Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., former Nutritional Sciences Specialist, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension
Neckties may be a popular Father’s Day gift, but wouldn’t it be nice to give Dad the gift of a long, healthy life? In honor of Father’s Day, here are some of the most important foods for protecting men’s health.
- Tomatoes. Tomatoes contain a variety of compounds which offer protection against prostate cancer — the leading cause of cancer deaths in men, after lung cancer. The powerful antioxidant lycopene is one compound that has received the most media attention. But researchers at the University of Illinois say that tomatoes’ health benefits are the result of more than a single compound, once again proving that it’s often better to get nutrients as part of a complex mix from foods rather than as single isolated compounds in pill form. Researchers at Harvard University found that men who eat at least 10 servings a week of tomato-based foods sharply reduce their risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene is most easily absorbed from cooked tomato products, so enjoy ample servings of tomato juice, sauce, ketchup and salsa.
- Soy. Most meat-and-potato-eating men turn their noses up at tofu. However, adding a little soy to Dad’s diet might be worthwhile because of it’s heart- and prostate-protecting effects. About 25 grams of soy protein a day can lower cholesterol levels by 5 to 6 percent. Soy may also help keep blood vessels more flexible. Mark Messina, a soy expert at Loma Linda University in California, believes in soy’s ability to help in the fight against prostate cancer. Messina explains that in Asian countries men traditionally eat a diet rich in soy and their incidence of prostate cancer is significantly less than American men. Tofu isn’t the only source of soy. In fact, soy nuts are one of the tastiest and easiest ways to get beneficial soy compounds into your diet. Soy nuts are available in most grocery stores and you can buy them roasted, salted and flavored. Just one-fourth of a cup delivers 12 grams of heart-protecting soy protein as well as a variety of compounds called “isoflavones” which appear to deliver prostate protection. Your best bet is to eat soy foods (in moderation) rather than taking concentrated supplements.
- Nuts. Nuts are high in fat and calories, but they also deliver a powerful dose of prevention against heart disease — the number one killer of American men. The naturally occurring fat in nuts is mostly unsaturated. Plus, nuts are rich in fiber, protein, vitamin E and an assortment of trace minerals such as copper, zinc, magnesium and selenium.
- Orange juice. Orange juice is our number one source of folate, one of the B vitamins that appears to offer a wide range of protection against heart disease and colon cancer. Reach for a glass of 100% juice instead of a soft drink.
- Dairy. Men with high blood pressure are at greater risk for stroke and heart disease. Weight loss, physical activity and a low-sodium or salt-restricted diet is most commonly prescribed. However, research shows that diets rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products give additional benefit. Low-fat milk products that are fortified with vitamin D are best because vitamin D may also help protect against prostate cancer. Our best sources of vitamin D are sunlight, fatty fish and fortified milk. On the other hand, questions have been raised about dairy products and risk for prostate cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) believes that at this point in time, “we can neither prove nor dismiss the possible link between milk and prostate cancer. More research needs to be done before any changes are made to dietary recommendations for dairy products.” Fat and total calorie intake also affect prostate cancer risk. Because of milk’s excellent nutrient content and known health benefits, AICR advises men to include dairy foods in the diet, but not excessively. Adult males up to age 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day. Men over the age of 70 need 1,200 milligrams.
- Fish. Certain varieties of fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This particular kind of fat offers protection against death from heart attack. There is also evidence that these fatty acids may help reduce risk of prostate cancer. Try to eat two fish meals per week.
- Vegetables. Men who eat lots of vegetables, especially those in the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale) have significantly lower rates of prostate cancer. Vegetables and other plant-based foods, including whole grains and beans or legumes, also offer protection against heart disease and colon cancer. Eat a variety of vegetables to ensure the best range of protective components, including powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Remember, Dads, food is just one component of a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity is also key in preventing a wide range of illnesses. Be aware of your family’s history of specific diseases and schedule regular check-ups and health screenings accordingly. Children need their fathers, so celebrate your health and take care of yourself and you’ll set a good example for your children in the process.