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Nutrition for Men: Ask the Nutritionist

WebMD's Chief Medical Editor, Michael Smith, MD, answers your questions about nutrition for men.

Question:
Can fasting benefit men?
Answer:

No, and it may be harmful to your weight-loss efforts.

Religious and cultural fasts aside, people sometimes turn to fasting for weight loss or in order to "cleanse" the body. But when you fast, your body goes into starvation mode. Even if it's only for a day or two, your body's metabolism plummets and it starts to hold onto every last calorie it can instead of burning it off. So when you start eating days later, your body will still hold onto more calories than it would have before you fasted.

If you're interested in cleansing, a much better approach is to go on a really healthy diet that is high in fiber, rich in fruits and vegetables, and that includes lean protein.

Question:
What kind of diet will provide me with more energy during my workouts so that I can increase my endurance and speed for running?
Answer:

You want your diet to be rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. But assuming you've got that part down, the most important thing to do is to maintain a constant supply of nutrients to your body. Otherwise your energy stores will take a nose dive. This means you need to eat every two to three hours -- obviously smaller portions than if you were only eating three times a day. Also, despite what many think, carbs are not the enemy. They are your body's main source of energy. In fact, each meal or snack you eat should include carbs. And be sure to combine them with a lean protein or healthy fat.

Question:
When dieting, will "cheat days" really help confuse my body so that my metabolism doesn't slow down and adapt to burning fewer calories? I'm trying to avoid hitting a wall in my weight loss.
Answer:

Absolutely! A cheat day tells your body there is a sufficient food source and you're not starving. This helps keep your metabolism revved up. But possibly even more important is the mental benefit of a cheat day. Being good ALL the time is very hard and very few people can keep that up. Taking one day a week to eat whatever you want (as long as you're very good on the other six days) makes you want to eat right the rest of the time and doesn't leave you feeling deprived.

Question:
Is it healthy to eat rice every day?
Answer:

Yes. It's healthy, assuming you're not loading down the rice with butter, and that you're choosing brown rice instead of white. There is also nothing wrong with eating the same thing every day, as long as rice is not the only thing that you're eating. To have a nutritionally complete diet, you need fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. You can't get all the nutrients your body needs just from rice. Also, remember to watch your portion sizes with rice -- and other carbs -- because it's very easy to overdo it. A cup of cooked rice is about 216 calories.

Question:
Are there any foods I can eat to help lower my blood pressure? If so, which ones?
Answer:

Medical studies have shown that certain nutrients in foods are associated with lower blood pressure. Of course, limiting salt is also helpful.

Blood-pressure-friendly nutrients include potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber, and low in sodium. Also, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meats, and poultry are all good sources of magnesium. The DASH diet, created specifically to help control blood pressure, not only targets nutrients that are good for blood pressure, but are also very effective at helping you lose weight. Even losing as little as 5 or 10 pounds can have a big impact on blood pressure.

Question:
I suffer from hypothyroidism. How can I lose the weight that I've gained in the last few months?
Answer:

You'll want to work closely with your doctor to get your thyroid levels controlled. Despite what you may read, there is no particular diet that has been shown to be more helpful for people with thyroid problems. So, you should implement the kind of eating habits that we know will work to help shed extra pounds. Some of the best diets are the DASH diet, the TLC diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. If you're not sure how to track what you should eat or how much to exercise, WebMD's Food & Fitness Planner is a great place to get started.

Question:
What foods should I avoid while taking Coumadin?
Answer:

Coumadin helps prevent blood clots. It does this by decreasing the activity of vitamin K, which is important in the blood clotting process. Foods rich in vitamin K counter the effects of the medication. Foods that are highest in vitamin K include green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, collards, chard, and mustard and turnip greens. Broccoli also has a fair amount of vitamin K. You do need to limit how much of these foods you eat. But they are healthy, so it is OK to eat them. The most important thing is that you don't want to make any major changes to your diet. If you eat these foods now, keep eating them and just cut back a bit, especially if you eat them daily.

Question:
My BUN (blood urea nitrogen) levels are high. What kind of diet should I maintain to lower them?
Answer:

A high BUN level often means your kidneys are not working as well as they need to. Changes to your diet can help protect your kidneys. But first, you should follow the diet advice of your doctor. In general, if you have kidney problems, you need to limit salt and protein, and possibly fluids if your kidneys are not producing as much urine as they should. Also be sure to read food labels to look for hidden sources of salt. To decrease protein you may need to cut back on the amount of meat you eat. You may also need to limit potassium and phosphorus. If your doctor told you to cut back on phosphorus, you may need to limit dairy, nuts, and beans. Potatoes and bananas have a lot of potassium. Remembering what foods to limit can feel overwhelming, so ask your doctor about talking to a dietician for help.

Question:
Is it better to work out before breakfast or afterwards?
Answer:

The most important thing is to choose a time of day that you can stick with. Exercise needs to become a habit, and that won't happen if something is always getting in the way. There is no reliable evidence to suggest that you will burn more calories at certain times of day. But your body's circadian rhythm, or body clock, may give you the answer. For instance, if you're an early bird, your best bet is probably to make exercise the first thing you do when you get up. If you're a night owl, exercising in the evenings is probably better for you. It really depends on your lifestyle and when you can make a habit of setting aside the time.

Question:
I have stomach ulcers. Is there a certain way I should eat to avoid aggravating them?
Answer:

What you eat actually isn't a huge factor when it comes to stomach ulcers. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help with symptoms, such as stomach pain, but won't help ulcers heal faster. Alcohol can irritate an ulcer and can slow healing and worsen symptoms. We used to recommend a bland diet with lots of milk and avoiding spicy foods, but we now know that that is not necessary.

Question:
Are there any changes I can make to my diet to avoid getting leg cramps?
Answer:

First, check with your doctor to find out why you're having leg cramps. There are many possible causes. In some people, low levels of potassium and calcium may be the cause. Foods rich in potassium include bananas, avocados, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and potatoes. The best sources of calcium are low-fat and fat-free dairy.

Question:
Are there any possible side effects from taking a nitric oxide supplement?
Answer:

Something important to keep in mind with supplements is that they can all have side effects, just like medications. While some may be based on natural substances, even they can have side effects. Supplements can also interact with medications. That's why we always tell you to make sure your doctor knows which supplements you are taking. Generally, nitric oxide supplements are well tolerated. But possible side effects include a decrease in blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, changes in blood electrolyte levels, and increased bleeding; a concern for people who are on blood thinners.

Question:
What kinds of foods should I eat -- or avoid -- if I suffer from GERD?
Answer:

When you have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), changing certain eating habits can help improve symptoms and decrease acid reflux. GERD can vary from person to person, so you may need to play around with your diet a bit to see what works best for you. But in general, it's best to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Avoid late night snacks, especially if you tend to get more acid reflux at night. Foods that can relax the valve between the stomach and the esophagus, and thus increased acid reflux, include chocolate, mint, and alcohol. Spicy foods and other foods that have a lot of acid, like tomatoes and oranges, can also increase your symptoms. Coffee can be hard on some people with GERD, too.

Question:
I am diabetic and I've just recently been diagnosed with diverticulitis. What kind of diet should I maintain?
Answer:

If you're having severe symptoms, you should definitely check with your doctor as this can be serious. However, if it's controlled, foods that can help diverticulitis, or diverticulosis, are high-fiber foods. Most of us only get about half of the fiber we need in a day. If you don't eat much fiber now, you should start slowly to incorporate more fiber into your diet. If you do it too quickly, it may bring on symptoms like gas and even constipation. As you eat more fiber, be sure to drink plenty of water, as well. Men, 50 and under, need 38 grams of fiber a day. Men over 50 need 30 grams a day. (Women 50 and under need 25 grams daily and women over 50 need 21 grams daily.) Fiber-rich foods include whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Fiber supplements can also help you get the necessary amount of fiber. We used to think people with diverticulitis needed to avoid hard-to-digest foods like nuts, corn, seeds, and popcorn. However, recent research shows this isn't necessary. This is good news because nuts are a great source of fiber and healthy fats.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Nutritionist. Be sure to check in on Wednesday, August 8, at 1 p.m. ET, when we will discuss "Nutrition and Digestion." Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 10, 2012

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

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