It’s not only how much you eat, but what you eat … and drink
It can be difficult to keep on top of nutritional guidelines. Further, while men and women often share similar concerns when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, dietary recommendations don’t always apply across the sexes. However, guidelines provide encouragement and advice for following healthier eating habits. It’s left to each of us to pick and choose.
Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases its Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Katherine McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, recommends paying particular attention to four areas from the guidelines:
- Vary your food choices. Adopt a varied eating pattern; try different foods from different cultures. Variety exposes one to an assortment of micronutrients, including a broad array of minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron and selenium, as well as key vitamins. Micronutrients, in turn, work individually and together to help protect against heart disease, increase bone health and maintain smooth functioning of many of the body’s systems. Men over 50 years require certain amounts of micronutrients daily; however, their diets do not meet these requirements. In fact, the USDA reports that only seven percent of older men receive the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D. The key is to expand one’s palate to different foods, according to McManus. Focus on nutrient-dense foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, but mix it up. For instance, try a different colored fruit or vegetable each week, she suggests. Experiment. Even go meatless for one or two meals each week!
- Rethink fats. Whereas previous guidelines recommended that men limit their fat intake to 30 percent of their total calories, the current thinking is that it’s less important how much fat they consume, and more important what types of fat they consume. McManus still recommends limiting saturated fats, such as those found in red meat. At the same time, though, they should not avoid healthier fats, such as monounsaturated (e.g., olive oil, canola, peanut oil and nut fats) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g., safflower, sunflower and soybean oils), including omega-3s (e.g., found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardine, as well as in walnuts). Healthy fats protect against heart disease and may improve cognitive function as well, she points out.
- Curb those sweets! The current guidelines are clear: Everyone should cap his sugar at 10 percent of his total calories. On average, men consume about 12 percent of their calories as sugar – most of it coming from such drinks as soft drinks, flavored coffee and energy/sports drinks, as well as cookies, candy and cake. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends that men should have no more than nine teaspoons – or 36 grams – of sugar each day; however, a 16-ounce cola has 41 grams of sugar.
- Cut sodium – not potassium. While it’s important for many men to limit their sodium intake to protect against high blood pressure, the USDA notes that less than 3 percent of men get adequate potassium. Potassium aids in the function of healthy cells, and low amounts can cause muscle weakness and irregular heartbeats, according to McManus. Potassium-rich foods include cantaloupe, honeydew and kiwi, as well as such vegetables as winter squash, broccoli, tomatoes and most greens.
There are no single nutrients or vitamins designed to make women healthy, according to Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. But together, certain food types can dramatically reduce their risk for heart disease. The consensus is that women should eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, vegetables oils, beans, nuts and seeds. At the same time, they should consume less whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods, red meat, processed meats, highly refined and processed grains and sugars, and sugary drinks.
And, they should drink more water! An online study (The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, February 22, 2016) examined the dietary habits of over 18,000 adults. The findings: Those who increased their daily intake of plain water reduced their total daily calorie intake as well as their consumption of saturated fat, sugar, sodium and cholesterol. According to University of Illinois researcher Dr. Ruopeng An, “Water helps increase feelings of satiety, which can help avoid overeating, as well as replace high-calorie beverages that have added sugar.”
In other research, a team of German researchers analyzed data from over 90,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), who were between 50 and 79 years when they entered the study. Participants completed the WHI Food Frequency questionnaire at the onset, and each one’s diet was identified as being most similar to the Mediterranean Diet, the Healthy Eating Index 2010, the Al-ternate Healthy Eating Index 2010 and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. During a median follow-up time of 15.9 years, women whose diets most closely paralleled the Mediterranean Diet (e.g., vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, vegetable oils and some fish or poultry) had marginally lower risk for hip fractures compared to those who adhered to healthy other diets.
Source: Harvard Medical Publication, Harvard Medical School.