Men, do you know which diseases pose the biggest threats to your health? Heart disease and cancer — specifically lung, colon, and prostate — are the top killers of men in the United States. Reducing your risk for these diseases is within your control. Don’t wait for severe chest pain, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or an elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level to get your attention. Here’s a plan to tune up your diet in three easy steps and take that target off your back.
Step 1: Eat More Plant-Based and Fewer Animal-Based Foods
A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables contains natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help lower your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. They can also slow down the disease process. For example, men diagnosed with prostate cancer who added one serving of fish or tomato sauce daily had a 50% lower risk of their cancer progressing. Adding just two servings a week lowered the risk of progression by about 20%.
Two large Harvard-based studies of over 124,000 people showed that those who ate foods rich in carotenoids, such as carrots and tomato products reduced their risk of lung cancer by 32%. The link between red meat and heart disease is familiar to many. Now there’s also a cancer connection:
- In a large U.S. study, men who eat at least 1.2 ounces of processed meat a day over the long term were 50% more likely to develop colon cancer, compared with those who ate the lowest amounts.
- Men who eat more than 6 ounces of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) a day have a 60% higher risk of metastatic prostate cancer than men who eat less than 2.5 ounces a day.
What can you do? Eat 5 to 10 (1/2 cup) servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Choose varieties of different colors — green romaine, orange sweet potatoes, black beans, yellow corn, purple grapes, red watermelon, or white onions — to get the full range of health benefits.
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Step 2: Choose Whole Grains in Place of Refined Carbohydrates and Sugars
Highly processed carbohydrates and sugars are stripped of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. An excessive intake of these foods leads to high insulin levels in the blood. This condition appears to be a growth factor for cancer cells, particularly when combined with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Choose grain products (bread, cereals, crackers) that list “100% whole grain” on the package label.
- Try brown rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, millet, oatmeal, and bulgur in place of white rice and pasta.
- Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily.
Step 3: Be Savvy with Your Supplements
- Don’t exceed 1,500 mg/day of calcium from foods and supplements.
Numerous studies have revealed a link between calcium and dairy intake and prostate cancer. Men with calcium intakes above 1,500 mg/day have a 2- to 2.5 -fold increase in advanced and fatal prostate cancer, compared with men who consume only 500 to 750 mg/day. High calcium intake lowers blood levels of vitamin D.
- Take a vitamin D supplement.
A form called cholecalciferol is best: 600 to 800 IU daily. Low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with higher rates of several cancers including cancers of the:
- Take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement that contains at least 400 mcg folic acid and increases your intake of folic acid-rich foods.
Folic acid is a vitamin found in dark leafy greens, kidney beans, soybeans, soy nuts, oranges, asparagus, broccoli and fortified cereals. This nutrient lower blood levels of homocysteine, a chemical marker for heart disease risk. Low folic acid levels are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, especially in people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Avoid high-dose zinc supplements.
Compared with nonusers, men who take more than 100 mg/day of supplemental zinc have more than double the risk of advanced prostate cancer. Zinc from food sources, however, is not associated with prostate cancer risk.
- Increase your intake of omega 3-rich fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and bluefish.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, walnuts, and flaxseed decrease inflammation, reduce the risk of fatal heart disease and lower triglyceride levels. They also may help protect against arthritis, depression, and dementia. (Men should avoid flax oil supplements, however, which are linked to increased risk of prostate cancer.) If you take a fish oil supplement, I recommend a dose of 500 to 1,000 mg EPA/DHA daily.
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- Get your antioxidants — vitamins C and E, selenium, beta-carotene and other nutrients you won’t find in a pill — from fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains.
Overall, the collective results from 38 studies fail to show a benefit of vitamin C and E supplements in cancer prevention and treatment. Studies on vitamin E and prevention of heart disease have also shown scant evidence of a protective role. Beta-carotene supplements increase the risk of lung cancer and death in smokers. More research is in progress to test the effectiveness of vitamin E and selenium supplements in prostate cancer prevention.
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Don’t Forget These Keys to Your Disease-Prevention Plan
- Get moving.
Moderate exercise lowers the risk of colon and prostate cancers and heart disease. It also helps prevent diabetes, obesity, stroke and hip fracture. Male doctors and dentists age 65 and older who exercised vigorously for at least three hours weekly had a 70% lower risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer, according to one study. The American Cancer Society and other health organizations suggest at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 5 days a week. There is growing evidence that physical activity may decrease the risk for recurrence among some cancers.
- Weight control really matters!
Obesity can shorten your life and put you at risk of developing heart disease and some types of cancer. Obesity is measured using a scale called a body mass index, or BMI, which is calculated using your weight and height. As a man’s BMI climbs above the normal range (19-25), his risk of dying of colon, esophageal, kidney, liver, leukemia, and several other cancers rises. And once an overweight man is diagnosed with prostate cancer, he’s more likely to die or have advanced disease, compared with a normal-weight man. Furthermore, having a “beer belly” appears to be a strong predictor of colon cancer risk: A waist size of 40 inches or more doubles your risk of colon cancer. Add a sedentary lifestyle to that and your risk is 3 to 4 times higher.
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