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Men: why you must get your five a day

Although a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is important for everyone, certain nutrients are vital for men's health, says nutritionist Rob Hobson.

Little seems to change regarding the diet of your average British man – they continue to consume too much saturated fat, salt and sugar, while also failing to eat enough health-boosting foods such as fruits and vegetables.

This contributes to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in men in the UK. One of the simplest dietary changes men can make to improve their health is to eat more plant-based foods: men in the UK currently eat just over four servings per day and only 33 per cent eat five a day.

What counts as one of your five a day?

A single serving is 80g of fresh fruit or veg (or 40g of dried fruit); smoothies count as two servings, while juices count as one, but they are both only to be included once a day. The same is true of beans, pulses and lentils (this includes baked beans), which are also only counted as just one serving a day.

While variety is good, the five-a-day mantra is often more usefully thought of in terms of weight (400g in total). It doesn't take much to achieve this – a stir-fry could notch up at least 200g of vegetables, which is close to three servings.

Here's four important nutrients that men should get from their five a day. 

Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral for men, which is why the recommended daily intake is set higher than women at 9.5mg per day. The prostate gland has one of the highest concentrations of zinc in the male body. Zinc helps to regulate testosterone levels and is essential for proper prostate function.  

Low levels of zinc have also been shown to affect sperm quality and libido, which in turn impacts fertility.1 Good plant sources of zinc include lentils, garlic, broccoli, sweetcorn, asparagus, peas, spinach and okra.

The number five surrounded by fruit and vegetablesMen in the UK currently eat just over four servings per day and only 33 per cent eat five a day.2

Fibre

A high-fibre diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, as well as helping to manage body weight.3 Fibre is essential for good digestion and reduces the risk of constipation, which can put pressure on the bladder and worsen symptoms of BPH (prostate gland enlargement).

Currently, the average British male eats just 21g of fibre, with the recommended 30g only achieved by 12 per cent of men.

High-fibre foods include fruits (fresh and dried), vegetables (especially artichokes), beans, pulses and lentils. Many of these foods can be included in the meals you already eat by adding beans to one-pot dishes or salads or spinach to home-made smoothies.

Potassium

According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), 12 per cent of British men do not get enough potassium in their diet, with the average intake just 89 per cent of the recommendation.2 This mineral plays an important role in the management of high blood pressure, which has been shown to affect 31 per cent of men in England and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.4

High levels of sodium cause the body to retain water, and this puts pressure on blood vessels. Potassium lessens the effects of sodium while also helping to ease tension in the blood vessel walls.

Although reducing your sodium intake is vital to lowering blood pressure, eating more vegetables rich in potassium – especially spinach, swiss chard, bok choy, mushrooms, sweet potato, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, courgette and broccoli – can also help.

Selenium

According to the NDNS, 26 per cent of men are not getting enough selenium in their diet,2 and this could have an impact on fertility. Selenium is important for the development of both sperm shape and motility, which are key factors in normal conception.5

You can increase your selenium intake by including fruit and vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, bananas, lentils and beans into your diet.

Eating a plant-based diet with more fruits and vegetables is one of the easiest ways for men to improve their health and reduce their risk of disease. It's never too late to make changes to the way you eat, and even the smallest changes could have a huge impact on your long-term health.

Rob Hobson MSc RNutr is a Registered Nutritionist who has worked with some of the UK’s largest food and health companies and performs training in the public health sector (including government agencies and the NHS). Rob contributes regularly to UK press publications and has a monthly column in Women's Health magazine.

Find out more at Rob Hobson's website, or read more about Healthspan's health experts.