Men’s Health: how nutrition can affect various men’s health outcomes
A quick look at global data from the United Nations is all it takes to realize that in all of the countries in the world where humans tend to live the longest, men generally live around three to six years less than woman do1.
Now there are a vast number of occupational, biological and behavioral factors that separate men and women that might explain this difference in life expectancy.
What interests me most as a dietitian, however, is the consistently observed gender disparity between food choices and diet quality.
The data seems to suggest that modern women in western cultures tend to have healthier diets than men do4.
Guys, I know we can do better.
That’s why in today’s article, I am going to systematically discuss each of the biggest men’s health concerns and teach you a few key foods or nutrients that will help you take your diet, and your health, to the next level.
Time to put men’s health back on the map!
1. Cardiovascular Health & Disease
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the most common cause of death for men globally5.
There are a number of factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing these conditions, but the two most strongly related with your diet are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
The good news? A change in your diet can actually help with both.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common men’s health concern that is frequently caused by high sodium intake from processed or packaged products.
The two most important things you can do to prevent and/or manage high blood pressure from a dietary perspective is to reduce your sodium intake and increase your potassium intake6.
Examples of high potassium foods include onions, carrots, Swiss chard, sweet potato, avocado, banana, nectarine, oatmeal pumpkin seeds, salmon, trout and many more!
- High blood cholesterol: Elevated blood levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol are a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
There are a number of dietary tools that men have at their disposal to fight back at LDL cholesterol, but perhaps the most important is modifying your primary sources of dietary fat.
Multiple studies show that replacing saturated fat (found in foods such as beef and pork fat, butter and processed meats) with either monounsaturated fat (found in foods such as pecans, avocado, almonds and olive oil) or omega-3 polyunsaturated fat (found in food such as salmon, sardines, walnuts and flax seed) has a favorable impact on blood cholesterol levels7.
2. Reproductive & Sexual Health
The first thing I’m going to say about sexual health from a nutrition perspective is that if you take care of your heart, it will take care of the rest.
What do you think pumps blood down there anyway?
Jokes aside, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction are the two most significant topics in this realm that are heavily modifiable by nutrition.
- Prostate Cancer: Although not nearly as fatal, prostate cancer sits just behind lung cancer as the second most common cancer in males globally8.
While research into the dietary prevention of prostate cancer is ongoing, there is some evidence to suggest that the compound lycopene, which is found in tomato-based products, watermelon, guava, grapefruit and red bell peppers, may have a protective effect9.
- Erectile Dysfunction: Hundreds of millions of men worldwide are affected by erectile dysfunction, also known as ED, each year10.
Having one or more of diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure greatly increases your risk, and since we’ve already discussed the later let’s take a brief moment to talk about diabetes and sexual health11.
About 90% of diabetes cases globally are type 2, which is often milder and occurs later in life than type 1.
As their blood sugar control worsens with time, many people who end up with type 2 diabetes will progress from pre-diabetes before being fully diagnosed.
It’s this high blood sugar levels that damage the sensitive nerve endings of the male reproductive system and increase the risk of ED.
So, what can you do from the dietary perspective to help prevent this from happening to you?
Increase your soluble fiber intake!
Soluble fiber is a specific type of dietary fiber that is particularly good for your blood sugar levels because it slows down the transit of food through your digestive system and extends the amount of time before the food you eat ends up in your bloodstream.
The single greatest source of dietary fiber is the legume family of foods which includes all types of chickpeas, lentils and beans like soy, navy and kidney beans.
As far I am concerned, legumes are the most underrated food for men’s health, period.
On top of this, foods such as broccoli, sweet potato, pears, apples and figs are also a source of soluble fiber.
3. Mental Health and Depression
The increasing popularity and visibility of the "Movember" movement for men’s mental health speaks more to the growing awareness of this issue.
Among the topics covered in this article, mental health and depression are perhaps the most complex.
Although it is only one of a wide range of factors, growing scientific evidence suggests that a healthier diet can support better mental health outcomes12.
In a recent study investigating the effect of dietary improvement on major depressive episodes, dietary modification was compared to the impact of a social support control group12.
The dietary improvements focused on increasing the consumption of the following 12 key food groups: whole-grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods, raw and unsalted nuts, fish, lean red and white meats, eggs and olive oil. The consumption of ‘extra’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried or fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks, were reduced. Alcohol was considered an ‘extra’ item, with up to two standards drinks per day of red or white wine only being permitted12.
The results of the study found that those in the dietary support group demonstrated significantly greater improvement in 12 weeks than the social support control group. This indicates that dietary improvement may provide an effective and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this medically diagnosed, and monitored, mental health condition12.
One of the primary characteristics of this style of eating is that it emphases the inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acid rich fish and extra virgin olive oil more than any other animal products.
Along with the benefits of eating healthier studied above, higher omega-3 fatty acid intakes are regularly linked with protective benefits for mental health conditions including depression and anxiety14,15.
4. Physical Health & Performance
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about physical performance.
Involvement in sport or physical activity in one form or another is not uncommon for many men and when it comes to the nutritional component of this area of men’s health, there is no denying that protein intake is among the most discussed topics.
When it comes to protein though, we have address both the question of quantity and quality.
If you ask public health organizations, they will tell you that the recommended daily allowance for protein intake is 0.8 grams (g) per day per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight.
This means that a man who weights 80kg should consume at least 64g of protein per day (0.8 x 80 = 64).
But if you ask your mate who likes working out, he might tell you that you need 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight.
There’s nearly three-fold difference between those numbers, so what gives?
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Active individuals tend to require between 1.2-1.8g of protein per kg body weight, with those who do more weight/resistance training closer to the upper end of that spectrum16.
So, when I say protein “quality” – what I’m really referring to in this specific case is the benefit to your overall health.
Protein can come from both plant and animal sources and men don’t tend to have much of an issue eating plenty of beef and poultry.
But when it comes to plant-based sources like legumes and nuts and seeds, there is room for improvement.
I can say this confidently because most of the worlds vegans and vegetarians are actually women17.
This gender difference matters because vegans and vegetarians, who consume mostly or exclusively plant-based protein, tend to have a reduced risk of all the big men’s health concerns including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes18.
Now I know what you are thinking – he is trying to convert us into vegetarians.
That’s not the case – I don’t want or need you to become a vegetarian, but I DO want you to try to eat more like one.
That means focusing on altering the ratio of your animal to plant based food intake.
Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is an awesome plant-based protein that can help you get started on that path. Made from European golden peas, it is a complete source of plant-based protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids required for general health.
And with that, I feel as though I’ve left you guys with more than enough food for thought when it comes to nutrition and men’s health.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by today’s discussion, as implementing just a few of the dietary tips mentioned in this article will take you a long way.