Men's nutrition addresses the dietary requirements of males after they reach adulthood. Nutritional needs change over time due to factors such as aging and physical activity levels.
Men's nutrition focuses on foods that help to promote health and prevent the risk of chronic diseases. A nutritious diet and regular physical activity are part of a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.
As a man ages, changes in the body occur that affect nutritional needs. After age 25, the basal metabolic rate (BMR) begins to decline. Metabolism is the process of the body converting food into energy. When metabolism slows, the body needs fewer calories to function. If calorie intake is not adjusted or if additional calories are not expended through physical activity, the resulting imbalance causes weight gain. Continued weight gain further slows the BMR, reducing overall calorie requirements.
The BMR is based on factors including size and particularly muscle mass. People who are larger or have more muscles use more calories than those who are smaller or have less muscle mass. Muscle mass tends to decline with age—after age 30, muscle mass decline occurs at a rate of 3%–8% or more per decade. This decrease in muscle mass is a factor in BMR decline. Failure to exercise muscles can result in a loss of 30%–40% of muscle strength by the time a person is 65. Muscle loss can be reduced through regular strength training and daily intake of dietary proteins such as lean meat, fish, chicken, or soy products.
Eating a balanced diet promotes wellness and disease prevention. Men may fall short of achieving a healthy diet due to busy work schedules, fear of or disinterest in cooking, and other stresses of daily living. Nutrition is also affected by attitudes, situations, and choices made about diet and physical activity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the top 10 sources of calories for adults in the United States in 2018 were:
The USDA and HHS encourage regular consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and dairy, and whole grains, with foods like desserts, fast food, and soda to be consumed only on occasion.
The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a guide to a nutritionally balanced eating plan. The guidelines are represented by MyPlate, a graphic representation of the general daily recommendations for the five food groups. The graphic is of a plate divided into four sections—on one half are fruits and vegetables and on the other half are grains and proteins. To the side is a small circle representing dairy products.
Some of the MyPlate guidelines include:
Daily calorie requirements depend upon how active a person is, according to the Dietary Guidelines. The USDA provides general calorie recommendations for men based on age and activity level.
Men between the ages of 19 and 30 should consume approximately:
Men between the ages of 31 and 50 should consume approximately:
Men 51 or older should consume:
All dietary calories come from macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Macronutrients are dietary compounds that provide energy. Proteins and carbohydrates contain four calories per gram, and fat contains nine calories per gram. Alcohol is also considered a macronutrient and contains seven calories per gram. Carbohydrates serve as the primary source of fuel for the body. When food is consumed, the sugars and starch in carbohydrates are used (as glucose) for energy. Excess glucose is stored in the muscles as glycogen. If the glycogen reserves are not used, they are converted to fat, resulting in weight gain.
CARBOHYDRATES. Sources of healthy carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Other carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fiber.
Soluble fiber is found in many vegetables and fruits. Other sources include legumes, barley, oats, and oat bran. Soluble fiber helps to slow digestion so that a person feels full for a longer period of time. This sense of fullness, known as satiety, helps with appetite control and weight loss. Soluble fiber also helps to decrease cholesterol levels, which lowers the risk for heart disease. Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables such as green beans, wheat and other grains, and the skins of vegetables and fruits. This fiber, which is known as roughage, helps to prevent constipation.
FATS. Because fats contain more calories than protein or carbohydrates, people should choose healthy fats and consume them in limited amounts. Healthier fats include monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats help to reduce to blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats and trans fats, on the other hand, promote heart disease if consumed in high amounts.
PROTEIN. Protein is the major functional and structural component of every cell in the body. Proteins are composed of amino acids, nine of which cannot be synthesized to meet the body's needs. These amino acids must be obtained from the diet. Food proteins, known as dietary proteins, include meat, eggs, seafood, beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products. The quality of a source of dietary protein depends on its ability to provide the nitrogen and amino acid requirements needed for growth, maintenance, and repair.
ALCOHOL. Men should limit alcoholic consumption to two drinks per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines. Heavy drinking or binge drinking can be hazardous to health. According to the Mayo Clinic, examples of one drink include:
Some studies have indicated that regular alcohol consumption may have health benefits, such as a reduced risk of developing heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, these benefits may only apply to older men or those with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol. For younger and middle-aged men, the risks of regular alcohol consumption (in excess of recommendations) could outweigh any potential benefits.
Alcohol interacts with many medications and can worsen certain medical conditions.
The AI for fiber is 14 grams per 1,000 calories, or 38 grams per day for men. Most people in the United States do not consume enough dietary fiber, and usual intake averages around only 15 grams per day. To meet the recommendations for fiber, men should increase their consumption of beans and peas, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Whole grains can vary in fiber content, so consumers should check the nutrition facts label to find out a product's fiber content.
The Dietary Guidelines identify four nutrients of concern that people in the United States tend to lack, due to low amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and milk products, and seafood in the “typical” American diet. These nutrients are calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and dietary fiber.
CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D. Diets low in calcium and vitamin D may increase the chance of developing osteomalacia and osteoporosis, characterized by weak or brittle bones. Good nutrition and weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, hiking, or climbing stairs, helps to build and maintain bones.
Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk; canned fish with bones, such as salmon and sardines; dark green leafy vegetables; and calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, bread, and cereal. The recommended intake of calcium for men between the ages of 19 and 50 is 1,000 mg per day. Men 71 and older should consume 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
Men can obtain vitamin D in three ways: from sunlight on the skin, from the diet, and from supplements. Experts recommend a daily intake of 600 IU of vitamin D up to age 70. After age 70, men should increase their uptake to 800 IU daily. This can be obtained from supplements or vitamin D-rich foods such as egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk. The Institute of Medicine, which determines the DRIs, recommends no more than 4,000 IU per day for adults. Doctors may prescribe higher doses if people are deficient in vitamin D.
POTASSIUM AND SODIUM. Dietary potassium can help lower blood pressure by reducing the adverse effects of sodium. Other possible benefits of a diet rich in potassium include a reduced risk of developing kidney stones and decreased bone loss. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that U.S. adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. This drops to 1,500 mg per day for people aged 40 or older, people with high blood pressure, and African Americans, who are at higher risk for hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 69% of U.S. adults fall within these categories.
The AI for potassium for adults is 4,700 mg per day. Dietary sources of potassium include bananas, white beans, plain yogurt, baked potatoes, and clams.
Dietary risk factors involved in the cause or prevention of heart disease include dietary antioxidants, fiber, and fat. Antioxidants are non-nutrient compounds in foods that protect the body's cells from damage. They are found in fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber, such as the fiber in oatmeal, helps to lower blood cholesterol levels, whereas cholesterol levels rise in response to diets high in total fat and/or saturated fat. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a risk factor for heart disease, as is hypertension. Weight control, an active lifestyle, and a diet low in salt and fat and high in fruits and vegetables may help to prevent hypertension.
Men should consult with a physician before starting a new diet or exercise program.
An unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are linked to numerous preventable conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Obesity is considered an epidemic in the United States that affects all age groups. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 39% of adults aged 18 and older were obese in 2016, which accounted for more than 650 million people.
Obesity is defined as an abnormal accumulation of body fat. It is usually determined by the body mass index (BMI), a measurement for adults based on height and weight. A BMI of 18.5–24.9 is considered normal weight, 25–29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 or higher is obese.
Another measure of health risk is waist size. Abdominal weight, also known as belly fat, places people at risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. For men, these risks increase when the waist measurement is greater than 40 in. (102 cm).
According to the CDC, 64% of men aged 75 and older have hypertension (high blood pressure) in the United States, and African Americans are at a greater risk. Termed the “silent killer,” hypertension often has no physical symptoms. Men often feel well enough to function normally in their day-to-day lives, and they do not view the risk as a serious one.
Being obese is associated with hypertension, and losing weight often helps to control blood pressure. Additionally, some men are sensitive to sodium. Eating too much salt can cause the body to retain water, resulting in increased blood pressure. Processed foods tend to be high in salt.
Heart disease, or coronary heart disease, is a result of improper function of the heart and blood vessels. There are many forms of heart disease. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is one of the most common. Fat deposits disrupt the flow of blood to the heart muscle, increasing the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men in the United States. According to the American Heart Association (as reported in 2013), more than one in three adult men have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In 2008, 392,210 men died from CVD.
Other risk factors for CVD include being 45 years of age and older, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol), hypertension, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and a family history of heart disease.
The most important thing men should do to prevent heart disease is to quit smoking (if they smoke) and manage their weight. Dietitians recommend including lean protein in the diet—such as white meat chicken, turkey, and sirloin instead of filet mignon. Additionally, eating fatty fish (e.g., salmon or mackerel) twice a week may have a cardioprotective effect. Baking and broiling cooking methods are preferred over deep frying.
In 2015, 15.4 million men in the Unites States (aged 20 or older) had diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. This equated to approximately 11.8% of all men in the United States. Normally, the pancreas makes insulin, the hormone responsible for a cell's uptake of glucose (sugar) from blood for energy. In diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not respond to it correctly. There are two types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, and treatment often includes achieving a healthy weight and engaging in exercise. Sometimes prescription medication is needed, but many people are able to manage their diabetes with diet and weight loss.
Cancer is characterized as aberrant and uncontrolled cell growth. Cells divide more rapidly than normal, and these growths may metastasize (spread to other organs). It affects people of all ages and can attack any organ or tissue of the body. Some cancers are more responsive to treatment, while others seem to appear suddenly and resist treatment.
Much of what is known from nutritional epidemiology supports the role of diet as a means of cancer prevention. A mostly plant-based diet—one high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—is recommended. Men should aim for five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily and eat grains that are high in fiber, such as whole-wheat bread, bran flakes, brown rice, and quinoa.
Apart from diet, the most important thing a man can do to reduce his cancer risk is cease using tobacco products (or never start). Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the United States, claiming over 400,000 lives per year, and it increases the risk for developing cancer. Genetics and environmental sources (such as ultraviolet light) are also linked with cancer.
PROSTATE HEALTH. The prostate is a small gland surrounding the urethra that transports semen. The CDC reported that 164,690 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, and 29,430 men died of prostate cancer. Signs of prostate trouble are weak urine flow and dribbling and incontinence (inability to control urinary bladder). One risk factor for prostate cancer is abdominal obesity.
IMPOTENCE. Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction, occurs when a man cannot maintain an erection to achieve orgasm in sexual intercourse. The National Institutes of Health reports that as many as 30 million men in the United States are affected by erectile dysfunction. In addition, about 4% of men in their 50s and almost 17% of men in their 60s have a total inability to have an erection. For men older than 75, the statistic climbs to 46%.
Many things can prevent normal erection, including psychological interference, neurological problems, abnormal blood flow, and prescription medications. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can also contribute to impotence.
OSTEOPOROSIS. When a man is in his twenties, he continues to build bone density (thickness). Calcium intake during these years will help protect against bone loss later in life. Bone density starts to naturally decrease when a man is in his forties. Bone loss could be accompanied by a loss in bone strength and increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition described as “brittle bones.” Although osteoporosis is generally associated with women, men are also susceptible to osteoporosis, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Men most likely to be diagnosed with this condition are 76 or older and have lost more than 5% of their body weight in the previous four years. Other risk factors include physical inactivity and smoking. For both men and women, a diet rich in calcium and regular weight-bearing exercise is key to bone health.
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D. Milton Stokes
Revised by Liz Swain