When it comes to health, women seem to be doing better. In addition to having a shorter life expectancy, men between the ages of 45-54 are twice as likely to have heart disease, rising to three times as likely for the over-55s. Prostate cancer is now the third most prevalent cancer, yet a 2016 survey found that 50 per cent of adult men didn’t know where their prostate gland was. Traditionally, men haven’t been especially good at engaging with health messaging, even when its pertinent to us, and that unfairly places the onus on the women in our lives to step up. Given that women make 80 per cent of the health decisions for their families, it’s time for us to pay more attention to the simplest and most accessible way to improve our health – our diets.
But before you feel obliged to reach for a kale smoothie or eschew your favourite foods, here are five key changes all men can easily make to their diets…
Up your fibre
Fibre is one of the unspoken heroes of good nutrition, perhaps in part because it feels old-fashioned. Fibre has several important roles, including reducing cholesterol, helping manage weight, appetite, energy levels and reducing the risk of colon cancer. An adult man requires some 30g of fibre a day, but it seems that on average we get less than 18g. Fibre is found in grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. You can find 3.3g of fibre in 100g of cooked broccoli, while the same amount of brown rice has 1.8g, cooked quinoa 2.8g and spinach 2.4g. Eating the white fluffy part of a baked potato can provide 1.3g per 100g; having the skin too increases that to 2.9g.
Look after your prostate
Seventeen per cent of British men know absolutely nothing about their prostate gland, while half don’t know where it is and 92 per cent don’t have a clue what it does. Roughly one-third of men will have an enlarged prostate by the age of 50, while 90 per cent of 80-year-olds will have the condition. The good news is that a healthy diet will provide several nutrients that can reduce the risk of developing an enlarged prostate and mitigate many of the associated symptoms. Three of the most important of these nutrients are vitamin C, lutein and beta- carotene (both carotenoids), which are found in high concentrations in foods such as carrots, cherries, spinach, melon, egg yolk and sweet potato.
Don’t take your bones for granted
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones lose tissue, which in turn makes them more brittle. This is widely but erroneously viewed as a “women’s issue”, and although women are more prone to the condition during middle age, men are not immune to it – it affects one in five men. Our bone density starts to deteriorate around the age of 35, so it’s important to ensure that your diet contains sufficient quantities of several key nutrients that keep bones healthy.
Most people are well aware that calcium is essential for the maintenance of healthy bones. If you are over 55, you should aim to consume at least 1,200mg of calcium each day (20 per cent more than you need earlier in life). A supplement may help you achieve this, although the better option is to meet all of your requirements through the food you eat, which, in this case, is perfectly feasible. In addition, many of the calcium-rich foods are good sources of vitamin D (also essential to maintain bone density), so they are doubly beneficial. Calcium-rich foods aren’t all dairy and include sardines (460mg per 100g), kidney beans, spinach and almonds.
Reduce your salt intake
It seems that middle-aged men are less aware of the dangers of high blood pressure, which may be one reason why more men than women have hypertension. Salt is implicated, and as men generally have more salt than women, we need to rein it in. The maximum is 6g daily, and as a slice of bread can have 0.5g as can a slice of ham, 2.5g in a serving of fish pie and 0.4g in a small serving of peanuts, it’s easy to get to 6g without adding your own. Avoiding processed foods helps cut down on intake and using lemon juice and herbs to flavour food is a smart way to stop adding extra salt to what you eat.
Consume more zzzs
It’s more important than you think. Studies suggest that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to maintain optimum health. What you eat may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about sleep duration and quality, but several nutrients have a significant influence on both. Magnesium promotes healthy sleep because, amongst other things, it encourages muscle relaxation – try any green vegetable (they get their distinctive colour from chlorophyll, which is a good source of magnesium) or spinach, brown rice, nuts and lentils. Try keeping a sleep diary for a week or two. Changes to the diet or even taking supplements may not reap rewards immediately and so keeping a note of how you sleep, be that duration and quality, can help track improvements. You should be looking for quality of sleep, how refreshed you feel and how long you stay awake when you do wake in the night.
Man Food: The No-Nonsense Guide To Improving Your Health And Energy In Your 40s And Beyond by Ian Marber (Piatkus, £13.99) is out now.
Author: Ian Marber