THE U.S. Department of Agriculture released its Dietary Guidelines for Americans — advice to encourage healthier eating patterns based on the latest nutritional science — every five years, says the April 2016 issue of the Harvard Medical School Harvard Men’s Health Watch.
Katherine McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says, “While there is a lot of nutritional information out there, the guidelines are the foundation for many government food programs, and many men can benefit from their recommendations.”
Four areas from the latest release are offered:
• Vary your food choices — The suggestion to adopt a varied eating pattern is a very important overall message — “Mix it up on a regular basis, whether it is a Mediterranean-inspired diet or Vegetarian, and try different foods from different cultures,” says McManus.
Variety exposes you to an assortment of micronutrients — a broad array of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and selenium, and the key vitamins, which work both alone and together to a) help protect against heart disease; b) increase bone health; and c) keep many of your body’s systems running smoothly.
The USDA reported that only 7% of older men get the recommended daily amount of calcium and Vitamin D — the diet of individuals over age 50 make it tough to meet the daily minimum requirements of micronutrients they need.
• What to do — “One way to broaden your exposure to micronutrients is by expanding your palate to different foods,” says McManus.
To broaden your choices: a) Focus on nutrient-dense foods, like fruits and vegetables; b) Instead of routinely buying the same few types, challenge yourself to try a different color (red, green, orange and yellow) fruit each week; c) Buy seasonal produce and shop at farmer’s markets; and Experiment with different types of cuisine — go vegetarian one day or meatless for one or two meals per week, or make a simple soup or stew with beans and spices or herbs that have a Caribbean or Latin American flavor.
• Take a fresh look at fat — While previous guidelines suggested adults limit their daily intake of fat to no more than 30% of total calories, that concept now has changed to focus more on the types of fat you consume — “Men should still eat less saturated fat, like that found in red and processed meat. But do not avoid the healthier kinds, such as monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3s,” says McManus.
Healthy fat protects against heart disease and may also improve cognitive function, as research suggest.
• What to do — Great sources of monounsaturated fats include olive, canola and peanut oils; nut butters and nuts like almonds, pecans, pistachios and cashews; and olives and avocados.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in safflower, sunflower and soybean oils; while omega-3s are abundant in fatty fish, like salmon, tuna and sardines, as well as in walnuts.
• Go sour on added sugar — The biggest message from the guidelines probably is to curb excess sugar — it recommends that everyone, including older adults, cap their daily sugar intake at 10% of their total calories (on average, men consume about 12% of their calories as sugar, based on most recent data).
Most added sugar comes from sugar-sweetened beverages — such as soft drinks, flavored coffee and tea, and energy and sports drinks — and from feel-good foods like candy, cookies and cakes.
The sugar in these foods and drinks can easily add up if you’re not careful — in fact, the American Heart Association says a man should have no more than nine teaspoons of sugar a day, or 36 grams, but one 16-ounce coca cola has 41 grams of sugar.
According to a study in the Nov. 3, 2015 issue of Heart, drinking too many sugary drinks of any kind may increase your heart failure risk — among 42,000 men ages 45 to 79, those who consumed two or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily were 23% more likely to develop heart failure compared with those who did not drink any.
(Diet soda with artificial sweeteners may not be a healthier option — initial studies on rats raised a possible link to bladder cancer but no subsequent studies on humans have confirmed this.)
• What to do — While McManus sees nothing wrong with the occasional sweet, she says, “Focus on moderation. Choose your high sugar foods and drinks carefully, limit the amount you consume, and make a point not to have them every day.”
Or else, switch out your favorite sugary drinks for water flavored with slices of lemon, lime, or orange, and stick to plain coffee and tea with no sugar or sweetener.
• Cut sodium, but not potassium — While many individuals should continue to monitor their salt (sodium) intake to protect against high blood pressure, the USDA noted that less than 3% of older men get enough potassium — “Potassium is needed for the healthy function of cells, and low amounts in people can cause muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat,” says McManus.
• What to do — Good sources of potassium include fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew and kiwi, and from vegetables such as winter squash, broccoli, tomatoes, and most greens, concludes the health letter.