The health needs and challenges for women and men are quite similar, yet differences show up as we age! Many of the chronic diseases we develop over time are predominantly lifestyle induced. And while food availability (or lack thereof) plays a role in the consumption of healthy food options, awareness, education, and creativity are helpful when working to incorporate more healthy choices into our daily diet. Various studies report that only 9% of adults consume a sufficient number of servings of vegetables (based on their age, weight, and health goals), with intake rates reported lower in men, specifically, than the general population. The standard American diet, which is made up of mostly protein and starchy/sweet carbohydrates, coming from fast food and/or processed sources has become the norm – as have the growing numbers of chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, and diabetes) and premature deaths attributed to them. We can all benefit from enjoying more vegetables (learn how and why to color your summer with veggies here), but as a start to Men’s Health Month in June, let’s look at the specific benefits for men to eat more of the rainbow, as well as more relevant strategies to make it happen!
Modifying the daily diet can generate profound improvements in overall health. The combination approach of adding more nutrients, water, phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc from an increased number of vegetables AND the reduced consumption of saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients from processed foods is a powerful duo. A man’s “base number” for a recommended daily number of vegetables is five, and that recommendation stems from a 2,000 calorie diet. If one consumes more calories because of health needs (activity levels, weight management, etc.), the amount of servings also increases in order to supply adequate nutrition for optimal function and disease prevention. A few vegetables in particular are highlighted as “superfoods” for men in relation to the chronic diseases they are more likely to develop:
Consuming a healthy diet pattern that includes leafy greens most days of the week has been linked to a variety of health benefits for men, including but not limited to, better cognitive function, improved eye health, and a more consistently sized prostate when aging. Leafy greens, like spinach, also help with healthy blood flow.
The beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin C may also help lower the risk of developing an enlarged prostate. Examples of excellent sources include red bell peppers, carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
This versatile vegetable can get a bad rap as they do not have the lowest carb count, but when cooked correctly and consumed as recommended, potatoes are a powerhouse source of potassium (more than a banana), vitamin C, and fiber (for digestive benefits). Men have been shown to experience lulls in their energy levels when focusing on low-carb diets and avoiding potatoes. A healthy alternative to French fries or a baked potato with all the added condiments on top is simple and tasty roasted potato wedges. Lightly cover wedges (including the potato skin) with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook according to your air fryer’s instructions.
Men, these are just a few examples of veggies that support your health. The important thing to remember is color and variety, an excellent tip as you and your loved ones create an action plan for incorporating more vegetables into your daily dietary lifestyle. Additional ideas include:
- Make it a family affair. Quite often when adults “go on a health journey,” the path to achieve one’s goals and the goals themselves are beneficial for not just the adult striving for them but for the whole family. Setting a goal to eat more vegetables is a healthy goal for everyone! How can you and those in your household, immediate family, or inner circle do this together?
- Utilize the 1-2-3 approach. Add one serving to breakfast, two to lunch, and three for dinner. Depending on your current eating habits, that may seem a bit much. It can be an “end-game” goal, however, especially if you are starting at one serving per day total. Any SMART goal we create for our health best serves us when we work towards it progressively. For example, if you currently consume one serving of veggies a day, why not add one additional serving to that particular meal/snack OR add one serving to a different meal/snack! Maybe focus on a 1-1-1 lifestyle (one serving in each meal) then add on. Create a plan that works best for where you are and where you want to be!
- Make vegetables an unavoidable part of the meal. Stir fries, egg roll bowls, whole grain pasta already mixed in a vegetable-based sauce, veggie risottos, etc all mix vegetables into the dish itself, making it practically impossible for one to push them aside and still have enough food to satisfy their hunger. What type of foods do you already eat that are made this way? Can you add more veggies to the mix?
- Lead with vegetables. While our culture typically encourages building a meal around meat, what would happen with your variety, flavors, etc if you led with veggies? Consider what flavor sounds most enticing and work off that inspiration. For example, what is your favorite vegetable? How do you like it best flavored? When you think of that food and that flavor, is there another vegetable that comes to mind? Now consider the protein… what kind of protein will complement the flavors and vegetables you already have in mind? This is also a great activity for families to get children involved in the meal planning process, which can by itself entice them to eat more colorful vegetables!
Just remember that one step at a time, one vegetable at a time, one day at a time leads to consistency, progress, and new habits! Habits from which everyone, including the men in our lives, can benefit!