Most men, if they are making wise food choices, can obtain all the nutrients they need from what they eat. Most men also know that living a healthy lifestyle of exercising, getting sufficient sleep, and keeping stress under reasonable control, also play important roles in reaching health goals.
But when dietary choices suffer, men’s health does too. Many factors play a role in why men make not the best decisions food-wise. Factors such as time, lack of cooking skills, they prefer takeout and fast food, and the fact nutrition needs change with age. For example, men over 70 need more vitamin D than younger men. As we age, the body’s ability to make vitamin D plummets.
Some men may feel that taking numerous nutritional supplements is the answer to a poor diet. If a man has a diagnosed vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as a deficiency of vitamin D, taking a vitamin D supplement makes good sense. But to totally rely on supplements for meeting everyday dietary needs, is inferior to simply eating a wide variety of healthy foods. The human body is made to absorb and break down food to work synergistically with other foods that benefit health the most.
While there are many nutrients men require regularly, there are five vitamins in particular ranking high on this list. These vitamins are often lacking in men’s diets and should be prioritized for their contribution for keeping men healthy and living longer.
1. Vitamin D for prostate health
Vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin, has become a vitamin of concern that many adults are deficient in, including men.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as a hormone. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because it can be made in the skin with exposure to ultraviolet light. Because vitamin D can be made in the body, it is essential in the diet only when exposure to sunlight is limited or the body’s ability to synthesize it is reduced. Whether vitamin D is obtained from food sources or the sun, it is inactive until it is modified by biochemical reactions in the both the liver and the kidneys.
There are many important reasons why men should be aware of their vitamin D status. For starters, this multidimensional vitamin promotes prostate health and helps prevent both benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis. Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D can help control levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA). A deficiency of vitamin D may also increase risk of prostate cancer.
Adequate stores of vitamin D are associated with improved cardiovascular health which also benefits erectile functioning. Good blood flow is necessary to achieve an erection. Studies have found that a significant number of men with erectile dysfunction also had a vitamin D deficiency and that erectile dysfunction is more common among men with artery flow problems.
Other reasons men need adequate amounts of vitamin D are for maintaining bone health, promoting muscle strength and integrity, protecting cognitive functioning, keeping sperm healthy, weight management, and preventing chronic inflammation.
The current recommendation for vitamin D for men ages 19-70 years is 600 IU and 71 and older, 800 IU. Besides taking a vitamin D3 supplement, the best natural sources are sunlight, salmon, sardines, egg yolks, mushrooms, vitamin D fortified orange juice, milk, and yogurts.
Men should consult with their physician on what amount of a vitamin D3 supplement they need.
2. Vitamin C for healthy aging
This potent antioxidant protects the body by neutralizing free radicals that want to attack healthy cells. One powerful tool of vitamin C is to slow down the signs of aging. That’s why many skin care lines often mentioned the antioxidant prowess of vitamin C for promoting collagen formation and health of skin.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is necessary for the absorption of iron, wound healing, maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth, and for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Men require 90 mg of vitamin C a day – vitamin C is not stored in the body making it imperative that men choose daily sources of this nutrient. Best source of vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, red bell pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, lemons, limes, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, and asparagus.
Note: Vitamin C is only found in foods of plant origin. No animal based contains vitamin C.
3. Folate for heart health
The B vitamin folate (the natural version found naturally in foods) and folic acid, (the man-made synthetic version found in supplements or in fortified foods), have a variety of important functions for men. Men need folate to properly make red and white blood cells, utilize carbohydrates as energy, makes healthy DNA, boosts sperm counts, reduces risk of certain cancers (pancreatic, esophageal, and colon cancers), and may reduce the risk for depression and mood disorders.
Folate also plays a major role in heart health. It has the special function of preventing the buildup of homocysteine, an amino acid the body needs to build protein. What does this have to do with heart health? Too much homocysteine can contribute to heart and blood vessel disease if produced in excess. Folate helps break down excess homocysteine creating other chemicals the body needs.
Men need 400 mg of folate each day. The best food sources include dark leafy greens like spinach, bok choy and collard greens. Other sources include egg yolk, asparagus, beef or chicken livers, oranges, pinto beans, lentils, and seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame.
If a man chooses to use a folic acid supplement, look for the “active” form of folate, called methylfolate (L-methyfolate). While folic acid may be fine for some people, a mutation of the gene called MTHFR that creates an enzyme involved in breaking down the amino acid homocysteine prevents them from converting folate to folic acid. About 23% of Hispanic people have the mutation and 10-15% of Caucasian people have it.
4. Vitamin A for vision and immune functioning
This fat soluble vitamin has two important functions for men of maintaining good vision and supporting immune health. While vitamin A deficiencies in the U.S. are rare, as long as men choose at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, they should be obtaining sufficient amounts.
The best food sources of vitamin A include carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, broccoli, eggs, milk, and cod liver oil. Men require 900 mcg of vitamin A daily.
5. Vitamin B12 for a healthy nervous system
As men age, the body’s need for vitamin B12 increases. That’s because in order to absorb this vitamin, it requires a substance called intrinsic factor, produced in the lining of the stomach. However, aging reduces the body’s ability to produce sufficient intrinsic factor making the ability to absorb vitamin B12, more difficult. This places men at risk of declining brain health since vitamin B12 supports the normal functioning of the nervous system, including memory and cognition.
Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include depression and dementia. Older men (65 and older) in particular, who are displaying these symptoms, should have their vitamin B12 status checked.
The recommended daily allowance for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg. The best food sources of it are from animal based foods – no plant based food naturally contains vitamin B12. Eating beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, milk, and cheese will provide this nutrient. However, there are many plant-based foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12 that include breakfast cereals, fruit juice, and dairy-free yogurts.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.