Men manage many priorities in life, many of which revolve around the care of family and others. But, in doing so, they often overlook their own health. Let’s be honest, packing a healthy lunch or making a doctor’s appointment is often not high on the priority list.
In fact, men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year, but they are 28 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for congestive heart failure and 32 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for long-term complications of diabetes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
With numbers like those, it’s obvious that men have some unique health needs. And with them comes unique nutrition needs, says Refaat Hegazi, MD, PhD, a physician scientist at Abbott. “Nutrition is key in helping men of all ages live healthier, fuller lives,” he says.
Here are five ways men can meet their unique nutrition and health needs through the years.
1. Pump Up Your Protein
Not the bodybuilding type? That’s OK. Protein promotes muscle growth and overall health no matter your fitness goals—from running races to playing tag with your children and grandchildren, says Hegazi, noting that after age 40, men may lose up to 8 percent of their muscle mass per decade.
“Dietary protein is the most important factor in preventing and reversing the excessive loss of lean muscle mass as we age,” he says. To get the most out of muscle-preserving nutrients, reach for supplemental HMB. Short for “beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate,” HMB is a protein-related compound that encourages your muscles to use the protein you eat more efficiently. If you are working out, HMB can help decrease muscle breakdown and fuel the process of rebuilding new muscle. Also, as you get older things like surgery, illness and bed rest can exaggerate muscle loss. A 2013 Abbott-supported study shows that HMB can help older adults prevent muscle loss when on periods of bed rest lasting up to 10 days.
To improve your nutrition in the name of healthier muscles, Hegazi recommends reaching for complete protein sources including fish, lean meats, eggs and dairy. You can also get both protein and HMB through nutritional supplementation such as Ensure Max Protein.
2. Get More Vitamins C and E
Heart disease is the number-one disease affecting men—and all genetics aside, you have a lot of control over your risk, Hegazi says.
Chronic inflammation—which is largely determined by our eating habits—is one of the primary factors in the development of heart disease. According to a 2015 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition, consuming healthful nutrients, including vitamins C and E (two of the most potent antioxidants), can help lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress to help reduce wear and tear on your coronary arteries, Hegazi says.
Reach for foods that are high in vitamins C and E, such as walnuts, oranges, grapefruit and leafy greens and talk to your doctor about your specific heart health needs, he says.
3. Enjoy a Healthy Seafood Habit
Get your fish on: The omega-3 fatty acids naturally found in that fillet of salmon on your plate is critical in helping reduce inflammation that has been linked to obesity, dementia, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A Harvard Medical School meta-analysis shows that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent. Impressive, no?
To cut your heart disease risk, the American Heart Association recommends eating two fish-based meals per week. Opt for fish with deep-colored flesh including salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and bluefish. And, for now at least, stick to the real deal rather than trying fish oil supplements.
4. Ease Up on the Refined Carbs
Trading in refined carbs and opting for more whole grains is key for managing weight, reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes and even supporting brain function.
Hegazi explains that insulin resistance, which results in excess sugar in the blood, may increase the brain’s levels of inflammation and potentially contribute to the injury of blood vessels within the brain, he says. Damage to those blood vessels is an important contributor to cognitive loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
To help lower risks, Hegazi recommends reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates from processed foods and sugary beverages. Whenever possible, make your carbohydrates whole ones, from sources including fruits, vegetables and whole grains including whole-wheat bread and quinoa.
5. Check Your Vitamin D Levels
Aptly named the “sunshine vitamin,” the majority of our vitamin D intake is produced in our bodies in response to sunlight exposure, especially in the mid-day hours of 11 am to 3 pm. However, in people who live at extreme latitudes or just don’t spend much time outside, consuming an array of vitamin D-rich foods including fortified milk, fatty fish and egg yolks is vital to maintaining optimum health.
“Vitamin D aids in both muscle and bone health to keep you strong through the years,” Hegazi says. However, up to 41.6 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, according to research published in Nutrition Research, and deficiency prevalence may be even higher in the elderly.
If you are 65 or older and have a history of falls or mobility problems, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends talking to your doctor to have your levels tested and find out if you need to take a vitamin D supplement.