Diet and Nutrition
Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits can help you maintain or reduce your weight, be more productive at work, and perform better in sports—as we have seen in part one, “The Healthy Man.” But the most important beneﬁt of a nutritious diet is that it can dramatically reduce your risk of getting the most common chronic diseases affecting American men, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.
Diet has a profound role in preventive medicine and a direct effect on the development of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. To lower your risk of heart disease, doctors recommend consuming a diet with less than 30 percent of its total calories from fat and less than 10 percent of total calories from satu- rated fat. You also need to watch your consumption of cholesterol, consuming no more than an average of 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. On the other hand, foods containing high amounts of soluble ﬁber, such as oat bran and whole barley, can actually lower your blood levels of LDL cholesterol (see page 89), the “bad” cholesterol, without reducing the levels of HDL cholesterol (see page 89), the “good” cholesterol. Sodium, as found in table salt, may raise blood pressure in certain people, but the individual response to a low-salt diet varies. You should check with your doctor to see if you have this type of salt sensitivity.
Reducing your intake of fatty foods is important in preventing heart disease, but eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables also is heart-healthy. Vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidant vitamins (see page 9) and other nutrients that help protect your body from disease. One antioxidant in particular, vitamin E, has been singled out for its beneﬁts to the heart. Vitamin E seems to prevent free- radical damage (see page 9) to LDL cholesterol, a process that has been impli- cated in the fatty buildup known as atherosclerosis on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Be cautious when considering taking high doses of vitamin E, however, because it is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it can be stored in your body’s cells, leading to a potentially dangerous accumulation over time. Doctors agree that the best way to get your vitamin E—and any other vitamin or mineral—is by consuming a variety of foods as part of a balanced, nutritious diet.
Being overweight is a major health problem for many American men. Main- taining your weight within a healthful range (see page 68) is an important way to lower your risk of developing diabetes, because obesity is a major contributor to this disease. If you already have diabetes, the proper diet can help you regulate your blood sugar level. For example, soluble ﬁber (see page 11) has been shown to slow down the digestion of starches, thus helping people with diabetes to avoid the elevation in blood sugar level that often occurs after meals. But you need to work with your doctor to plan an individualized diet that works best for you because some people with diabetes have better results on a diet that is a bit higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates than the diet recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (see page 6).
Medical research shows that eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, as rec- ommended in the Food Guide Pyramid (see page 5), can actually help to prevent the development of cancers of the stomach, prostate, and lung. Cancer of the colon in particular has a strong link to dietary factors. A high consumption of ﬁber-rich foods, such as whole-grain breads and dried beans, combined with a limited consumption of meat (especially high-fat meats), has a strong protective effect against this form of cancer. A high-fat diet also has been implicated in the development of rectal and prostate cancer.
Moderate alcohol consumption (two drinks per day or less) has been linked to a reduction in death from heart disease, but this does not mean that doctors advise that you drink alcohol to reduce your risk of the disease. Alcohol has too many negative effects on health—the potential for addiction, liver damage and disease, an increase in the likelihood of injury or death from accidents—to be recommended as a preventive measure. The best advice is, if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start drinking now. If you do choose to consume alcoholic bever- ages, do so only in moderation, deﬁned in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as two drinks a day or less for men.
Don’t underestimate the health beneﬁts of a nutritious breakfast (see page 7). The ﬁrst meal of the day not only provides the nutrients and energy that your body needs to move and think but also makes you less hungry later in the day. Men who don’t eat breakfast tend to eat more at lunch and dinner, resulting in an overall increase in calorie intake when compared with breakfast eaters. If you are pressed for time, breakfast need not be elaborate; a bagel and piece of fruit, a bowl of cereal, or last night’s leftovers can be enough to fuel your body ade- quately as you begin your day.