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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Man to Man Man to Man
 

The New Dietary Guidelines -- Good Advice for Men


September 17, 2013

By Harvey B. Simon M.D.

Harvard Medical School

On January 31, 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.

Many nutritionists and doctors have been disappointed with previous versions of the guidelines. They felt they were vague and seemed to give in to political pressure from the meat, dairy and processed food industries.

The latest set of guidelines are more specific and blunt. The foods we need to eat less of include sugary drinks, saturated fats, trans fats, salt and junk food. We need to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, fat-free and low-fat dairy, and whole grains.

Even so, it's likely that many experts will still think the new guidelines are not strict enough. For example, the American Heart Association sets 1,500 milligrams as the daily sodium limit for all adults. But according to the new guidelines, this limit applies only to people older than age 51, patients with hypertension or kidney disease, and African Americans. Other people are allowed up to 2,300 milligrams a day.

The recommendations for cholesterol, saturated fat, dietary fiber and other nutrients also vary depending on age, gender and risk factors for certain diseases.

Despite these caveats, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 has lots of valuable information. I encourage you to look at the full report.

But for now, here are some important goals and tips for making healthy eating part of your lifestyle.

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Nutritional Goals for Men

Here are the new nutritional goals for men at a glance. Keep them in mind when you shop and read food labels.

Nutritional Goals for Men

Total calories needed to reach or maintain a healthy weight
  • Inactive people: 13 calories per pound
  • Moderately active people: 16
  • Very active people: 18
Total fat
25% - 35% of total calories
Saturated fat
Less than 7% of total calories
Polyunsaturated fat
Up to 10% of total calories
Monounsaturated fat
Up to 10% of total calories
Cholesterol
Less than 300 milligrams a day
Carbohydrates
50% - 60% of total calories; reduce added sugars and refined grains; at least half your grain intake should come from whole grains
Fiber
38 grams a day up to age 51, then 30 grams a day
Protein
About 15% of total calories

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Fats

It's taken 40 years, but scientists have finally learned that the type of fat you eat is more important for your health than the total amount of fat in your diet. Here is a simple way to think of dietary fats.

Very bad

  • Saturated fats – meat and poultry skin; dairy fat, lard, coconut and palm oils
  • Trans fats – partially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in many fried foods, commercial baked goods, snack foods, puddings and stick margarine

Bad

  • Cholesterol – meat (especially organ meats and prime or fatty cuts), egg yolks, poultry (especially skin) and shellfish (especially shrimp)

Neutral

  • Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats – corn oil, safflower oil (regular), sunflower oil (regular), soybean oil

Good

  • Omega-9 monounsaturated fats – olive, canola, safflower (hybrid), sunflower (hybrid) oils
  • Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (plant sources) – canola oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, wheat germ

Very good

  • Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (marine sources) – fish and fish oils

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Carbohydrates and Fiber

Diet gurus have made millions of dollars blaming carbohydrates for heart disease and obesity. Don't buy in to this. Instead, choose the right carbs.

  • Simple sugars are the least desirable carbohydrates. They are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and provide empty calories. For health, limit your simple sugars — white sugar, milk sugars, fruit — to less than 10% of your total daily calories.

 

  • Unrefined carbohydrates are the way to go. Foods with unrefined carbs — whole wheat bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, fruit, legumes (beans) — provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. In addition, unrefined foods are filling, so it's harder to overdose on them.

Dietary fiber is a special type of carbohydrate. It's found only in plants. The best sources of fiber are fruits, seeds, nuts, the bran of whole grains, and the stems and leaves of vegetables. Fiber has almost no caloric value, but it has lots of value for your intestines, your metabolism and your heart. Learn more about the benefits and sources of fiber.

A great way to get the fiber you need is to start your day with a high-fiber breakfast cereal. Foods such as instant oatmeal, Cheerios, Wheaties, Corn Flakes, white bread, bagels, white pasta, cucumbers, lettuce and popcorn provide very little fiber.

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Protein

A balanced diet should give you the protein you need. But for your health's sake, get most of your protein from fish, skinless poultry and beans (lentils, kidney beans.)

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Water

If you're healthy, thirst is a reliable guide to your fluid needs. You don't need to force down the eight glasses of water a day that are still sometimes recommended. But remember to take in extra water when you exercise. Air travel, hot weather, fever and diarrhea also call for extra fluids. And as far as health is concerned, tap water is just fine.

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Vitamins and Minerals

A good diet will give you all the vitamins you need — with the important exception of vitamin D. The only meaningful dietary sources of vitamin D are milk and fish, but few people get enough from food. A daily supplement of 800 IU to 1,000 IU will make up the difference.

Many older guys have trouble absorbing natural vitamin B12 from foods. Fortified grains, such as high-fiber breakfast cereals, have B12 that is easily absorbed.

At least 16 minerals are key to good health — but you only need to think about 2 of them.

  • Sodium – It's the key ingredient in salt — and it's just as likely to contribute to high blood pressure whether it comes from table salt, sea salt or any other source. The American Heart Association calls for a daily sodium limit of 1,500 milligrams; less is even better. Cut down on salted snack foods, canned juices, canned and dried soups, prepared condiments, relishes and sauces, soy and teriyaki sauces, smoked and cured meats and fish, frozen dinners, packaged mixes for sauces and baked goods, cheese, and — of course — table salt. Slow change is the key; sodium-free seasonings such as pepper, lemon juice and various herbs can help.

 

  • Calcium – New guidelines call for men younger than age 71 to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day while men 71 and older need 1,200 milligrams a day. Dairy products are the best source of calcium (low-fat or nonfat, please). A cup of yogurt provides about 400 milligrams, a cup of milk has about 300 milligrams, and a cup of cottage cheese has about 150 milligrams. Other sources include broccoli and spinach (about 200 milligrams per cup), canned salmon and sardines (about 250 milligrams in 3½ ounces) and tofu (about 250 milligrams a cup).

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The Best Diet for You

Here are 20 guidelines for healthful and enjoyable eating.

  1. Eat a variety of foods. No one food is perfect, so eat a balanced mix of foods to get all the nutrients you need.
  2. Eat more vegetable products and fewer animal products.
  3. Eat more fresh and homemade foods and fewer processed foods. Avoid fast food and junk food. You know what they are.
  4. Choose your fats wisely. Cut down on meat, the skin of poultry, whole-fat dairy products, stick margarine, fried foods, processed snack foods and commercial baked goods made with trans fat. Get "good fats" from fish and nuts.
  5. Choose your carbs wisely. Cut down on simple sugars; remember that sodas, sports energy drinks and fruit juices are loaded with sugar. Cut down on highly refined products made with white flour. Choose whole grain products. Don't be fooled by dark- colored bread or by labels that boast of unbleached flour, wheat grain or multigrain flour. Instead, read the fine print to learn the fiber content of a portion; more is better. Learn to like bran cereal, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Consider fiber supplements if you can't get enough from foods.
  6. Eat at least 3 cups of nonfat or low-fat dairy products a day.
  7. Eat protein in moderation. Go with fish and skinless poultry. Experiment with soy and beans as a protein source. Aim for 5½ ounces of protein-rich foods a day; count 1 ounce of cooked fish, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, 1 egg, or 1 ounce of cooked lean meat or poultry as equivalent to 1 ounce.
  8. Restrict your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day, particularly if your blood pressure is borderline or high, by reducing your use of table salt and processed foods.
  9. Eat more potassium-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, bananas and vegetables. Eat more calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat dairy products, broccoli, spinach and tofu.
  10. Eat more grain products, especially whole grain products. Aim for at least 6 ounces a day. Count 1 cup of dry cereal, ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta, or 1 slice of bread as 1 ounce. Whole grains and brown rice should provide at least half your grains; the more the better.
  11. Eat more vegetables and beans, especially deep green and yellow-orange vegetables. Aim for at least 5 servings a day. Count 1 cup of raw leafy greens, ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables or ½ cup of vegetable juice as 1 portion.
  12. Eat more fruits, aiming for at least 4 servings a day. A serving is 1 medium-size piece of fruit, ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or ½ cup of fruit juice.
  13. Eat more fish, aiming for at least two 4-ounce serving a week. Remember to broil, bake or grill instead of frying.
  14. If you choose to eat red meats, try to limit your intake to about two 4-ounce servings per week. Avoid prime and other fatty meats, processed meats, and liver. Switch to skinless chicken and turkey. Be sure to cook meat and poultry to at least 160° F.
  15. Eat eggs sparingly; aim for an average of no more than 1 egg yolk per day, including those used in cooking and baking. Use egg substitutes whenever possible.
  16. Include seeds and unsalted nuts in your diet.
  17. Use vegetable oils in moderation, favoring olive and canola oils. Reduce your intake of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm oil and coconut milk.
  18. If you choose to use alcohol, drink sparingly. Men should average not more than 2 drinks per day, women 1 a day. Count 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of spirits as 1 drink. Never drive or operate machinery after drinking.
  19. Adjust your calories and exercise to maintain a desirable body weight. If you need to lose weight, do so gradually by cutting calories and increasing your exercise.
  20. Avoid fad diets and extreme nutritional schemes. And remember that these guidelines are intended for healthy people; people with medical problems should consult their doctors to develop an individualized eating plan.

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Making Changes

To achieve a healthful diet, change slowly. Make your new healthful diet enjoyable by experimenting with new recipes and meal plans. Be creative and take chances. Instead of dreading your new diet, have fun with it.

Breakfast: Switch from eggs, bacon, donuts, white toast or bagels to oatmeal or bran cereal and fruit. If you just can't spare 10 minutes for a sit-down breakfast, grab a high-fiber cereal bar. Don't worry about coffee or tea unless they make you feel jumpy.

Lunch: Try salads, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, tuna or peanut butter sandwiches, and fruit. Snack on unsalted nuts, trail mix, fruit, raw veggies, Rye Krisp or Graham crackers. Try eating a few handfuls of a crunchy fiber cereal like Kashi, or nibble on a cereal bar.

Dinner: Experiment with fish, skinless poultry, beans, brown rice, yams, whole wheat pasta and, of course, salads and veggies. Fruit and low-fat frozen desserts make good desserts. And there's nothing wrong with having cake or chocolates. Just keep the portion size moderate.

Relax about your diet. Not everything on your plate needs to have a higher purpose. Take your tastes into account. The choices are yours — and the better your overall diet, the more "wiggle room" you'll have to indulge your passions.

To eat for health, take a long-range view. Don't get down on yourself if you slip up or "cheat" from time to time.

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Healthful Eating, Healthful Living

A good diet is only 1 key to prevention. The other is exercise. You can get started simply by walking for 30 minutes a day. It may sound like a lot, but you can do it in 8- to 12-minute chunks of time during your day. And remember to take the stairs when you have the option. Ditch the machines and do yard work and household chores the old-fashioned way whenever you can.

In 21st century America, many of us need a new way to think about diet and exercise. In truth, though, it's not so new after all. Some 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine wrote, "If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health."

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Harvey B. Simon, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Health Sciences Technology Faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the founding editor of the Harvard Men's Health Watch newsletter and author of six consumer health books, including The Harvard Medical School Guide to Men's Health (Simon and Schuster, 2002) and The No Sweat Exercise Plan, Lose Weight, Get Healthy and Live Longer (McGraw-Hill, 2006). Dr. Simon practices at the Massachusetts General Hospital; he received the London Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard and MIT.

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