Scour the aisles of any supermarket and you might get the sense that the only diet concern men should have is getting protein for muscle building. But for guys at any age, the reasons for eating well go far beyond bulking up. As you confront new challenges to your health with each decade, specific dietary tweaks can help you thrive. Focusing on these diet strategies can help men—millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers, and beyond—eat healthy for life.
In Your 20s and 30s
Proceed with caution when it comes to protein drinks. Young men are the main users of protein drinks, with 63 percent of those ages 18 to 34 consuming them, according to the market research group Mintel. Protein drinks may cause you to pack on the pounds. “Any extra protein is a source of energy that can contribute to fat gain,” says Kris Clark, R.D.N., Ph.D., director of sports nutrition at Penn State University. Not to mention the sugars and resulting calories. For example, Odwalla’s Original Super Protein drink packs 350 calories and 56 grams of sugars per bottle.
The recommended daily protein intake is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. A man who strength trains a few times per week needs 0.5 to 0.6 grams per pound, Clarks says. That means 64 to 103 grams per day for a 175-pound man.
You don’t need protein drinks to get there. Have a cup of oatmeal with sliced almonds, a hardboiled egg, a turkey sandwich with cheese, a cup of lentil soup, 4 ounces of salmon, a sweet potato, and five spears of broccoli, and you’re up to 93 grams.
Choose organic produce before you reproduce. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits is always a wise move for your health in general. But if you’re having the big baby discussion, you may want to go for organics.
Men who ate large amounts of produce that researchers would classify, based on government data, as having a high level of pesticide residues (like spinach, strawberries, and peppers, according to the study) had 49 percent lower sperm count and fewer normal sperm than those who ate produce with lower levels of pesticides. That’s according to 2015 research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published in the journal Human Reproduction.
Because eating more low-pesticide produce seems to be beneficial, researchers say that bumping up your consumption of organically grown fruits and vegetables (or those grown with minimal pesticides) is the way to go. An easy and cost-effective way to bring more organics into rotation at your house is to join an organic CSA, or community supported agriculture program, so you’ll get weekly shipments of produce. Go to localharvest.org to find one in your area.
Make a date with your doc. Close to half of all men don’t go for annual physicals, according to a 2016 survey by the Cleveland Clinic of those ages 18 and older. Stopping by your doc for a checkup doesn’t make you a better eater, but doing so may give you the opportunity to set some diet-related goals for long-term health based on what you find out from test results. Just don’t let the conversation begin and end there. “I recommend patients make an appointment with a registered dietitian or certified nutritionist,” says Orly Avitzur, M.D., M.B.A., medical director at Consumer Reports. “He or she can spend time helping you develop strategies that will target specific health needs and work for your lifestyle.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticscan help you find one in your area.
Back off of energy drinks. The most typical users of energy drinks are men between the ages of 18 to 34, according to the market research firm Packaged Facts. If you’re chugging these caffeinated beverages to power through long days at work and still make it to the gym or to a bar, you may want to consider dialing it back.
Caffeine in excess can cause anxiety, irritability, and an irregular heartbeat. The Food and Drug Administration says 600 mg of caffeine per day is too much; up to 400 mg per day can be part of a healthy diet for adults, according to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Also of concern is that previous research has linked energy drinks with heart-health issues.
In Your 40s and 50s
Think pink (and red). Prostate cancer isn’t all that common in men in their 40s. After age 50, however, the risk rises, according to the American Cancer Society. Guava, watermelon, tomatoes, and pink grapefruit are all good sources of the antioxidant lycopene, which researchers say may contribute to a decreased risk of the disease. But the top providers of the nutrient may surprise you. “The best sources of lycopene are processed tomato products such as spaghetti sauce and tomato juice,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads Consumer Reports’ food-testing lab. The reason is twofold: Water lost through the cooking process concentrates the nutrient and may also cause the lycopene to become more bioavailable. Eating plenty of these foods in the context of a varied, colorful diet—the American Cancer Society recommends 2½ cups of produce per day—is a smart strategy for cancer prevention and overall health.
Keep your drinking moderate. Nearly three-quarters of men in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are many approaches you can take to keeping the pounds off, but one factor that can be easily overlooked is alcohol intake. “Calories from alcohol count,” Siegel says. People generally don’t compensate by eating less when they’re drinking; alcohol may actually stimulate food intake, according to an article published in the journal Current Obesity Reports.
Got gout? DASH your diet. Gout, a type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood, is more likely to occur in men than women, particularly between the ages of 40 and 50. Men age 40 and older who ate a heart-healthy DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which includes lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and low sodium) had a 22 percent lower risk of developing gout over a span of 26 years compared with those eating a Western-style diet (more red meat, refined grains, salt, and sugar). That’s according to 2017 research analyzing data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study published in the BMJ.
Shake off some salt. Chances are, you’re taking in too much sodium, particularly if you eat out a lot or rely on packaged foods. More than 70 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from these foods, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Circulation. Sodium has a greater effect on blood pressure in people ages 50 and older, African-Americans, and those with diabetes, kidney disease, or pre-existing high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. To blunt any possible impact, keep your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day—ideally 1,500 mg—and look out for the top six sources of sodium in the U.S. diet—bread, cold cuts, pizza, soup, sandwiches, and poultry.
Move toward plant protein. Does a plate of barbecued ribs or a big steak seem like a particularly guy-friendly meal to you? You’re not alone: Men tend to view meat eating as a masculine habit, according to a 2012 study in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Men are also are more likely than women to be meat eaters. They report consuming more beef, chicken, and pork and fewer vegetarian meals. This tendency may be setting you up for health problems down the road. When researchers from Bellarmine University in Kentucky tracked more than 6,000 adults over age 50, they found that those who ate a diet rich in animal protein—including meat and dairy—were four times more likely to die of cancer than those who ate a lower-protein diet, or a diet in which the protein came from plant sources like beans. Other research has linked a more plant-based diet with a decreased risk of high blood pressure and obesity, among other benefits. Try plant foods like black beans, lentils, and tofu in familiar settings, like tacos or soup, to mix it up without making too drastic a change.