Foods to Boost Male Health
Lean Red Meat
If you’re a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy, you’re in luck. Red meat can be good for you, says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, nutritional consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lean cuts of beef and pork are packed with protein and have only a little more fat than chicken breast. Red meat is also one of the best sources of leucine, an amino acid that helps build muscle.
How do the Pittsburgh Steelers soothe sore muscles? Cherry juice. Bonci says she keeps some in their training room at all times. “The pigment in cherries and cherry juice mimics the effects of some anti-inflammatory medicines,” she tells WebMD. “And there are no side effects.”
Chocolate may improve blood flow – if you eat the right kind. Studies suggest the flavanols in dark chocolate may curb levels of bad cholesterol, improve circulation, and keep blood pressure in check. Men with poor blood flow are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction, so heart-wise foods may protect your sex life, too. But too much chocolate can lead to weight gain. Bonci suggests eating one ounce a day in lieu of other sweets.
Shellfish and other types of seafood are rich in zinc, which is critically important for the heart, muscles, and reproductive system. Research has linked zinc deficiency to poor sperm quality and male infertility. If you’re not a seafood fan, beef, turkey, chicken, nuts, and seeds provide excellent alternatives for stocking up on zinc.
Sure, avocado is high in fat – but it’s the “good” kind. The monounsaturated fat found in avocados packs a one-two punch against cholesterol when it replaces saturated or trans fats in your diet. It can knock down levels of total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol (LDL), as long as no more than 25%-35% of your daily calories come from all types of fat. Olive oil and nuts also contain good fats.
Fatty fish, like salmon, herring, sardines, or halibut, are another excellent source of healthy fat. They contain a special type known as omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against heart disease, some cancers, and arthritis. Studies suggest two servings of fatty fish per week can lower your chances of dying from heart disease.
Like cherries, ginger may have anti-inflammatory properties that come in handy when you push yourself too hard. Research suggests eating ginger regularly may help reduce the pain of exercise-related muscle injuries.
Milk and Yogurt
The whey in milk and yogurt is another source of leucine, the muscle-building amino acid. Bonci recommends Greek yogurt. “It has a thicker consistency that men may like better,” she says. It’s also packed with protein, potassium, and friendly bacteria that keep the gut healthy. “Plus, it requires no preparation whatsoever.”
The banana is celebrated for its bounty of potassium — and with good reason. Potassium is critically important in muscle contractions and bone health, Bonci says. It also helps blood pressure. In fact, getting enough potassium may be as important as reducing sodium when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
Nuts provide protein, fiber, and zinc while satisfying the urge for a crunchy, salty snack. Pistachios stand out because they’re higher in plant sterols that can improve cholesterol levels, Bonci says. She recommends eating them from the shell, so you work harder for each one. That will help control how many you eat — otherwise, the calories add up quickly.
A single ounce of Brazil nuts has seven times the recommended daily value of selenium. It was previously thought that selenium might ward off prostate cancer. Unfortunately, a large study by the National Institutes of Health found no such benefit from selenium supplements. Selenium does have other health benefits, though — it may help boost the immune system and promote healthy thyroid function.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a potent antioxidant that may protect against some cancers. Some research suggests that men who eat tomato sauce regularly are less likely to get prostate cancer, but not all studies support this. Bonci says tomatoes are worth your time anyway, because they provide a variety of plant nutrients. Adding salsa to a burrito or tomato sauce to pasta is an easy way to make a meal more nutritious.
Brown rice is another great source of fiber, and it’s easy to dress up with nutritious, colorful food. Try adding lean meat, baby spinach, and pineapple. If you don’t like the texture, mix some white rice in with the brown. There’s good evidence that brown rice and other whole-grain foods can help you maintain a healthy body weight, while reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Vegetables are packed with phytochemicals, plant-based nutrients that boost cell health and protect against cancer. There are many different types of phytochemicals, and the best way to get a variety of them is to eat different colored veggies. “There should be color on your plate at every meal,” Bonci says.
Orange vegetables are an excellent source of beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin C. These nutrients lower your odds of developing an enlarged prostate, according to a large study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Good choices include red bell peppers, carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach, collard greens, and kale can benefit the eyes as well as the prostate. These leafy green vegetables are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. Both nutrients protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, a chronic eye disease that impairs vision.
Baked potatoes are hearty and easy to make. They’re also surprisingly high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that works against free radicals in the body. These normal byproducts of our metabolism become damaging at high levels and are linked to the development of cancer, heart disease, even arthritis. Go easy on the butter, or top with salsa and reduced-fat cheese. Other sources of vitamin C include green peppers, kiwi, and citrus fruits.
Eggs provide lutein, protein, and iron — but you have to eat the whole egg. “Even though the yolk is a source of cholesterol, it has half the protein and most of the flavor,” Bonci says. She recommends cutting back on high-cholesterol sweets to make room for whole eggs in your diet. If you have high cholesterol, ask your doctor if you should limit how many eggs you eat per week.
Fiber may not sound manly, but it’s a performance enhancer, Bonci says. Whether you’re an executive or an athlete, you can’t concentrate on your goals if your gut is acting up. Fiber helps keep your digestive system running smoothly, and it benefits the heart, too. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite cereal – just try mixing in some shredded wheat. “Don’t deprive yourself,” Bonci advises, “but add something good.”
“Berries can help you be on top of your game mentally as well as physically,” Bonci says. They’re loaded with antioxidants that may reduce the risk of various types of cancer. Animal studies suggest blueberries can also enhance memory and brain function. Similar research in people is in its infancy, but looks promising. When fresh berries are expensive or tough to find, try buying them frozen and making a shake.
When you need a pick-me-up, Bonci recommends making a good old-fashioned cup of joe. Research shows it can enhance alertness, and plain coffee has almost no calories. This makes it a far better choice than expensive, high-calorie energy drinks
Focus on the Good Stuff
When making changes to your diet, Bonci suggests adding good foods rather than denying yourself bad ones. As you get used to eating more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, these foods may come to replace some of the less healthy choices. Bonci offers a sports metaphor to sum up the benefits: you’ll play better today and stay in the game longer.