Foods to Avoid for Men
Stay Healthy and Maximize Your Masculinity
Knowledge about what foods to avoid is essential for attaining and maintaining a high level of physical fitness and health. We’re all genetically programmed to love food because we need it to survive and thrive. However men must come to recognize that there are foods to avoid. That is largely because we no longer live in a natural environment surrounded only by foods to which the body has become adapted over many thousands of years. Agriculture, food technology, and marketing have changed our nutritional environments to the extent that we are exposed to a very unnatural list of ingredients in our diets. The following is a list of foods to avoid.
Soy products like tofu and soy milk have been promoted as health foods and have become increasingly popular over the last several years. Most brands of energy bars contain soy protein to ensure that their protein content is high enough to appeal to consumers. Almost all bars containing 10 or more grams of protein list soy as a major ingredient, with very few and relatively expensive exceptions. However, soy protein can seriously unbalance a man’s hormones. That’s because two components of soy protein, genistein and daidzein, closely resemble the female hormone estrogen, to the extent that they are known as phytoestrogens (plant estrogens). These female hormones can have a demasculinizing effect. A scientific study linked high soy intake to a lower sperm count among men. In rats, daidzein intake led to lower testosterone levels and changes in the tissue of the penis that made the animals less capable of full erections. Also, in China, where soy consumption is higher than in the West, men have a greater rate of erectile dysfunction. Phytoestrogens can also lead to feminizing effects such as the development of breast tissue (gynecomastia). Both the demasculinizing and feminizing effects of phytoestrogens may not all be reversible, even after soy protein intake ceases.
Unfortunately, the demasculinizing effects of soy products can start in infancy. Many mothers switch their baby sons from cow-milk based to soy-based infant formula if their babies cry a lot or show other signs of possible digestive discomfort. The American Academy of Pediatrics, but not the U.S. government, has recommended that infants who cannot be breastfed be nourished with formula based on cow milk rather than soy. Also, several countries including Israel, France, New Zealand, and Australia have officially recommended against soy-based baby formula. Thus, soy is high on the foods to avoid list for men.
For men, sources of protein far more preferable to soy include fish and lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and eggs in moderation. Acceptable protein supplements include whey protein and casein, both derived from milk. Some men think milk is among foods to avoid because they believe they are intolerant of lactose (milk sugar). Many of these people are not actually lactose intolerant. However, for those who really are, there are many alternatives. Whey protein and casein, both derived from milk, do not contain lactose. Also, the process of making cheese largely eliminates the lactose from milk, leaving its fat and protein components, so it should not trigger lactose reactions. Low- or non-fat milk products should be selected because saturated fat in the diet can increase the level of blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. Lower fat dairy products include part-skim mozarella or ricotta cheese, or non-fat versions of a wide range of cheeses. Milk marketed to the lactose intolerant, in which the lactose is already broken down, is also available in most supermarkets.
Trans fats fall very high on the foods to avoid list. They are created industrially by bubbling hydrogen through vegetable oil. This process yields unnatural fats that are solid at room temperature and have long shelf lives. The properties of such fats appeal to processed food manufacturers because products made with them can be stored and kept on supermarket shelves for relatively long periods. Restaurant owners like partially hydrogenated oil because they can leave it in their frying machines for days, letting it solidify overnight when the machines are off. The product usually appears on food labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, but may also be called vegetable shortening or margarine. Any supermarket product listing any of these ingredients on the label should be on your foods to avoid list because trans fats have been shown by research studies to be associated with various health problems.
Trans fats raise the blood level of LDL cholesterol, which contributes to the fatty deposits in the arteries associated with heart disease, stroke and painfully constricted blood vessels in the limbs. Trans fats also lower the level of HDL cholesterol, which protects against such diseases. It has been estimated that the replacement of just two percent of trans fat in the diet with polyunsaturated vegetable oil could reduce heart disease by one-third. Also, trans fats can lead to an overactive immune system that inflames the cells lining our blood vessels, contributing to various chronic conditions. The risks of obesity and resistance of our cells to insulin, a step on the way to diabetes, also appear related to trans fat intake.
Despite the fact that some U.S. cities have banned trans fats in restaurants and the U.S. government has required packaged foods to label their trans fat content, a great number of products available in supermarkets still contain them. A large proportion of cookies, crackers, snack foods, and cakes are made with partially hydrogenated oil, so most of them are foods to avoid. Most margarines contain them as well. Several frozen foods and frozen dinners list hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. Even some ice creams and candies contain them. It is necessary to read food labels carefully to avoid them. Make sure to read the full ingredient lists because the government label rules allow up to 0.5 mg of trans fat per serving to be listed as zero trans fat on the nutritional summary. This is misleading for foods like margarine that have small serving sizes. Any item containing trans fats should be on your foods to avoid list.
Sodium is the main component of salt (sodium chloride). It is essential to our health as it can’t be manufactured by our bodies and is needed for various body functions. The problem is that most of us get far too much sodium. In some individuals, excessive sodium intake leads to high blood pressure, which greatly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Our society has come to assume that it is normal to develop high blood pressure as one ages. However, in less developed cultures where most food is prepared at home from natural ingredients, aging is not necessarily linked to an increase in blood pressure.
If we all ate dishes made at home from scratch, most of us would know not to add too much salt. However, over the years, we have become accustomed to eating out frequently and using canned food, frozen dinners and other processed foods at home. Many of these contain high levels of sodium, which is added to enhance food flavor and texture, and to act as a preservative.
If your blood pressure is consistently 120/75 or lower, there is little evidence that you should go out of your way to control your sodium intake, and you can ignore this section. However, if it is higher than that, you should observe caution when eating the following foods and put most of them on your foods to avoid list, as they frequently contain high levels of sodium:
- Table salt: One teaspoon contains approximately 2300 mg of sodium, about the maximum daily recommended limit.
- Canned soup: These often range between 600 and 900 mg of sodium per serving, and a can may contain 2 or more servings.
- Canned vegetables
- Prepared meats: Deli meats often contain high levels of sodium. There aren’t nutrition labels on sliced meats you pick up from the deli counter. However, you can ask to see the wrapper labels or just estimate the sodium content from similar commercially-packaged meats. Sliced roast beef is usually less salted than other deli meats such as sliced ham or turkey. Deli meats that are generally high in sodium include hot dogs, salami, bologna, corned beef, pastrami, sausage, and smoked tongue. Because these almost always also contain nitrites, which can cause cancer, they should be considered foods to avoid.
- Frozen foods and dinners: Plain frozen vegetables are fine. However, many prepared frozen dinners, as well as frozen vegetables in sauce, can be quite high in sodium. Some with the words "health" or "healthy" on the label can still contain excessive sodium and undesirable artificial ingredients. So look carefully at the label to determine which are foods to avoid.
- Cheeses: These vary quite a bit in sodium content, with processed versions usually the highest in sodium. So read the nutrition labels carefully.
- Food prepared in salt water such as olives, pickles, and sauerkraut. Most of these contain excessive sodium and should be used in very limited quantities if at all.
- Salted fish, such as canned sardines, tuna, herring, anchovies, and caviar, as well as smoked salmon (lox). Since the omega-3 fats in fish are so important, it is not advisable to completely avoid these foods. However, the liquid in canned fish should always be drained thoroughly before eating, and fresh fish should be eaten preferentially. Lower sodium canned fish is sometimes available.
- Sodas or other products sweetened with saccharin are foods to avoid because sodium is part of the sweetener.
- Salted snack foods like corn and potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, nuts, and crackers are, for the most part, foods to avoid. It should be noted that unsalted or lightly salted versions of most of these products are usually available in supermarkets.
- Salted spices and sauces, including pasta sauce, ketchup, mustard, bouillon cubes, seasoned salt, garlic salt, celery salt, soy sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and barbecue sauce. We often crave these for flavor, but it is best to use these in the smallest quantity you find acceptable.
- Commercial cereals: These also vary considerably in the amount of sodium per serving, so it pays to read the labels. Natural food brands of cereal generally contain the least sodium and usually have much less sugar. While stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s specialize in these kinds of products, supermarkets frequently have health food sections where you can find less salted cereals.
- Fast food chains: Unfortunately, almost all the items available in such establishments have high levels of sodium. Fortunately, many of these restaurants are now providing nutritional information either in the store or online, so you can select items lower in sodium. However, it's quite difficult to stay below the recommended sodium limit when eating such foods, so it’s generally a good idea to limit them.
- Full-serve restaurants: Unfortunately, eating in such restaurants can give you whopping doses of sodium. It‘s difficult to know how much sodium you're eating because nutritional labeling is not required in such restaurants. However, it‘s a good idea to avoid restaurants where the food tastes salty. You should also order dishes that are not soaking in sauces. Eating out is fun but, when you eat at home, you know what goes into your food.
NOTE: Some of the effects of sodium on raising blood pressure can be negated by having adequate intakes of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. While it is best to get these minerals from natural sources, supplements are readily available.
Saturated fats should be high on your foods to avoid list. Eating too much of them is associated with various health problems, particularly heart disease and stroke. Thus, you should minimize food items high in saturated fats (e.g. fatty meats, dairy products such as cheese and whole milk, and products made with palm or coconut oil). Hot-dogs, salami, baloney and other process meats are usually very high in saturated fat. Hamburger is generally high in saturated fat, so it the 85-95% lean versions are preferred. The best alternative to saturated fat is omega-3 fat found in fatty fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel), fish oil, and flax seed oil. Monounsaturated fats, found in high proportions in olive and canola oil as well as in walnuts are also healthy alternatives to saturated fats. Most other vegetable oils such as corn, soybean and safflower oil are high in polyunsaturated fats. These do not promote heart disease but are suspected of causing other health problems. Therefore, it is most prudent to minimize saturated fats, eat fatty fish and use olive oil liberally. While both saturated and monounsaturated fats are associated with higher testosterone levels, monounsaturated fats provide the benefits without the health risks of saturated fats.
Heart disease is the number one killer of men in the U.S. A high blood cholesterol level, particularly a high LDL cholesterol level, is an established risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association has stated that “saturated fats and trans fats are the main dietary factors in raising blood cholesterol.” Therefore, the Association recommends strongly limiting saturated fats in the diet, specifically limiting intake of saturated fats to 7% of daily calories by avoiding fatty meats, whole-milk dairy products like ice-cream, butter, full-fat cheese, yogurt, milk, and cream, tropical oils (coconut, palm, and palm kernel), as well as cocoa butter (in chocolate). Carefully reading food labels can help in deciding which foods to avoid in order to limit saturated fat.
Just as with other questions relating to human health, the saturated fat issue is not without controversy. There are many different kinds of saturated fats and they do not all have the same effect on blood cholesterol levels. The main distinguishing point between the different saturated fats is the length of their carbon chains. The most common saturated fats in food are lauric acid (12 carbons), myristic acid (14 carbons), palmitic acid (16 carbons) and stearic acid (18 carbons). Experimental study has shown that myristic acid has by far the greatest effect in raising the blood cholesterol level. Palmitic acid has a significant but smaller effect. However, stearic and lauric acids as well as all shorter carbon-chain fatty acids have no effect on blood cholesterol level. This is very important because different foods have different proportions of these fatty acids, making some foods riskier than others. Specifically, milk fat has a relatively high proportion of myristic acid, while fat from poultry and chocolate have vary low proportions of myristic acid. Beef is also fairly low in myristic acid. However, because the latter three foods also contain relatively high proportions of palmitic acid, it is still advisable not to overindulge in them. Also, any animal flesh, including meat, fish, and poultry, no matter how lean, contain relatively high amounts of cholesterol, so eating these in large amounts can raise blood cholesterol. Beef has the additional drawback of increasing the risk of colon cancer, but this may be related to the method of cooking. Searing beef under high temperature creates carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Of the tropical oils, coconut and palm kernel oil have the largest proportion of myristic acid, while palm oil, being mainly comprised of palmitic acid, has very little myristic acid. Based on the proportion of the various fatty acids, full-fat milk products are foods to avoid.
The bottom line:If your blood cholesterol level is above 200 or your LDL cholesterol is above 130, it’s a good idea not to eat more than 8 oz of meat or poultry per day, and it is best to choose less fatty cuts like chicken breast, top round steak, or ground beef labeled as 85-95% lean, but in moderation. Use low or non-fat milk products such as skim-milk, 1% milk, frozen yogurt, or part-skim cheese. Try to avoid processed foods made with tropical oils (coconut, palm, or palm kernel). Remember also that trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, shortening or margarine are very definitely foods to avoid.
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