August 2015 Issue

How to Protect Against the Top 4 Men’s Health Concerns

Use your diet to fight heart disease, cognitive decline, prostate cancer, and muscle loss, the major menís health issues.

Your dinner plate can work for you, or against you. While chronic diseases may feel random or inevitable, it’s increasingly clear that what you eat can play a role in reducing or promoting disease. Here are EN’s tips on how to fight disease with your fork.

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1. Heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death for men in the U.S., reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two key risk factors—high blood pressure and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol—can be mitigated with exercise and a diet that emphasizes produce and whole grains, includes low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical plant oils and nuts, and limits refined carbohydrates and red meat. To reduce blood pressure, consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, advises the American Heart Association. Also, limit added sugar. A 2014 study found that people who got 17-21 percent of their total calories from added sugar were nearly 40 percent more likely to die from heart disease than those who got only around 8 percent of their total calories from sugar.

Takeaway tips:

- “Include a vegetable and fruit with every meal and snack,” recommends nutrition consultant Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD.

- To help improve blood vessel function, consume foods that are high in antioxidants, such as wine (up to 2 servings per day for men), tea, and berries.

- Eat at least two servings of fish per week, advises Mohr.

- Enjoy dark chocolate that hasn’t been Dutch-processed (treated with an alkalizing agent to make it more mild,) which can reduce antioxidants by up to 90 percent, says a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2. Brain health. Brain decline is not an inevitable part of aging. While five million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, many people experience only a gradual drop in cognitive function, and many millions more exhibit little to no cognitive decline. So, how can you eat to protect the brain from degeneration?

“Successful agers are much more common in cultures that do not consume the Western diet,” says Robert Krikorian, PhD, professor at University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. The Western diet—the typical way most Americans eat—is high in refined grains and saturated fat. In contrast, the Mediterranean diet—rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil—appears to promote brain health. One study showed that people who were moderately diligent in following the Mediterranean diet slashed their risk of Alzheimer’s nearly in half.

Takeaway tips:

- Follow a plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean diet.

- Have oily fish a few times per week, says Mohr.

- Include walnuts, cocoa, and fruits and vegetables, such as berries and Concord grapes in your diet, “which have been shown to mitigate risk for late life cognitive decline to some extent,” says Krikorian.

3. Prostate health. Prostate cancer affects nearly one in seven men, and treatment can result in side effects such as urinary incontinence, bowel urgency, and sexual dysfunction, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Diet plays a role in prostate cancer development. In a nine-year study that followed 180,000 men, those eating the most red and processed meat had an increased risk of prostate cancer versus those who ate the least amount. Researchers also noticed an increased risk of prostate cancer with grilled and barbecued meats, which are likely to develop carcinogens. In a 2013 study, carcinogens linked to prostate cancer were also found in deep-fried foods. The ACS reports that EGCG, the most abundant antioxidant in green tea, and lycopene, an antioxidant and natural pigment found in some red and pink produce, may suppress prostate cancer growth.

Takeaway tips:

- “Eat one food daily that is high in lycopene, such as tomatoes or watermelon,” says Jim White, RD, ACSM, spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Add healthy fat like olive oil or avocado to increase absorption.

- Follow a plant-based diet, which includes five or more servings of vegetables and fruit a day, whole grains instead of refined grains, and limited amounts of red and processed meat, per the ACS.

- Limit grilled and barbecued meat and fried foods.

4. Muscle strength and function. Without strength training and proper nutrition, men can lose up to half of their muscle mass by age 70, leaving them frail and injury-prone. These changes in body composition form the basis of metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension, which result in an increased incidence of cardiovascular death, reports a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Prevent or reverse this scenario by doing resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, and eating enough calories and protein to fuel muscles. A 2013 study showed the effectiveness of progressive resistance training—using free weights, machines or bands, and gradually increasing resistance as strength improves.

Takeaway tips:

Aim to get 20-30 grams of protein at each meal, recommends Mohr, and eat protein-rich snacks. White suggests lean meat, such as “chicken breasts, fish, and at least 96 percent lean turkey or beef,” and Mohr suggests quality sources, such as cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, whole eggs, and tofu.

Choose unprocessed carbohydrates at each meal for lasting energy, like oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, recommends White.