Food for men’s health
Men are less likely than women to go to a GP when something is wrong, and on average tend to die younger than women in New Zealand.
One of the more worrying statistics of men’s health is prostate cancer. 3000 men in New Zealand are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year — that’s just over eight men every day — even more sobering is that only 30 per cent of men are alive two years after diagnosis and 20 per cent after five years of diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer, which is why the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer are a target for public health.
What you can do right now is take a look at your diet.
Much research has been conducted to assess relationships between nutrients and prostate cancer, comparing those who have been diagnosed with those who haven’t. Though this can’t tell us cause and effect (that being low in vitamin D, for example, causes prostate cancer), it goes some way to determining important nutrients for health.
From the scientific literature, omega-3 fats (from fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines) are well known to be associated with a reduced risk, as is zinc and vitamin D.
Zinc is important in the body’s defence in the initiation and progression of cancer, playing an important role in immune system function. Oysters are the richest source of dietary zinc we have available, the highest contribution though, comes from beef, veal, grains and cereals. Dietary intake is one thing, our ability to absorb it is another, and the problem here is that grains and cereals contain phytic acid which can bind the zinc and prevent its absorption. Focusing on including the most bioavailable food sources of zinc in our diet is essential.
Vitamin D has been found to help decrease proliferation, invasiveness and metastasis of prostate cancer cells. While vitamin D is synthesised in the body by our exposure to UVB rays of the sun, during winter the sun doesn’t hit the earth at the right latitude for this to occur, so our ability to synthesise vitamin D is compromised.Obtaining it in our diet is also tricky, though it is present in full fat dairy products, salmon, sardines, eggs, organ meats and animal protein. These foods also contain important co-factors to aid absorption. In addition, while it is ALWAYS food first, it is prudent to consider taking a supplement through the winter months (one that also incorporates vitamin K2, an important co-factor) to maintain an adequate vitamin D status.
Finally garlic. It is suggested that this is due to the organo sulphur compounds in garlic, released when it is chopped, crushed or chewed. This may detoxify carcinogens in the diet and halt cancer cell growth.
Optimising your diet to ensure adequate nutrient status is the obvious thing to do to reduce your risk of prostate cancer and other chronic diseases which are driven by inflammation in the body.
Here’s how you can do this
- Jump on board the nose to tail trend. Aim for 1-2 serves of organ meats a week. If you can’t stomach the thought, try incorporating liver into your mince; you could ask your friendly butcher to do this for you and you won’t notice it at all.
- Try for 2-3 serves of fatty fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, per week. Canned varieties are fine as long as they are not canned in omega 6 oils such as soybean or canola, as these industrial seed oils will drive inflammation.
- Eat eggs. Anyone who follows my column will not be surprised by this recommendation!
- Use butter over margarine to help increase vitamin D (and reduce afore mentioned industrial seed oils).
- Include garlic everywhere you can.
If these recommendations are wildly different to your current dietary intake please don’t be overwhelmed. Focus on one per month; by the end of the year your diet will have five more elements that reduce your risk of developing the chronic diseases that impair quality and duration of life, including prostate cancer.
Ray McVinnie offers recipe ideas on how to incorporate the foods, recommended by Mikki for men's health, into your meals.
Mikki Williden is a registered nutritionist and lecturer at AUT University, where she lectures in public health nutrition and sports nutrition at the School of Sport and Recreation. Read Bite articles from Mikki or visit mikkiwilliden.com for more.