now,” he said. “All of sudden the idea of being old isn’t a far-off prospect. The concept of connecting diet and health is becoming much more mainstream.”
Charles says he’s seen a difference in the past few years just at local supermarket chains like Shaw’s and Hannaford, which now carry vegan items they hadn’t in the past.
“Now, there’s a demand for it,” he said.
Katie Winglass, the owner of Mae’s Cafe? and Bakery in Bath, recently began offering gluten-free, paleo and vegan baked goods and other options to her customers. She said she began offering gluten-free desserts and other items roughly two years ago in response to demand.
Winglass, 43, said people are interested in many of the products. She said the bakery’s paleo products have “taken off” recently.
“People who are diabetic can eat it, people who are gluten-free can eat it,” she said. “It doesn’t use those complex sugars that spike people’s blood pressure.”
Some of her most popular new products are paleo muffins. These are routinely made with almond or coconut flour, nuts and sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.
Winglass said that while there are a number of boomer-aged customers taking advantage of the new options, the age-range is varied.
“There are kids who are trying to stay away from refined sugar, and parents come in and get them for after-school snacks,” she said, adding that as the baked goods have taken off, she’s added options onto the restaurant menu, with equal success.
“Our entire dinner menu this summer was based on that, and it was really popular,” she said.
The restaurant is now also producing its own gluten-free bread, and is offering holiday party trays that exclusively feature gluten-free or paleo products.
“We still offer the regular stuff, too,” she said.
Andrew Rice is a staff writer at Current Publishing.
A?ndy Charles, the former owner of Haven’s Candies, is pictured here atop the Mount Washington summit. Charles has been eating a mostly vegan diet for 18 months, and says he’s never felt better. New at Mae’s Bakery and Café in Bath are “paleo muffins,” a popular product that is made without refined sugar or complex grains. Chris McClay, owner of Modern Vegan, a vegan catering company, says a large number of her customers are over the age of 50. Courtesy photo