It’s easy ignore the tell-tale signs that your health isn’t where it should be but dietitian Joel Feren explains – man-to-man – why you need to start paying attention.
I believe a man’s most important asset is not his bank balance or CV, but his body. However, men often don’t behave as if it is. We tend to take a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude towards our health and body. But, that approach is just not working.
Here’s the deal: too many men are dying from conditions that are largely preventable. So, let’s talk about men’s health. It’s a topic we tend to shy away from, but our lives depend on it!
Why your health matters
It’s clear there are some gender imbalances when it comes to health. For example, more men than women die from heart disease, lung cancer and suicide. The good news is many of the conditions men suffer from disproportionately are related to lifestyle and diet, which men can change.
High saturated fat and salt intake, inadequate fibre consumption and drinking too much booze increases your risk of heart disease and other nasties. But don’t despair, blokes, you don’t have to deprive yourself of your favourite foods. It’s simply a matter of getting the balance right. There’s certainly no need to cut out sugar, fat, dairy, carbs, gluten or the occasional brew, nor to turn to supplements, liquid diets or South American herbal tonics.
You’ll just have to eat more fruit and veges and minimise your intake of ‘extras’ such as chips, doughnuts, sausage rolls and pies.
The following five steps will help you improve your overall health, lose excess weight and ensure your most important asset is in tip-top shape.
1 Enjoy your vegetables
There are no big secrets here. Veges are good for you – really good.
They come with a raft of nutrients, antioxidants and fibre. Yet 43 per cent of New Zealand men and 34 per cent of women do not eat at least three vegetable serves on a daily basis. And three is a very low bar. Poor vegetable intake is clearly not just an issue confined to men.
Studies show people who eat more vegetables have a lower risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, and are also more likely to be a healthier weight.
So, how can men boost our vege intake? Start by teaming up your morning eggs with spinach, baked beans or a side of roast tomatoes.
Tomatoes contain a compound called lycopene that is strongly associated with a reduced risk for prostate cancer. And, if you’re having a cheese toastie or omelette for breakfast, include a few mushrooms.
Remember to bulk up your lunchtime sandwiches with different-coloured salad veges such as tomato, carrot, rocket, capsicum or beetroot.
Include a few serves of veges with your evening roast (yes, roast spuds count!), barbecue, fish or chicken stir-fry. And, when you’re peckish, try snacking on roasted chickpeas – the perfect alternative to chips or pretzels.
2 Cut back on booze
At a hefty 29 kilojoules (7 calories) per gram, alcohol is runner-up only to fat in the ‘kilojoules per gram’ stakes.
They don’t call it a beer belly for nothing. You don’t have to abstain from alcohol altogether, but it pays to play it smart. Aim for a maximum of three standard drinks per session on no more than five nights a week, with at least two alcohol-free days per week.
Any further reductions will be a bonus. When you do drink, you might consider including a non-alcoholic spacer between hard drinks to cut your overall alcohol and kilojoule intake. Your liver, waistline and hip-pocket will love you for it.
3 Go with the grain
Whole grains are mighty nutrition powerhouses packed with protein and fibre plus plenty of essential vitamins and minerals. People who regularly eat whole grains as part of their diet are more likely to have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure rates and are less likely to develop diabetes and certain cancers. The high fibre content of these grains can help you keep your weight in check by increasing your stomach’s feeling of fullness.
Whole grains tick almost every nutrition box, with B vitamins, vitamin E, folate and low-GI carbs for sustaining energy, plus iron and fibre. Choose from whole wheat, rye, barley, bulgar, quinoa, brown rice and oats.
To boost wholegrain intake, swap the refined versions for brown rice, wholemeal pasta, grainy bread and wholegrain cereals.
5 What’s up, doc?
You don’t ‘wait and see’ if your car’s oil leak will resolve itself. Yet most men don’t have a maintenance schedule for our bodies to ensure they’re in tip-top working order. Too often, we wait until it’s too late or the damage has been done before we see the GP. Heart disease, diabetes and some cancers can often be picked up in their early stages when treatment is almost always more effective.
Gentlemen, just like that other piece of machinery in our garage, we need to take care of our servicing and maintenance. Maintaining our health doesn’t have to be onerous, but it’s critical. A regular service and top-up with the right kind of fuel can have a profound effect – on our cars and our bodies.
Turning 40? Time to book a check-up with your GP.
4 Make fibre your friend
Fibre has been shown to reduce risk of chronic diseases as well as certain cancers. People with a higher intake of cereal fibres have a reduced risk of premature death from chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.
Fibre also plays an important role in gut health, but men typically fall well short of the recommended intake. Make fibre your friend. It’s the kind of mate who will always have your back – and truly love your guts.
Weight loss after 40
Juggling career and family responsibilities can make it difficult to prioritise healthy eating and exercise. But don’t despair. If you make time to move your body, you’ll help keep a healthy weight and improve mood, bowel health and overall well-being. Get moving as often as you can – playing beach cricket, footy with the kids or even pumping weights at the gym. Whatever floats your boat – just do it!
Fit + fertile
Trying for a baby? It’s not just women who need to make dietary changes to boost fertility. Nutrition is vital for dads-to-be so, blokes, you need to be careful what you eat during this important time, too. Prioritise fresh fruit and veges, nuts and omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.