When it comes to eating right, men can make a lot of wrong decisions. I’ve spent a good stretch of my life blissfully uneducated about men’s health and nutrition, and making questionable choices.
I’m not proud of this, but I’ve:
- Gone long periods without consciously eating fruits or vegetables. I believe it was the 1990s.
- Eaten things on a dare. Enough said.
- Read the list of “non-food” ingredients in a bag of chips, and still devoured the entire thing.
- Taken a cab through the White Castle drive thru at 3 a.m.
- Passionately argued the merits of bacon as a superfood.
But now I’m older, hopefully wiser, and trying to make smarter calls on what, when, and how much I eat. In recognition of Men’s Health Month, I talked to registered dietitian John Rickards to get some expert advice about men’s nutrition and clarify some of the misconceptions surrounding “manly” eating habits.
IBX: Why do you think we associate unhealthy eating with manliness?
Rickards: I think guys are less health conscious because they don’t want to show that they care about their health or what they look like.
IBX: What else do you think contributes to the “man food” culture, besides the joy of gluttony?
Rickards: Historically, men were the hunters; the providers. And this culture has been reinforced by upbringing and probably marketing. Male vegetarians used to be unheard of, but a lot of guys are breaking that mold to be healthier.
IBX: Dietary standards dating back to the 1970s told us that fats were evil. It started the whole “low fat” food industry. Why do you think that seems to be changing?
Rickards: We’ve learned a lot since then. Not all fats are bad. Unsaturated fat is considered good fat — it’s what you get from healthy oils, fish, avocado, eggs, and dark chocolate. Trans fat, or partially or fully hydrogenated oil, is something you should really avoid.
IBX: My old college roommate used to ask people if he could eat the fat that they trimmed from their steak. Was he ahead of his time?
Rickards: Some saturated fat from meats, poultry, dairy, and junk food is okay in moderation. But, your friend was no nutritional visionary. I suspect that the animal fat craze that has led to the popularity of paleo and high protein diets will phase out over time in favor of more balanced diets.
IBX: Is there a way to determine how much is too much of whatever I’m eating?
Rickards: I subscribe to the fullness scale. Eat until you feel content, and try not to shovel it in. Take your time. If you eat too fast you can actually take in too many calories before your body realizes it.
IBX: What about serving sizes? I grew up in the era that glorified Brontosaurus burgers and super-sizing. There’s even a study that says men eat more when trying to impress women.
Rickards: Portion sizes are important. As far as single-portion guidelines, a protein should be about the size of your palm. A veggie or starch about the size of your fist.
IBX: Does the old standby of three squares a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — still apply?
Rickards: I recommend building a meal plan around your schedule. If your meals are spaced more than four hours apart, work in a snack. A snack should be substantial enough to carry you over to the next meal, so you’re not too hungry and you don’t wind up over-eating.
IBX: The FDA now requires chain restaurants to provide nutrition info. If I have to read before I eat, what should I be looking for on food labels?
Rickards: When reading nutrition labels, focus on quality calories. For instance, nuts are high in calories, but also include fiber, healthy fats, and protein. And watch your sodium. Sodium is an electrolyte that causes your body to retain water. Also look for the amount of sugar. New nutrition labels will include added sugar.
IBX: Sugar… tell me more. Sorry, that sounded weird. I wasn’t referring to you as “sugar.”
Rickards: Added sugar is what’s thrown in on top of naturally occurring sugars that you might find in fruit or carbs. A teaspoon of sugar is four grams. You really shouldn’t have more than six to nine teaspoons per day. Sugar turns into stored fat in your body, particularly if you’re not active. Which is why sugar is a culprit for a number of health concerns including obesity, high triglycerides, and diabetes.
IBX: Not including bacon, can you name three superfoods that men should be eating.
Rickards: Chia seeds, cacao, and blueberries are three superfoods I’d recommend.
IBX: You mean, Cha-cha-cha chia?
Rickards: Yes, same seeds. They’re high in zinc and Omega 3s. Meat-and- potato guys lack Omega 3s. You can sprinkle them on a salad or mix them in with your oatmeal. Chia seeds are good for the prostate and help with regularity.
IBX: Thank you for that, um… prostate and regularity reference. Other superfoods?
Rickards: Cacao is raw chocolate, and it’s the most antioxidant-rich food in the world. High in fiber, it comes in nibs and powder. Great stuff to mix into a smoothie. And number three… blueberries. They’re rich in antioxidants, high in fiber, and are among the lowest sugar fruits. They also help with circulation. Oh, and bacon is not really a superfood.
IBX: Granted. Bacon is more like a miracle food.*
IBX: Some studies have shown that red meat is brain food. Can we ruminate on that?
Rickards: Meat does include nutrients that support overall well-being, like vitamin B12, but not all red meat is created equal. There are different categories and cuts of meat. Ground meat can be fatty and you can’t always be sure what’s in it. If you’re going to eat red meat get a lean cut, like a sirloin filet, or flank steak. Also, what an animal eats affects the quality of the meat. If you’re going to have a steak, I’d recommend grass-fed beef.
IBX: I hear that. I like to know that my beef was humanely treated, and preferably home-schooled.
IBX: Men love to grill anything, because… you know, fire and stuff. Is grilling always a good option?
Rickards: Grilling is a lean way to cook since the fat burns off, and you don’t have to use oil. But open flames can produce char on meats, which can be carcinogenic.
IBX: Great, now my grill causes cancer.
IBX: Eggs: Scrambled, over easy, or Rocky-style?
Rickards: There is cholesterol in egg yolk, but half of the protein and almost all of the vitamins in eggs comes from the yolk. The latest research shows that eggs don’t actually contribute to high cholesterol. But I wouldn’t recommend chugging your eggs. Raw eggs can make you sick if they have salmonella. I personally prefer scrambled. No disrespect to Rocky.
IBX: Any last thoughts on men’s diet and nutrition?
Rickards: Just that everyone is different. Men and women have different dietary needs, but there are no gender-specific foods. Your diet should be tailored to you and your goals. Don’t feed into the stereotypes. Try different foods. There are good tasting, healthy options out there. And salads are not “girly.”
IBX: Thanks John. I think that’s a wrap… perhaps a veggie wrap?
Hey men, you (may) need counseling.
If you’re looking for customized diet and nutrition advice with an expert, schedule a meeting with a nutritionist or registered dietitian. After just two visits, John assessed my eating habits, and provided some sound advice to make smarter eating decisions. He is helping me address my dietary needs related to being a type 2 diabetic.
If you’re an IBX member, chances are you’re covered for six free visits with a registered dietitian each year. Check to see if your plan covers nutrition counseling. To find a participating registered dietitian, primary care provider, or another network provider who offers nutrition counseling, search our Provider Finder Tool or call 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583).
*Disclaimer: There is no scientific evidence (yet) that bacon is a miracle food.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.