Better Nutrition|June 2020
I’m asked about men’s health a lot, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. I’ve got credentials—but so does half the world. Credentials aren’t the main reason men talk to me.
No, the main reason people talk to me is because 40 years ago, I was an overweight, heroin- and cocaine-addicted, alcoholic smoker headed down a path that wasn’t likely to end well. Now, I’m the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been. I’ve maintained the same body weight and fat percentage since 1989. I play competitive tennis in a USTA league, and I play tennis or hike almost every day. I travel all over the country, have written a book a year for the past 15 years, and I have an almost-embarrassing amount of energy. And I’ve been passionately in love with the same partner for over 10 years—and my desire for her grows every year.
On my next birthday, I’ll be 74. That’s why people ask me about men’s health. And it’s an important topic, because while we may consider ourselves the stronger sex, the fact is that men are losing the longevity battle. In 1900, the average female lived to about 48 compared to 46 for the average man—a gender gap of about 2 years. As of 2017, the gender gap had grown to 5 years, with women living to an average of 81 years compared to 76 years for men. More than half of all women over age 65 in America are widows, and they outnumber widowers 3:1. Among centenarians, there are four women for every man.
So women clearly live longer than men. And apparently, they stay healthier as well. Although heart disease is an equal opportunity killer, men typically get their first heart attack at age 65, while women get theirs at 72.
There are many reasons for the sorry state of men’s health in America. Some you can’t do anything about—like your sex, your age, and your genes. But there are five areas of health in which you can make changes that will transform your life and change the outcome.
So, for what it’s worth, here are the five most important lessons I’ve personally learned on my 40-year journey to discovering what really matters when it comes to getting healthy. And it’s so delightfully simple that you’ll smile at how obvious some of the “rules” are.
As a practicing functional nutritionist, I’m biased: I think health begins with food. Obviously there are tons of other things in addition to food that influence how healthy you are, but it’s awfully hard to compensate for a chronically bad diet. And it’s hard to find a diet worse for you than the typical American diet of fast and processed foods: high in carbs, low in fat, and bursting with toxic protein like factory-farmed meat.
There’s really only one rule when it comes to diet, and it’s so simple you may be inclined to dismiss it. But it actually makes all the difference. Are you ready? Eat real food.
Now if you’re not sure what a “real food” is, it’s food that, if you showed it to your great-grandmother, she’d know exactly what it is. It’s food that would spoil if you left it outdoors. It’s food—for the most part—that doesn’t come packaged or boxed (though there are exceptions).
Since there are tons of food products out there that might be hard to classify as “real” or “unreal”—kale chips and vegan pizza, I’m talking to you—here’s one simple guideline: If you’re not sure if it’s “real,” it’s probably not.
I want to be clear here. The single most important thing you can do, the single most important dietary rule you can follow, is to eat unprocessed food 99 percent of the time. That trumps percent of protein, absence of meat, absence of carbs, counting calories, or any other dietary fad. Just. Eat. Real. Food.
After 30 years in the trenches teaching, experimenting, and testing diets, that is the single most important life-saving advice about food that I’ve got. And it works every time.
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