Change is a fact of life as we age, and nowhere is that more evident than around the waistline. The days of being able to eat whatever we want without gaining weight are long gone. Combine that with long hours at work, family responsibilities, and life as an adult, spare tires and “dad bods” seem to be the norm.
One of the best, most effective ways to beat the dad bod as you approach middle age is through a healthy diet. Not only will it keep your gut in check, but it can also help slow some age-related diseases and illnesses, including heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Healthy foods will also give you more energy, and who couldn’t use a little more of that?
Here are the some of the most important nutrients for middle-aged men and what healthy foods they are found in:
Some of nature’s most powerful defenses against age-related damage and weakness come from the foods we eat. As we age, our immune systems aren’t quite as resilient as they were back in the day. Antioxidants help support the immune system by combating harmful free radicals, which damage the cells and may play a role in some illnesses, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more.
Foods high in antioxidants include brightly colored fruits and vegetables; the more color you can sneak into your diet, the better! Aim for at least five servings each day (generally 1 serving = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked veggies and ½ cup chopped or 1 medium fruit). A few simple ways to eat more colors (antioxidants) include:
- A “superfood” smoothie each morning with mixed berries and greens
- Add fresh fruit to your yogurt or cereal
- Swap white potatoes with a healthier sweet potato
- Choose a side salad instead of fries at the drive-through or bar
These simple modifications are also an easy way to cut calories, which can help you manage weight as metabolism and activity levels slow.
2. Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in the gut. While they’re best-known for the benefits they provide the digestive system, including helping the body absorb nutrients and regulating bowel movements, the balance of bacteria in your gut can also affect your weight, immune system, digestive health, and even your mood.
Prebiotics are plant fibers digested within the large intestine that act as a natural fertilizer for probiotics, creating a healthy environment that allows good bacteria to grow.
If you’ve experienced increasing digestive issues with age, it’s not necessarily aging itself that lead to it; rather, the lack of gut health maintenance.
With that in mind, pre and probiotics are a must. While there is no recommended amount to eat each day, eating 2-3 food sources each week that naturally contain pre and probiotics can help. Foods high in soluble fiber, including whole grains, soybeans, and greens are good sources of prebiotics, while foods that include healthy probiotics include yogurt, kefir, onions, wheat bran, and fermented foods like kimchi and tempeh.
Simple ways to incorporate these gut-healthy foods into your diet include:
- Adding yogurt to a smoothie or eating yogurt as a side or snack
- Enjoy a Meatless Monday with tempeh as your “beef”
- Add onions to soups, omelets, stews, and sandwiches
A healthy food discussion wouldn’t be complete without fiber! It helps manage your weight, reduces your risk of age-related diseases, and helps you feel fuller between meals. The health benefits of fiber have been studied extensively and include:
- Increased satiety, which can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
- Lowered your risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lowered cholesterol levels and reduced risk of heart disease
- Normalized bowel movements and decreases your risk of constipation
Some of the best sources of dietary fiber for men include:
- Lettuce and dark leafy greens
- Beans (navy beans, in particular—1 cup cooked contains 19g)
- Whole grains
- Chia, hemp, or flaxseeds
Working more fiber into your diet is easier than you may think:
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of chia, hemp, or flaxseeds into your morning or post-workout shakes or smoothies
- Eat more beans by adding them to salads, burritos, chili, or as a side
- Choose whole grain breads instead of white bread
- Have a big, green salad with lunch or dinner
Lycopene is the substance that gives red fruits their color. It’s also a superfood for men. Lycopene has been studied extensively for prostate health and may potentially reduce the risk of prostate cancer, the leading cancer in men. It has also been linked to improved blood flow, which can help support a healthy erection, and may even protect against cardiovascular disease.
The best sources of lycopene are cooked tomatoes and tomato-based products like spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, and tomato paste. Pink grapefruit, watermelon, and papaya are also high in lycopene.
There is no recommended daily amount of lycopene, but it’s still wise to consume lycopene-rich foods on a regular basis. A few ways include:
- Use stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce in chili
- Skip the alfredo sauce and opt for tomato-based sauces when eating pasta
- Include pico de gallo and tomatoes when eating tortilla chips, tacos, or Mexican foods
- Eat a grapefruit with breakfast
- Include guava, watermelon, and papaya in your fruit smoothies
5. Vitamin D
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins we can get as we age. Vitamin D has been shown to promote calcium absorption, which can help with bone and cell growth and ensure bones remain strong as we age.
The RDA of vitamin D is 600 IU, but vitamin D deficiencies are common—an estimated one billion people are vitamin D deficient. Getting enough vitamin D as we age can be difficult for a number of reasons. The skin doesn’t synthesize vitamin D as effectively in adults as it does in youth, and most adults tend to spend less time outdoors than they did as kids.
In addition to the sun, certain foods can also be a good source of this important vitamin. They include fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, or mackerel; vitamin-D fortified products like orange juice or soy milk; and egg yolks.
You can get enough vitamin D by talking a 15-minute walk (with exposed arms and legs) outside each day, swapping meat with salmon or tuna a couple times each week, or drinking vitamin-D fortified orange juice.
6. Plant Proteins
Most men know the importance of protein in the diet, especially as it relates to muscle growth. Beyond that, healthy proteins have also been shown to prevent obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—all things to be concerned about as we hit middle age.
Protein requirements are unique to each person though in general, active men need higher amounts—depending on activity level and fitness goals. This calculator gives you an estimate of the amount you need on a daily basis.
But the type of protein you eat is also important. Red meat contains high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, which can lead to increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. The recommended amount of saturated fat in the United States is less than 10 percent of calories, but only 29 percent of men fall within those guidelines.
As a result, dietary recommendations are shifting to include more plant-based proteins in the diet. Unlike animal meats, plant proteins do not contain cholesterol or fat, are loaded with healthy phytonutrients, and are low in sodium and high in fiber.
Plant-based protein powders are one of the richest sources of plant-based proteins. In addition to the convenience powder provides, the concentrated protein amount also provides few carbs, if any, and doesn’t have the same unpleasant side effects of bloating or gas that other protein powders or plant-based foods sources (like beans) have.
Incorporating plant-based proteins is simple. You can:
- Mix protein powders into smoothies, soups, post-workout shakes, and other recipes
- Put a scoop of powder in a shaker bottle and drink with water
- Rotate oatmeal topped with nuts and seeds for breakfast
- Order bean-based sides or soups more often
Getting older may be a fact of life, but getting unhealthier doesn’t have to be. By incorporating these nutrients into your diet, you can make your middle-aged years the healthiest.
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian