If you're a steak-and-potatoes guy, you're in luck. Red meat can be good for you, says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, a dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lean cuts of beef and pork are packed with protein and have only a little more fat than chicken breast. Red meat is also a good source of leucine, an amino acid that helps build muscle.
How do the Pittsburgh Steelers soothe sore muscles? Cherry juice. Bonci says she keeps some in their training room at all times. "The pigment in cherries and cherry juice mimics the effects of some anti-inflammatory medicines," says Bonci. "And there are no side effects."
Chocolate may improve blood flow if you eat the right kind.The flavanols in dark chocolate may curb levels of bad cholesterol, improve circulation, and keep blood pressure in check. Men with poor blood flow are more likely to have erection problems, so heart-wise foods may protect your sex life, too. But too much chocolate can lead to weight gain. Enjoy 1 ounce a day instead of other sweets.
Shellfish and other types of seafood are rich in zinc, which is critically important for the heart, muscles, and reproductive system. Zinc levels below normal are linked to poor sperm quality and male infertility. Not fond of seafood? Beef, turkey, chicken, nuts, and seeds offer a healthy dose of zinc, too.
Sure, this creamy fruit is high in fat, but it's the good kind. The monounsaturated fat in avocados packs a one-two punch against cholesterol. It can knock down total cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol (LDL), too. The trick is to use a "mono" fat instead of saturated or trans fats. And eat no more than 25%-35% of all your calories from fat. Olive oil and nuts also contain good fats.
Fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and halibut are another excellent source of healthy fat. They have a special type known as omega-3 fatty acids. These protect against heart disease, the top killer of men in the U. S. Two servings of fatty fish a week can lower your chances of dying from heart disease.
Slices of this spicy root are often served with sushi or grated into an Asian stir-fry. Health-wise, ginger may help calm inflammation in the body -- which can come in handy when you push yourself too hard. Eating ginger regularly may help reduce the pain of exercise-related muscle injuries.
Milk and Yogurt
The whey in milk and yogurt is another source of leucine, a muscle-building amino acid. Bonci recommends Greek yogurt, with a thick, creamy taste that men may like better. It's also packed with protein, potassium, and friendly bacteria that keep the gut healthy. "Plus, it requires no preparation whatsoever."
The banana is celebrated for its bounty of potassium -- and with good reason. Potassium is critical for muscle contractions and bone health. It also helps blood pressure. Getting enough potassium may be as important as eating less sodium when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
Nuts provide protein, fiber, and zinc while satisfying the urge for a crunchy, salty snack. Pistachios are a stand out -- higher in plant sterols that can improve cholesterol levels. Eat them from the shell, so you work harder for each one. It's a fun way to snack and keeps you from gobbling up too many calories too quickly.
A single ounce of Brazil nuts has seven times the daily value of selenium. This mineral boosts the immune system and helps the thyroid gland.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a substance that may protect against some cancers. Some research suggests that men who eat tomato sauce regularly are less likely to get prostate cancer, but not all studies support this. Tomatoes have many other plant nutrients, too, that support good health. Adding salsa to a burrito or tomato sauce to pasta is an easy way to make a meal more nutritious.
The food that offers the best protection against prostate cancer may be soy. That's the finding from a study of 40 nations. Tofu, miso soup, and soy milk are all delicious ways to eat more soy. In Asian countries, people eat up to 90 times more soy foods than Americans eat. And prostate cancer is far less common in those countries.
Vegetables are packed with phytochemicals, nutrients that boost cell health and protect against cancer. There are many different phytochemicals, and the best way to get a variety of them is to eat different colored veggies. "There should be color on your plate at every meal," Bonci says.
Orange vegetables are an excellent source of beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin C. These nutrients may lower your odds of developing an enlarged prostate, according to a large study. Good choices include red bell peppers, carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach, collard greens, and kale can help the eyes as well as the prostate. These leafy green vegetables have plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin. Both nutrients protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that impairs vision.
Eggs provide lutein, protein, and iron, but you have to eat the whole egg. One yolk, with 185 mg of cholesterol, fits into the 300 mg daily limit for healthy people. You might also cut back on high-cholesterol sweets to make room for whole eggs in your diet. If you have high cholesterol, ask your doctor if you should limit how many eggs you eat per week.
Fiber may not sound manly, but it can be a performance enhancer. Executive or athlete, you can't focus on your goals if your gut is acting up. Fiber keeps you full longer and helps your digestive system run smoothly. This doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite cereal -- just try mixing in some shredded wheat. "Don't deprive yourself," Bonci advises, "but add something good."
Brown rice is another great source of fiber, and it's easy to dress up with tasty, colorful food. Try adding lean meat, baby spinach, and pineapple. If you don't like the texture, mix some white rice with the brown. Brown rice and other whole grains can help you stay at a healthy weight and lower your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
"Berries can help you be on top of your game mentally as well as physically," Bonci says. They're loaded with antioxidants that may help lower the risk of cancer. Animal studies suggest blueberries can also enhance memory and thinking. Similar research in people is in its infancy, but looks promising. When fresh berries are expensive or tough to find, try buying them frozen and making a shake.
When you need a pick-me-up, Bonci recommends making a good old-fashioned cup of joe. Research shows it can make you more alert, and plain coffee has almost no calories. This makes it a far better choice than expensive, high-calorie energy drinks.
Focus on the Good Stuff
To change your diet, add good foods rather than denying yourself bad ones. As you get used to eating more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, these foods may come to replace some of the less healthy choices. Dietitian Bonci offers a sports metaphor to sum up the benefits: You'll play better today and stay in the game longer.
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Harvard School of Public Health. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, January 2010.
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Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; nutritional consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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