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By LifeBridge Health

Medical experts say men are more likely than women to put off regular checkups and make unhealthy choices.

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Whereas early, routine screenings are important to men’s health, so is their diet.

“Optimizing your nutrition is essential to well-being. It is important to start as early as possible, but it is never too late to start,” says Erika Armetta, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian specialist at Northwest Hospital, a LifeBridge Health center.

Here are five foods and nutrients men should make part of their regular diet, and how they can be helpful against some of the most serious conditions affecting men:

Lean meat

Though men tend to load up on it mostly for muscle recovery and growth, protein has many benefits. “Choosing the proper proteins for maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential,” Armetta says.

Meat is a prime source of protein, but it is important to avoid meats high in saturated fat like fatty beef, lamb and pork because they can raise your cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death for men in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Armetta says men should “opt for leaner cuts of meats.” Chicken is a nice choice. Tofu is also a good source of lean protein.

Certain cuts of pork, beef or turkey are OK. “I think it is often recommended that people avoid pork and beef completely because it’s easier than specifying which cuts they should avoid,” Armetta says. “But there are cuts of pork that have less saturated fat, such as the tenderloin, which can be as lean as a skinless chicken breast, and boneless loin roast. Cuts of beef such as the eye of round and sirloin tip also have less saturated fat.”

Armetta adds: “I would recommend trimming any visible solid fat from meats and draining the fat that comes off the meat when cooking to avoid any excess saturated fat that isn’t needed.” The United States Department of Agriculture defines a lean cut of meat as 10 grams of total fat for a 3.5 ounce serving and an extra-lean cut as 5 grams of total fat for a 3.5 ounce serving.

Green leafy vegetables

These veggies are packed with vitamins and minerals—like B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium—that can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure (the CDC says a greater percentage of men [47%] have high blood pressure than women [43%]), heart disease, mental decline and osteoporosis. Although women are at greater risk for osteoporosis, the condition still affects men. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says men older than 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer.

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As far as green leafy vegetables go, spinach, kale and bok choy (a type of Chinese cabbage) are great choices.

Fiber

Eating a diet high in fiber can help with lowering your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, Armetta says. “In addition, fiber helps keep you feeling fuller for longer and in turn helps in maintaining a healthy weight,” she adds.

But fiber can also be good for men’s bowel health. A low-fiber (and high-fat) diet is considered a possible contributor to increased risk of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women (excluding skin cancers) in the United States. The American Cancer Society says that while being overweight increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer in both men and women, the link seems stronger in men.

Lentils (beans and legumes) are rich in fiber. Popcorn also has high fiber content, as does fruit, both of which you can easily munch on for a snack.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 consumption has been associated with reduced inflammation, heart health, lower blood pressure and brain health. “Eating a diet rich in these fatty acids can help memory and learning processes and have been shown to have the potential in slowing age-related mental decline as well as Alzheimer’s disease,” Armetta says.

Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, walnuts, and chia seeds are among the best sources of Omega-3s.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is common. Sun exposure helps to boost vitamin D levels, though older people and people with dark skin have a harder time producing vitamin D from sunlight.

Some studies have associated healthy vitamin D levels with a reduced risk for multiple sclerosis, heart disease and depression. “Vitamin D has shown that it can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis as it helps with the regulation of calcium and phosphorus levels,” Armetta says.

Diets low in vitamin D are common in people who are lactose intolerance or have a milk allergy, as well as those who have adopted an ovo-vegetarian or vegan diet. Egg yolks, fatty fish and fortified milk are high in vitamin D.

Be sure to speak with your doctor about your specific nutritional needs, especially if you are considering taking supplements.

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