Why men live shorter lives than women, statistically, part 3: Physical and Mental Health
Written by Andy de Santis RD, MPH, Registered Dietitian
A quick look at global data from the United Nations is all it takes to realise that in all of the countries in the world where humans tend to live the longest, men generally live around three to six years less than woman do1.
Now there are a vast number of occupational, biological and behavioural factors that separate men and women that might explain this difference in life expectancy.
What interests me most as a dietitian, however, is the consistently observed gender disparity between food choices and diet quality.
The data seems to suggest that modern women in western cultures tend to have healthier diets than men do4.
Guys, I know we can do better.
That’s why in this three part series, I am going to systematically discuss each of the biggest men’s health concerns and teach you a few key foods or nutrients that will help you take your diet, and your health, to the next level.
Mental Health and Depression
The increasing popularity and visibility of the Movember movement for men’s mental health speaks more to the growing awareness of this issue.
Among the topics covered in this article, mental health and depression are perhaps the most complex.
Although it is only one of a wide range of factors, growing scientific evidence suggests that a healthier diet can support better mental health outcomes12.
In a recent study investigating the effect of dietary improvement on major depressive episodes, dietary modification was compared to the impact of a social support control group12.
The dietary improvements focused on increasing the consumption of the following 12 key food groups: wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods, raw and unsalted nuts, fish, lean red and white meats, eggs and olive oil. The consumption of ‘extra’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried or fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks, were reduced. Alcohol was considered an ‘extra’ item, with up to two standards drinks per day of red or white wine only being permitted12.
The results of the study found that those in the dietary support group demonstrated significantly greater improvement in 12 weeks then the social support control group. This indicates that dietary improvement may provide an effective and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this medically diagnosed, and monitored, mental health condition12.
The dietary style studied is one that is very similar to a particular diet that pops up time and time again when it comes to mental health, the Mediterranean diet13.
One of the primary characteristics of this style of eating is that it emphasises the inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acid rich fish and extra virgin olive oil more than any other animal products.
Along with the benefits of eating healthier studied above, higher omega-3 fatty acid intakes are regularly linked with protective benefits for mental health conditions including depression and anxiety14,15.
Despite our best efforts to consume the optimal diet to support our health, our modern lifestyles and environments can sometimes get in the way. And while no supplement can replace a healthy diet, Good Green Vitality can help to offset poor dietary choices. Made from real fruit and veg, with plant foods, herbs, superfoods and your complete suite of daily essential vitamins and minerals, think of it as nutritional insurance to help fill the gaps in your diet.
Physical Health & Performance
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about physical performance.
Involvement in sport or physical activity in one form or another is not uncommon for many men and when it comes to the nutritional component of this area of men’s health, there is no denying that protein intake is among the most discussed topics.
When it comes to protein though, we have address both the question of quantity and quality.
If you ask public health organisations, they will tell you that the recommended daily allowance for protein intake is 0.8 grams (g) per day per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight.
This means that a man who weights 80kg should consume at least 64g of protein per day (0.8 x 80 = 64).
But if you ask your mate who likes working out, he might tell you that you need 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight.
There’s nearly three-fold difference between those numbers, so what gives?
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Active individuals tend to require between 1.2-1.8g of protein per kg body weight, with those who do more weight/resistance training closer to the upper end of that spectrum16.
So, when I say protein “quality” – what I’m really referring to in this specific case is the benefit to your overall health.
Protein can come from both plant and animal sources and men don’t tend to have much of an issue eating plenty of beef and poultry.
But when it comes to plant-based sources like legumes and nuts and seeds, there is room for improvement.
I can say this confidently because most of the worlds vegans and vegetarians are actually women17.
This gender difference matters because vegans and vegetarians, who consume mostly or exclusively plant-based protein, tend to have a reduced risk of all the big men’s health concerns including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes18.
Now I know what you are thinking – he is trying to convert us into vegetarians.
That’s not the case – I don’t want or need you to become a vegetarian, but I DO want you to try to eat more like one.
That means focusing on altering the ratio of your animal to plant based food intake.
Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is an awesome plant-based protein that can help you get started on that path. Made from European golden peas, it is a complete source of plant-based protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids required for general health.
And with that, I feel as though I’ve left you guys with more than enough food for thought when it comes to nutrition and men’s health.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by today’s discussion, as implementing just a few of the dietary tips mentioned in this article will take you a long way.