A Focus on Diet and Men’s Health!

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    Did you know that men in Ireland have a shorter life expectancy than women! In 2021, life expectancy at birth for
    women was about 84.1 years, while life expectancy at birth for men was about 80.2 years on average, nearly 4
    years less (1).

    The top three causes of death in 2022 were malignant neoplasms (cancer), diseases of the heart
    and arteries (cardiovascular disease (CVD)) and then lung diseases (2).

    This month’s blog is a focus on men’s health and how their diet can help improve outcomes for some of the key challenges men face.
    Research shows clearly that men experience a disproportionate burden of ill-health and die too young. Lifestyle in
    the form of a poor diet, lack of exercise are some of the conditions causing health conditions in men (3).

    Consequently, we are going to focus on what we can do within our lifestyle to help support better health for men.

    1. Support a healthier heart!

    In Ireland, the death rate for ischaemic heart disease (also known as coronary heart disease) is higher amongst males than females. While factors for the higher prevalence and mortality rates among males for heart disease include lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, body composition and poor diet. Other physical health conditions (such as raised blood pressure), gene expression and hormones also have an influence (3).
    Ischaemic heart disease is caused by coronary arteries becoming narrow, due to a buildup of fatty material in their walls. However, there are lots of changes we can make to our diet, to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Some of these include:

    • Increase fibre intake – through having oats, oatcakes, oat cereals and pearl barley.
    • Reduce salt intake through processed foods (processed meats, fast food) and sugars and trans fats (cakes, biscuits, etc)
    • Increase omega-3 intake, by including oily fish at least twice weekly, such as salmon, mackerel, trout or herring.
    • Aim for at least 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day to ensure you get lots of antioxidants. Adding fruit to your breakfast or snacks and increasing the vegetables on your plate at dinner.
    • Consuming food and drinks fortified with plant sterols and stanols, have been proven to lower cholesterol levels, when 2g/day are consumed.

    You can read more here about Making healthier food choices to support your heart, all of which can support reducing your risk of CVD.

    2. Managing the impact of stress with nutrition

    Measuring mental health can be difficult and there has been a significant drive to challenge the stigma associated with men’s mental health. There are several campaigns now encouraging men in accessing support and to start to talk about their mental health and the stress that they may be experiencing.

    Indeed, while research is limited it does show that for males aged 50-64 years, psychological distress was more likely than females (3). Nonetheless, there are steps that can be taken like increasing the foods that will nourish, provide energy and nutrients in times of stress:

    • Being mindful of what you eat and drink and how it can impact your blood glucose levels. Trying to have a regular eating pattern with 3 meals a day, to help maintain energy levels, and consistent blood sugar levels and decrease tiredness and irritability.
    • Complex carbohydrates provide slow-release energy and reduces the risk of your blood sugars dipping till your next break/meal. Wholegrain bread, pasta and cereals, as well as oats and brown rice will help release the mood-boosting hormone – serotonin which will help you feel more relaxed.
    • Try to have protein with each meal and snack – as it contains Tryptophan a precursor to Serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps regulate appetite, mood and sleep). Research suggests that consuming it may help with depression. Good sources include eggs, poultry, meat, fish and cheese. Note these are best consumed with a carbohydrate food. Eating protein can also help prevent overeating.
    • Staying hydrated, have a large glass or litre bottle of water at your desk so that you are more likely to drink it when it’s beside you. Even a very low level of dehydration can lead to increased fatigue!

    Actively working to manage stress, will also have a positive impact on your ability to support your mood and your motivation to practice more health-supporting behaviours, during this time. You can read more tips about How to manage the impact of stress with your nutrition in a previous blog.

    3. Striving for a healthier bowel

    Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the UK’s third most common cancer in men (after prostate and lung cancer). While CRC appears to be strongly influenced by gender, with mortality rates higher in men than women, this gap has narrowed in the past number of years (4). There are many risk factors (modifiable and non-modifiable) associated with CRC.

    Lifestyle-related factors that have been linked to colorectal cancer which can be changed, include smoking, alcohol use, being physically inactive and certain foods (5). The World Cancer Research Fund (WRCF) outline the following lifestyle factors that decrease the risk of CRC (6) which include being physically active, consuming wholegrains, foods containing dietary fibre and dairy products. There is further information in the WCRF 2018 Colorectal Cancer Report on diet, nutrition, physical activity and colorectal cancer.

    4. Fertility and Men

    Diet can have an influence on male fertility. Indeed, a Western diet is considered a risk factor for male infertility. In comparison, the Mediterranean diet seems to protect against male infertility (7). Certain nutrients are known to influence fertility in men.

    • Selenium – needed for normal sperm production and development, found in foods such as Brazil nuts, fish, meat, poultry and eggs.
    • Zinc – low levels of which have been linked to a low sperm count and reduced testosterone levels. Zinc can be found in meat, dairy products, shellfish (such as oysters), wholegrain cereals and nuts.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids – help produce prostaglandins, which are important for making sperm and can be found in oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herrings.

    However, rather than focusing on a specific nutrient a healthy, balanced and varied diet will ensure an intake of the wide variety of nutrients needed for male fertility.

    Overall, it’s about supporting Men in taking the opportunity to take charge of their health. Encouraging them to take steps towards a healthier approach and in the process, helping reduce their risk through a more proactive approach to their diet and lifestyle.


    (1) O’Neill, A. (2023) Ireland – life expectancy at birth by gender 2011-2021, Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/970773/life-expectancy-at-birth-in-ireland-by-gender/#:~:text=This%20statistic%20shows%20the%20average,about%2080.2%20years%20on%20average. 

    (2) Vital statistics second quarter 2022 – CSO – central statistics office (2022) CSO. Available at:

    (3) Devine, P. and Early, E. (no date) Men’s Health in Numbers TRENDS ON THE ISLAND OF IRELAND. rep. The Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (MHFI).

    (4) White, A. et al. (2018) ‘A review of sex-related differences in colorectal cancer incidence, screening uptake, routes to diagnosis, cancer stage and survival in the UK’, BMC Cancer, 18(1). doi:10.1186/s12885-018-4786-7.

    (5) Colorectal cancer risk factors: Hereditary colorectal risk factors (no date) Hereditary Colorectal Risk Factors | American Cancer Society. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/colon-rectal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html.

    (6) Colorectal cancer: What causes colorectal cancer? (2022) WCRF International. Available at:
    https://www.wcrf.org/diet-activity-and-cancer/cancer-types/colorectal-cancer/ .

    (7) Skoracka, K. et al. (2020) ‘Diet and nutritional factors in male (in)fertility—underestimated factors’, Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(5), p. 1400. doi:10.3390/jcm9051400.