This is man-food

The month of June is dedicated to Men’s Health and because healthy eating habits are vital for sustaining good health, let’s consider what men should, and should not eat.

What do men eat?

Before considering what men should eat, it may be useful to examine what South African men like eating.

June 2010, when the Soccer World Cup is in full swing, is probably not the best possible month to assess male eating habits in this country. Most South Africans are celebrating the World Cup with braais and parties where amazing quantities of meat, boerewors and alcohol are being consumed. The food on sale at matches is also not exactly healthy cuisine! Those hamburgers, chips, coke and beer, will settle on your boep and ruin all that hard work you have been doing in the gym.

However even when we don’t have a Soccer World Cup to celebrate, South African men in general do tend to like their "vleis, rys en aartappels" (meat, rice and potatoes). Vegetables and fruit take a backseat, and milk is for babies!

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many South African males who are interested in healthy eating. Last time I tackled the topic of Male Weight Loss, a number of these gentlemen wrote to me indignantly saying that they did eat fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods. But the diet-aware men in our country are still in the minority. Most men don’t bat an eyelid when they are presented with a 700g steak accompanied by a baked potato the size of the Jabulani soccer ball smothered in sour cream. "Pass the salad? No thanks!"

What should men eat?

The answer to this question is that the same dietary rules that apply to women, also apply to men. The only difference is that men who are not overweight and are physically active can eat larger portions of healthy food than their female counterparts.

Basically a healthy diet should include the following foods on a daily basis:

  • 4-6 portions of unsifted or wholegrain bread, breakfast cereal or porridge, brown rice, or pasta made from Durum wheat. If you are very active and do lots of exercise you need to top up on wholegrain carbohydrates to fuel your workouts. Concentrate on the carbs instead of the proteins, and you will be amazed how much energy you have without gaining weight (Portion sizes: Cooked porridge/rice/pasta - ½ cup; Bread- 1 slice; Breakfast cereal- ½ cup)
  • 3-6 portions of vegetables and fruit, with the emphasis on vegetables which are rich in protective nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C and dietary fibre to combat high blood pressure, raised blood fat levels and diabetes. (Portion sizes: Fruit- 1 small or ½ cup fruit salad/juice; Vegetables - ½ cup salad or cooked veg)
  • 3 portions of low-fat milk or dairy products (yoghurt, cottage cheese). Low-fat milk or yoghurt makes an excellent post-exercise snack to help you replenish your muscle and liver glycogen stores and rehydrate your body. (Portion sizes: Milk/yoghurt - 1 cup; Cottage cheese- ½ cup; Other cheeses - 30g)
  • 3-6 portions of lean meat, fish or eggs. Because of the high incidence of heart disease in South Africa, the SA Heart Foundation recommends that adult South Africans of both sexes should not have more than 4 eggs per week. Eating 2 or more portions of fish a week will help to boost your omega-3 intake and also combat heart disease. (Portion sizes: Fish/meat - 30g; Egg - 1)
  • 2 portions of legumes (dry cooked or canned beans, peas, lentils, or soy beans). Legumes are rich in protective nutrients and contain plenty of dietary fibre, while being free of cholesterol and very low in fat. Legumes are ideal to ‘dilute’ the high-fat content of our typical western diets and we should all be eating legumes instead of meat at least 3 times a week. (Portion sizes: Cooked or canned legumes - ½ cup; Tofu - 30g). 
  • 3-6 portions of poly- or monounsaturated fats or oils - use soft or lite or pro-activ margarine, or olive/canola/avocado oils if you have a cholesterol problem. Nuts and avocado are also rich in monounsaturated fats which protect the heart and blood vessels by lowering ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. (Portion sizes: Margarine or oil - 1 teaspoon; Avocado -1/4 of a small avocado; Nuts - 30g)   

The protein controversy

"You must be joking!" I hear you say when you check out the advice about eating protein. But if you keep in mind that the recommended daily protein intake for adult men is only 56 gram per day, then you can easily obtain that amount of protein from the above mentioned healthy diet.
It is not necessary to have super-sized portions of meat or 4 eggs a day, or to drink endless protein supplements, even when you are trying to bulk up or build that six-pack. Muscles develop as a result of doing the correct type of exercise and this process takes time. By overloading your system with protein you are probably doing more harm than good.
Most high-proteins foods like meat, fish and eggs, are also very high in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. You don’t want to clog your arteries while building muscles, so rather reduce your protein intake from foods derived from animals and have plant proteins such as legumes instead. Very high protein intakes can also cause damage to the kidneys and aggravate hypertension. 

Special food for men

Lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, and all products made from tomatoes like tomato puree, sauce and cocktail, may protect men against prostate cancer which is one of the most feared diseases in the modern world.
According to Dr Walter Willett, Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, “Only lycopene, is related to a lower risk of prostate cancer. Many studies also show potential benefits for other cancers including stomach cancer.”(Willett, 1999). 

So make sure that you have a helping of fresh or canned tomatoes at least every second day, plus plenty of other vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains, and go easy on the meat, eggs, fats and alcohol.     

(Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, June 2010)


(Willett WC (1999). Diet and Cancer. Lecture given by Prof W Willett during a lecture tour sponsored by CANSA & the Tomato Producers’ Organisation, 6-8 April 1999).

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

Read more:

Wobbling to an early grave?
The Couch Potato Syndrome
No more Dr Rubberglove?
Visit our Man Zone
Prostate Condition Centre

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