Men's Health Week: Healthy Nutrition

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Men's Health Week 2020: Healthy Nutrition and The Mediterranean Diet

It's almost common knowledge we should all be striving to eat a balanced diet – but the wide-ranging benefits of good nutrition for men aren't as well established as the idea itself.

For PA Hospital (PAH) dietitian Dr Ingrid Hickman, an important message she hopes men take on board during Men's Health week is that good nutrition can be both appetizing and enjoyable.

"A common misconception is that you need to "be on a diet" and that it will be miserable," she said.

"Nutrition works best as medicine if it is a consistent way of life and for that to happen it is recommended for it to be delicious and convenient and easy for you to do.

"Healthy nutrition doesn't need to be boring, however, it sometimes needs the learning of new skills in how to prepare food, how to make recipes that everyone in the family will enjoy and to believe that healthy eating is the norm rather than simply a specific time of restriction and pain.

"Whether you're fighting fit or not, a good diet can be an unsung hero in keeping you healthy or aiding in your recovery, as poor nutrition is a leading cause of numerous chronic conditions that affect men.

"Despite Australians having access to an incredible range of nutritious foods, around 70% of Australian men are overweight or obese, putting them at risk of developing medical problems like fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes," Dr Hickman said.

"Improving the quality of the foods (and drinks) that we eat, even if we don't lose any weight, has been shown to have beneficial effects on liver function, diabetes control, and mental health in men."

Dr Ingrid Hickman & Dr Graeme MacdonaldDr Ingrid Hickman & Dr Graeme Macdonald

PAH physician Dr Graeme Macdonald believes diet is part of a trifecta of activities men should engage in for better overall health.

"It's not just about what you eat, if you are looking to improve how you feel and maybe been told that your current lifestyle is not healthy, then nutrition is an important part of making those changes," he said.

"You also need to think about your physical activity and your sleep, these should all go together as they work together to either make you feel better or feel worse.

"For Dr Macdonald, it's also important for men not to be hard on themselves if they stray from the path of positive health changes, and that men take ownership of the three key areas of diet, exercise, and sleep.

"Blokes have to want to make changes, and if they want to make changes, they should try to understand a bit about food and drink choices, physical activity, and sleep," he said.

Working with the liver and nutrition units at the PAH, both health professionals have undertaken PA Research Foundation funded research into the benefits of a Mediterranean diet on patients with liver disease or who've had a liver transplant - a diet which is easy to incorporate into Australian cooking leading to several benefits including weight loss.

"We are looking at ways we can support people to switch their eating and drinking to a more Mediterranean to keep their livers healthy," Dr Hickman said.

"The Mediterranean diet can reduce excess fat in the liver, can improve the way the body metabolises nutrients and perhaps more importantly is delicious and inexpensive.

"The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that is predominantly plant-based, with liberal use of extra virgin olive oil, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and seafood, nuts and whole grains, but also with a focus on social interaction when preparing and eating food and ensuring you have some regular physical activity every day."

When combined with exercise and quality sleep, good nutrition can help men stay resilient and positive, which is critically important with figures showing men comprise six of every eight suicides in Australia.

"In relation to the benefits of making changes in what you eat and do, these occur across the board. A good diet, physical activity, and getting enough sleep are all important to improve mental health," Dr Macdonald said.

"But if you really want to get men's attention, particularly middle-aged men who are starting to feel the health effects of a poor lifestyle; eating well, being physically active, and getting enough sleep all improve male sexual function.

"Never underestimate the power of that last benefit as a motivator for men."