Men: Eat Right, Stay Healthy

Last Updated July 2022 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

Men, are you paying attention to your health? Compared to your female counterparts, you’re more likely to smoke and drink, make unhealthy choices, and put off regular medical checkups and care. But you need to pay just as close attention to your lifestyle as women do.

One of the most important aspects of your lifestyle is what you put on your plate. Good nutrition is critical for good health. According to MyPlate.gov, eating well not only gives your body the nutrients it needs. It also helps keep weight under control and reduces your risk of chronic disease, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Colon, kidney, liver and gallbladder cancers
  • Osteoarthritis

Are you overweight?

Doctors use several measurements to determine whether or not your weight is in a healthy range. One is called the body mass index (BMI). Plug your height and weight into an online BMI calculator.

  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range.
  • If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the normal, healthy weight range.
  • If your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, it falls within the overweight range.
  • If you BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obese range.

You can also use waist and hip measurements to calculate body fat. To correctly measure waist circumference:

  • Stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones.
  • Make sure the tape is horizontal around your waist.
  • Keep the tape is snug around your waist, but don’t compress the skin.
  • Breathe out and take the measurement.

If your waist circumference is more than 40 inches, you could be at a higher risk for developing the health conditions mentioned above.

The easiest way to eat healthy is to follow MyPlate’s three simple steps:

  • Meet nutritional needs primarily from foods and beverages.
  • Choose a variety of options from each food group.
  • Pay attention to portion size.

Path to improved health

You may think what you eat doesn’t matter that much. Or that whatever is lacking in your diet, you can make up with vitamin and mineral supplements. But a growing body of scientific evidence shows that nutrients work best in combination. That means it’s not one food or nutrient that prevents disease and results in a healthier life. It’s the interaction among different foods, and the cumulative effect the foods have on your body that helps.

In other words, one single nutrient isn’t the key to good health. It’s your overall eating pattern that matters.

So, what do you need to eat in order to stay healthy?

First, estimate how many calories you should eat each day. The number will vary, depending on your age, weight, activity level, and whether you’re trying to gain, maintain, or lose weight. Your doctor can help you determine this number. MyPlate has several ways to make this easy, including the Start Simple with MyPlate app, MyPlate on Alexa, and MyPlate Print Materials. These and other mobile apps have calorie intake and metabolism estimators. These can help determine your calorie requirements.

Now that you know how much you should eat, what should you be eating to fill that calorie need? Your daily diet should include:

  • A variety of all vegetable subgroups. Those include dark, green (spinach, lettuce), red and orange (peppers), legumes (beans, peas), starchy (corn), and others. Eat your vegetables fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Choose low-salt varieties when buying frozen and canned.
  • Fruits, at least half of which are whole fruits. These include fresh, canned, frozen, and dried. Fruit juices are okay, but they lack fiber, so your body quickly converts them to sugar. Drinking too many can also add calories. Choose 100% fruit juice without added sugars.
  • Whole grains. This includes grains by themselves, like rice, oatmeal, and popcorn. It also includes foods that contain grains like breads and cereals. At least half of your grains should come from whole grains. Limit the amount of refined grains and products made with refined grains. Foods like cookies, cakes and certain snack foods have been processed to remove the bran and germ. This also removes dietary fiber, iron, and other nutrients.
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products. These include milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy beverages. Don’t include other “milks” made from plants (like almond, rice, or coconut milk) in this group.
  • Protein foods. You should eat a variety in nutrient-dense forms. Incorporate foods from both animal and plant sources. These include seafood, meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy products. Legumes (beans and peas) go in this group as well as in the vegetables group.
  • Health oils. They should have a high percentage of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They also should be liquid at room temperature. These include avocado, canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils. Oils are also naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados.

Things to consider

Your daily diet should limit:

  • Added sugars, including syrups and other caloric sweeteners. These include brown sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and honey. They should make up less than 10% of your calories per day. An added note: Replacing added sugars with high-intensity sweeteners (like saccharin or aspartame may reduce your calorie intake in the short run. However, data hasn’t proven that using these fake sugars helps in overall weight management.
  • Saturated fats. Strong scientific data shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated, especially polyunsaturated fats, is associated with reduced blood levels of total cholesterol and of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). It’s also associated with a reduced risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease-related deaths. Foods high in saturated fats include red meat, poultry with skin, and dairy products such as cream, butter, and cheese. Saturated fats should make up no more than 10% of your calories per day.
  • Trans fats. These are artificial fats created by a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. They’re found in margarines, certain snacks foods (like frozen pizza and microwave popcorn), and prepared desserts. A number of studies have shown an association between increased intake of trans fats and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, trans fats should be limited to as few as possible. You should consume less than 2,300 mg per day. If you have high blood pressure, you might benefit from lowering your intake to 1,500 mg per day. Americans are currently averaging more than 3,400 mg per day.
  • If you drink, do it in moderation. That means up to two drinks a day for men up to age 64 and one drink a day for men older than that. One drink would be 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of standard 80-proof liquor. The risk of various types of cancer, such as liver cancer, appears increase with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you’ve been drinking.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What’s a healthy weight for me?
  • Should I cut back on salt?
  • Should I be taking any dietary supplements?
  • How will losing weight help my condition?
  • How much weight do I need to lose before I see a benefit?
  • Are there any foods I should avoid because of my condition?
  • Are there any foods I can add to my diet to help my condition?

Resources

National Institutes of Health: Calories Needed Each Day

U.S. Department of Agriculture, MyPlate: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025