Your perfect plate awaits.
You’re wondering what the best foods for men are; what diet you can follow, at any age, to help improve your health and boost how you feel. That makes sense and we’re here to help. What follows is a comprehensive guide to simply that; the foods that should be on your plate, in the proper proportions.
Before you tuck in, a caveat: we realize that everyone – and every body – is different. There’s no one-diet-fits-all solution. You may follow a daily caloric intake that differs from the standard recommendations of 2,500 calories a day for men. You may have health conditions that prohibit you from eating specific foods or certain portions of foods. Age can also be a factor, as your metabolism slows and can’t break down the food as easily as it used to.
We’re presenting guidance assuming a daily 2,500-calorie intake with the intent to educate and inform. You know yourself better than anyone else, so you can best determine how much of our informational menu to follow.
Plan Your Plate
The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate guidelines recommend splitting your plate into four quarters, with each quarter represented by a specific food group: proteins, fruits, vegetables and grains. Depending on your specific dietary needs, health, age or physical activity, you may want to allocate a little more of one, a little less of another. We’ll take a look at the health benefits offered by each food group and make some recommendations as to the best types of food to enjoy within each.
Of the three macronutrients in our body, we’re most partial to protein over fats and carbs. We’d recommend eating that portion of your plate first. A study conducted by researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College found that glucose and insulin levels significantly lower when following an eating sequence of protein first, followed by vegetables and fruit, then grains. (That sequence is especially important for those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.)
You’ll find protein everywhere in your body — bone, muscle, hair, nails, skin — because it’s made up of 20 different amino acids. Some amino acids are made from scratch, some are modified from others, and and nine in particular from what we eat.
According to the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), adults’ daily minimum intake of protein should consist of 0.8 grams for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. Eating an average of 6.5 ounces of lean protein foods in a daily 2,500 calorie diet takes you pretty close to hitting that RDA, and it can offer a ton of health benefits. Studies show that it helps you not only build strength and muscle, but also maintain bone mass even as you age or while you try to lose weight.
When it comes to battling the scales, protein also provides your metabolism with a much-needed lift and aids in burning off those not-so-much-needed calories. Research shows how it keeps ghrelin, aka your hunger hormone, in check while producing other hormones to help you feel full faster. Depending on your intake, protein also contributes to lowering your blood pressure as well as your risk of cardiovascular disease.
What Are the Best Proteins for Men?
You can’t go wrong with lean beef, pork, veal and lamb. Besides offering plenty of protein, they’re Vitamin B- and D-rich, and packed with zinc, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorous, potassium and selenium thiamine. They also contain leucine, an amino acid that’s crucial for building, repairing and maintaining muscle and bone tissue.
The American Heart Association (AMA) recommends two to three servings of fish or seafood a week. Most cold-water fatty fish — including salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout, anchovies and herring — promote both brain and heart health because they’re mineral-stacked and loaded with Omega-3s, polyunsaturated fatty acids that our bodies can’t naturally produce. Two of those Omega-3s — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — are great for boosting and maintaining your cardiovascular health, and research indicates they can be effective in treating mood disorders.
Poultry-wise, opt for skinless chicken, turkey or duck. These most palatable of poultries, while high on protein, vitamins and minerals, edge out red meat because they’re leaner and considerably lower in saturated fat. If you want to keep running lean and mean, white poultry meat is a great way to keep the pounds off.
Meat and fish may not be your thing. Thankfully, there are other protein options. Taking in 3 cups of dairy every day can promote bone health and reduce muscle loss as you grow older. We recommend dairy choices like cheese, yogurt (especially the Greek variety) and low-fat milk, all of which are great sources for complete protein as well as calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamins A, B2 and B12, and D.
You can also find potent protein production in nuts, most of which are the seeds of certain fruits. Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios deliver both high-quality protein and fiber. Brazil nuts provide nearly 10 times the RDA's Daily Value for selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that boosts the metabolism of thyroid hormones while fighting off cell and tissue damage as well as decreasing oxidative stress in your body.
Another sound alternative are legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils. True, they fall under the vegetable category, but they’re plant-based proteins that are lean in total fat while dense in fiber, folate, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and B vitamins. Edamame (or soybeans), chickpeas, lentils, kidney, black, pinto and navy are great go-to beans, all of which can not only help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, but also conceivably cover half of that ideal plate mix you’re striving to achieve.
What Are the Best Fruits and Vegetables for Men?
First, a light primer on this powerhouse duo. There isn’t really too much that separates the two groups aside from their botanical differences: fruits are the plant portion that develop from a seed-containing flower, while vegetables stem from other edible portions of the plant. Some people believe that vegetables are healthier because fruits contain more natural sugar and are therefore more calorie-dense.
Others contend that fruits are more diet-friendly and offer healthier caloric content.
So long as they cover half of your plate, you’re golden. Studies show that the vitamins and antioxidants in produce can help reduce risks in certain cancers. They can also control, if not lower, blood glucose and insulin levels, and they significantly lessen the chances of cardiovascular disease as well as eye and digestive issues. Remember: a higher intake of both food groups can help thwart putting on those unwanted extra pounds, or even assist you in losing weight.
Averaging between 3 and 3.5 cups of vegetables, plus 2 cups of fruits, are the recommended daily amounts in a 2,500-calorie diet. What are the healthiest types of vegetable and fruit to fill those cups? Just about all of them deliver nutritionally.
Why You Should Eat the Rainbow
The colors in produce originate from phytochemicals, also known as phytonutrients (natural plant pigments), that reflect in visible-range light. They help determine vegetables’ antioxidant activity. Perhaps even more interesting, a variation in color between two of the same fruit or vegetable may result in a variance of antioxidants, mineral and vitamin values.
The Best Green Fruits and Vegetables
Green is considered by many to be the gold standard of vegetables. Deriving their hue from the phytochemical chlorophyll, dark green, leafy veggies – including perennial favorites spinach, lettuce and kale – are packed with fiber, folate, potassium, testosterone boosters like boron and magnesium, calcium, iron, and Vitamins A and E. They also have an abundance of Vitamin K, which can effectively combat inflammatory disease and protect against osteoporosis.
Both leafy and cruciferous green vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, arugula and Brussels sprouts) also contain multiple carotenoids, which tend to be more associated with providing the colors for red, yellow and orange produce. Carotenoids, according to studies, can protect cells and act as preventative agents of early-stage cancer. Cruciferous vegetables offer an additional advantage in that they’re rich with glucosinolates,sulfur-containing compounds that are linked to lowering the risk of colorectal and lung cancer.
We haven’t forgotten about vegetables’ emerald peers. Fruits are stacked with many of the same vitamins, potassium, folate, fiber and phytonutrients. Some, like green apples, also contain pectin, a fiber source that helps break down food and promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria. If you’re looking for some healthy fat in your diet, one of your best bets is the avocado. It’s filled with monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFA, which research indicates can reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.
The Best Red Fruits and Vegetables
The color red often signals a warning or high alert. It’s the opposite with regards to vegetables and fruit; they’re welcome additions. Naturally red produce, including kidney beans, cabbage, and bell and chili peppers, can literally be a sight for sore eyes, as they help protect against cataract development and age-related macular degeneration.
Besides being stacked with immune system supporters like Vitamins A and C as well as potassium and folate, these scarlet goods contain the phytonutrients lycopene and anthocyanin. Studies support that as the top carotenoid found in red produce, lycopene has heart-healthy properties that can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disorders. It can also provide some sun protection for your skin and, like we mentioned earlier about carotenoids, it’s effective in reducing the growth of cells that can result in prostate, bone or lung cancer.
Anthocyanins, flavonoid antioxidants found in the likes of red onions, beets and red grapes, offer benefits similar to lycopene. They’ve also known for possessing antibacterial, antidiabetic and anti-inflammatory effects, and studies show that they can effectively combat neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.
If you’re looking for more Vitamin C in your life, we recommend red radishes and grapefruit. The compounds in radishes aid your liver and stomach in detoxifying and healing against damage, plus they help your kidneys flush out toxins. Grapefruit, meanwhile, is arguably the go-to fruit to aid you in weight loss. They also contain the compound furanocoumarins, which one study shows can promote bone health and protect against oxidative stress and tumors.
The Best Orange and Yellow Fruits and Vegetables
Produce that is naturally colored orange and yellow possess many of the same phytochemicals found in their scarlet brethren, including lycopene, flavonoids, Vitamin C and potassium. They also contain carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin (also found in dark green, leafy produce), as well as alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. If the two carotenes and “carotenoid” read a bit like “carrot,” then you have a good eye, since that’s the vegetable where they were first identified. Research shows how all four carotenoids successfully promote eye health, including combatting night blindness and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Alpha- and beta-carotene convert into provitamin A, which is not only good for the eyes, but for also lowering blood pressure, decreasing the risks of certain cancers and heart disease, stimulating your immune system and regulating hormone metabolism. Yellow beets, tomatoes, sweet and yellow-fleshed potatoes, and the always-delicious corn are rich with these nutrients as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. Some dieticians recommend making potatoes and corn part of your grain intake because they’re high in carbohydrate starch. However, they’re high in resistant starch and fiber, both of which, according to researchers, contribute to bone and digestive health as well as contain anticancer and antidiabetic properties.
If you’re looking for produce that offers testosterone support, there are numerous carotenoid-colored options. Citrus fruits like oranges and lemons contain Vitamin C, which is great for blood flow and, according to research, can keep your T levels up by keeping your cortisol levels down. Bananas possess high levels of bromelain, magnesium and potassium, all of which studies show can effectively maintain or boost testosterone levels. Some may think we’re out of our gourds for also recommending pumpkin, but their seeds are teeming with fiber and the mineral zinc. Not only can zinc only modulate normal T levels, but it can also improve your sperm quality and fertility.
The Best Blue and Purple Fruits and Vegetables
Sugary snacks that are colored blue or purple? Sorry, we can’t recommend them. Vegetables that are naturally colored with those same hues? We can’t recommend them enough. Like their reddish cousins, blue and purple produce get their vibrant or dark shades from anthocyanins. Furthermore, they contain an abundance of polyphenols that can help lower blood sugar levels – a particularly vital benefit for those at risk of type 2 diabetes.
The flavonoids can be quite beneficial for vascular function and cognitive behaviors. Blue and purple berries – including blueberries, blackberries, acai berries, elderberries, mulberries and even less “purple” ones like strawberries – are considered “brain food” because studies indicate they can inhibit damage caused by cerebral ischemia and improve brain functions such as memory, learning and problem-solving.
Blue and purple vegetables enjoy just as many fruitful health benefits. In addition to its ability to increase blood flow into the brain and lower blood pressure, eggplant possesses scopoletin, a phytonutrient that researchers point to helping decrease stress and depression. If you prefer to load up on disease-battling antioxidants, purple sweet potatoes and cabbage are your violet-hued victors. The results of one study determined that purple sweet potatoes offered significantly higher concentrations of anthocyanins and phenolic acids in comparison to white potatoes. Another study showed that purple cabbage provided antioxidant levels more than four times higher than those within the green variety.
The Best White Vegetables
Deriving their pale color from the phytochemicals known as anthoxanthins, white fruits and vegetables may appear lacking. Yet they’re vibrant with phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins, and their health-promoting capabilities are bountiful. A population-based Dutch study of more than 20,000 adults reported that throughout a 10-year period, only white produce was linked to a lower risk of stroke. Even more surprising, the risk of stroke incidence for adults with a high intake of white fruits and vegetables was 52 percent lower than adults with a low intake.
Which white produce stands out from the rest of the colorless crowd? Garlic, despite its diminutive size, should be near the top of any list. Often considered more as a flavoring, garlic is dense with calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, thiamin, and Vitamins B and C. Plus, if you crush it, you get allicin, an oily phytonutrient with anti-inflammatory properties that can help combat degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis.
Pomegranates of the white variety are a welcome addition on any plate. Rich in hydrolyzable tannins, pomegranates’ antioxidant activity makes them another valuable ally against inflammatory arthritis. Mushrooms, meanwhile, are a pallid produce that sets the bar for delivering healthy benefits. Research cites that mushrooms are effective not only against inflammation and hypertension, but also at lowering cholesterol and protecting your liver.
How Much Grains Should Men Eat?
Grains are small, dry and hard edible seeds from the Poaceae grass family of flowering plants, called cereals. There are numerous varieties of cereal grains, including rye, barley, millet and sorghum, as well as the most heavily cultivated and consumed cereal crops including maize (corn), wheat, oats and rice. Grains are considered worldwide food staples, meaning they’re a constant component in populations’ daily diets.
Grains are a major source of carbohydrates, which – along with fellow macronutrients proteins and fats – provide energy. In fact, carbs are the primary energy source for your brain and your muscles. Yet, their reported properties have also become a source of controversy.
Not All Grains Are Equal, Nor Bad
A glut of low-carb, gluten-free diets in recent years has convinced many to believe that grains are bad news and should be expelled from your diet. Some of the more prevalent beliefs about grains include that they can adversely raise your blood glucose and insulin levels, and that they can be a source of antinutrients, compounds that can block your body’s absorption of nutrients and promote inflammation, and, lastly, that their carbs are calorie-dense and fattening.
Grains are actually divided into two subgroups: Whole grains and refined grains. And the healthier choice of the two, by far, is whole grains. They’re B vitamin-rich, fiber-heavy and nutrient-fueled, including magnesium, iron, selenium, zinc, manganese and phosphorus. The USDA recommends that whole grains constitute at least one-half of your total grain intake (which, for adult males, ranges between 6 and 8 ounces).
The nutritional value from both subgroups comes down to grains’ anatomy. Whole grains contain the entire grain seed, or grain kernel, which is composed of the bran, the endosperm and the germ. A fiber-filled outer layer, the bran shields the seed and contains B vitamins and trace minerals. The endosperm is the starchy middle layer that supplies the seed with carbohydrates, some B vitamins and protein to create energy. At the core is the germ, which nourishes the seed and is rich with antioxidants, Vitamin E and B vitamins, unsaturated fats and phytochemicals.
The health benefits of whole grains are well documented. A 2016 study published in the BMJ cites that whole grains are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, and premature death. According to a 2020 report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, more than 20 randomized controlled trials showed that substituting refined grains with whole grains can improve cholesterol levels, blood sugar control and inflammation.
And what of the controversy surrounding antinutrients? It’s true that compounds like gluten, tannins, lectins, phytates, oxalates and protease inhibitors protect living plants from bacterial disease. However, there’s some debate that these compounds can also greatly reduce plant foods’ nutritional value, or prevent your body’s absorption of those nutrients.
Not all scientists and medical professionals are ready to swallow such statements, as there isn’t enough empirical evidence. Concrete research does point out, though, that antinutrients like phytates and tannins are more beneficial to your health, because their antioxidant properties prohibit free radicals from causing cell damage in your body.
If you’re concerned that antinutrients in your grains may be more harmful than helpful, there’s an easy way to resolve the problem: You can soak the grains in water overnight, or you can cook them in high heat. (Boiling is your most effective option.) There’s also sprouting and fermentation, but it’s faster and easier to go with one of the first two options.
As for those claims that grains and their carbs result in putting on extra poundage, the same can be stated if you eat too much of any food. Whole grains don’t fatten you up. In fact, a 2007 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that a higher consumption of whole grains in test subjects correlated with a lower body mass index (BMI) and a reduced risk of obesity.
There’s more to holding the carbohydrates in grains accountable for your expanding waist size. You’re better off saving the blame game for the sugar and calories that are more often associated with “indulgent” refined grain sources like pizza, cookies, donuts and other sweet treats, or “staple” refined grains found in white bread and flour, pasta and white rice.
Refined Grains Doesn’t Always Mean Better Grains
When you read or hear the word “refined,” you think “improved,” “perfected” or “enhanced.” That’s the intent of refined grains. However, what makes a grain refined is that it has been processed or milled, meaning the bran and germ have been removed. Only the carb-heavy endosperm remains. That, and a whole bunch of now-empty calories. Doesn’t seem “improved,” does it?
Milling the grain provides some benefits – the grain is more convenient to prepare and easier to digest, and it has a finer texture and longer shelf life. Yet, such refinement is not without consequence; processing also eliminates half to two-thirds of a grain’s most nutritious elements, including its B vitamins, selenium, Vitamin E, iron and dietary fiber.
To address the loss of nutrients, many refined grains are “enriched,” meaning iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid and niacin are added back after processing. Fiber isn’t, however, and no fiber in your grains isn’t good.
The National Academy of Medicine recommends that the daily intake of total fiber should range around 38 grams for adult men under age 50, and 30 grams for males 50 and older. Unfortunately, Americans already average way less than that — between 10 and 15 grams every day. So, if you’re also eating grains or other foods that are low in fiber, you may increase your chances of constipation, weight gain and heart disease, and reduce your protection against colorectal cancer.
Ultimately, the satisfaction these grains provide is as temporary as that full feeling in your stomach. Refined foods are so easy to digest that your blood sugar levels spike up fast, then crash down just as quickly, leaving your body to think it’s hungry again. Before you know it, that rollercoaster-like rush of fullness and energy you felt is over, and you find yourself reaching for another piece of bread.
What Are the Best Whole Grains for Men?
You can’t go wrong with any whole grain; their minerals and vitamins make them nutrient powerhouses. Still, we’ll pick our top six favorites and point out some of the health benefits that each provides.
Oats: Ranking high on the list of popular whole grains, oats are a gluten-free option filled with antioxidants and nutrients, including a super-soluble dietary fiber called beta-glucan. This particular fiber is known for delivering where it matters most and can reduce your LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Teff: Another gluten-free cereal grain, teff (or tef) is an ancient crop that contains the highest iron and calcium among other cereals, meaning it’s great for boosting your circulation and promoting bone development and protection, respectively. It’s also a terrific source for all amino acids, most notably lysine, which can reduce both hypertensive individuals’ blood pressure and your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Barley: This grain is at its wholesome best when it’s hulled, meaning only its tough, inedible outer husk is removed. (Pearl barley is more common and quicker to cook with, but its bran layer has also been removed, making it less nutritious and no longer a whole grain.) A half-cup of the hulled grain contains almost your entire recommended daily allowance (RDA) of the trace mineral manganese and nearly half your daily allowance of Vitamin B1 (thiamine), both of which are significant contributors in effectively regulating your glucose metabolism.
Freekeh: Native to the eastern Mediterranean and parts of North Africa, freekeh is roasted durum wheat that’s harvested while the grain is young and green. While free of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, the grain is stacked with high quality protein, fiber calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. It’s also loaded with the trace mineral zinc, which studies have established helps enable men to produce testosterone and is essential for male fertility. Further research indicates that zinc can also be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction.
Corn: Hold up, isn’t this a vegetable? Corn (or maize) fits the definition of one. However, corn kernels — you know, the stuff that popcorn is made from — in their full form contain the germ, bran and endosperm. Couple that with the fact that it’s the most cultivated and consumed food staple on Earth, and you’re looking at whole grain royalty here. You can also see that in addition to being dense with essential minerals as well as B vitamins and Vitamin C, corn is rich with lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that studies have visibly shown can help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Rice: All rice starts out as a whole grain, but you’ll want to stick with the varieties that aren’t refined, like white rice. Therefore, we recommend you go with wild or brown rice, based on your personal preference and health goals. Cooked wild rice (which okay, technically, it’s actually a marsh grass rather than a grain) has the edge in that it has 30 percent fewer calories and 40 percent more protein than its brown-colored peer, and it’s the clear winner when it comes to disease-curtailing antioxidants. (It contains more than 30 times greater activity than white rice.) However, if you’re more into improving bone development and metabolic function, you’ll want to go with the brown rice, which offers six times the manganese as wild rice.
Remember, there are a plethora of other whole grains for you to choose from, including wheat, rye, millet, farro, sorghum and bulgur (or cracked wheat). There are also “pseudo cereals” — plants which produce seeds or fruits that are consumed as grains — like amaranth, wattleseed, buckwheat and everybody’s favorite superfood, quinoa. Each of these grains is distinct with their own set and varying degrees of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. All, however, are healthy options that deserve a spot on your plate. (Just not all of them in one sitting, okay?)
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