When it comes to healthy eating, men and women can face different challenges. HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson and nutritionist Claire Turnbull take a look at some of the food traps unique to men, and how to overcome them.
For men, making poor food choices can often be related to products that are cleverly marketed as ‘manly’ – such as protein bars or sports drinks – or ‘man-sized’, making it tempting to eat larger portion sizes. Here’s our guide to choosing some smarter and healthier alternatives.
Sports drinks and energy drinks
It’s easy to forget the impact of what we drink on our weight and overall health – and sports drinks are frequently marketed as essential ‘manly’ products. But they can have as much as 11 teaspoons of sugar in just one bottle and about the same number of kilojoules as two slices of bread, or almost two bottles of light beer. Sports drinks are only necessary for those doing high intensity training for more than an hour – more than a regular game of touch or a daily gym workout.
Energy drinks such as V, Red Bull and Mother are packed with sugar and stimulants and come in ‘man-sized’ portions too, which can add a huge amount of energy to your daily intake. A 500ml can of Mother, for example, has 12.5 teaspoons of sugar and 160mg of caffeine (more than 1.5 times the amount of a cup of coffee).
Water is always best, but other better choices include low-fat milk, a low-fat regular or iced coffee, mineral water with a little diet cordial, or the occasional diet soft drink.
The humble meat pie is a favourite ‘man snack’, often grabbed on the run as a work lunch, or as a mid-afternoon hunger-buster at the footy. Unfortunately, it’s an easy way to load up on kilojoules and fat without much nutritional goodness. An average meat pie can contain more than 1700kJ (almost triple the recommended amount for a snack), up to 20g total fat (more than a quarter of your recommended daily limit) and 10g saturated fat (almost half your recommended daily limit).
A multigrain sandwich with lean ham, reduced-fat cheese and salad. If you really want a pie, make it into a meal: choose a potato-topped or ‘lite’ version and add vegetables or salad.
Beer and beer snacks
You know the drill by now – beer carries a fair whack of kilojoules (around 433kJ per middy of full strength) so wherever possible, opt for light beer (about 206kJ per middy) and try not to drink more than 2 standard drinks a day, with 2 alcohol-free days a week.
The man-trap here is twofold – when drinking beer, there are often chips or salted nuts to nibble on at the same time. The problem is that these are high in energy, fat, saturated fat and sodium. A serve is small – usually only 25g or 12–15 chips (about 8g fat, 530kJ and 150mg sodium) – but who can stop at 15? A typical salted nut mix can have up to a whopping 1300kJ, 30g fat (due to the healthy fat content of nuts) and 300mg sodium per 50g serve – that’s generally only one third of a small packet, so you need to be very careful.
Try pretzels – they are lower in fat and energy (about 5g and 800kJ per 50g serve respectively) than chips and nuts but still provide the bit of salt and crunch. Choose raw or dry-roasted nuts (to cut sodium and energy) and opt for sharing a small pack with mates. It’s better to eat before going out, making it less likely you’ll snack.
Protein bars and shakes
These favourites can be quick, convenient and helpful for those who are doing regular, long, high-intensity exercise or resistance training. However, on their own they won’t build muscle. The combination of eating healthy, balanced meals and snacks and the right exercise program will get the best results. Some protein shakes and bars are very high in energy and have far more in a serving than most need. They can have up to 1500kJ per bar, or over 1000kJ per shake – which can easily cancel out a good workout.
For moderate exercise, a glass of low-fat milk (which contains protein) and a piece of fruit is a perfect post-training recovery snack. Or, just have your next meal within 30 minutes of exercising.
The same principle for sports and energy drinks applies to flavoured milk too. Watch how much energy you’re drinking over the day – flavoured milk can add up to 1800kJ with a single 500ml carton. While reduced-fat milk is a nutritious snack that provides protein, carbohydrate and lots of vitamins and minerals, flavoured milk is usually full-fat with added sugar.
Have a glass of flavoured milk instead of a snack, not in addition to it. Always opt for reduced-fat versions or, better still, make a small glass at home with skim milk and a teaspoon of Milo.
Being a man doesn’t automatically mean bigger portions than wives, girlfriends or sisters. While men may have more muscle and therefore burn more energy at rest, total daily energy requirements vary from person to person. While men may need more energy than women, remember it’s easy to go overboard with big portions. For example, upsizing from a Whopper to Double Whopper at Hungry Jacks adds on almost another 1000kJ and 17g fat. Even adding an extra cup of pasta or another piece of steak can add up to 900kJ to a meal.
Balance your plate; fill half with vegies or salad, a quarter with protein and a quarter with carbs. Start with a regular serve and go back for seconds if you are still really hungry (but choose veg or salad to fill the gap). And don’t wolf down your food – your stomach takes around half an hour to let your brain know that you’re full, so wait before going for seconds.
HFG suggested swaps
We know that sometimes the lure will be too great to ignore completely, so we’ve picked the best swaps for having a ‘man snack’.
Aussie Bodies Protein FX Super Bar
Aussie Bodies Protein FX LO CARB mini protein bar and an apple
Save 802kJ, 9g fat and 4.2g sat fat while still getting a balanced protein and carb hit for recovery
Four’N Twenty traditional meat pie
Four’N Twenty lite meat pie
Save 272kJ, 6.7g fat, 3.2g sat fat and 165mg sodium per pie
Doritos nacho cheese chips
Parkers original pretzels
Save 96kJ, 4.4g fat and 3.1g sat fat per 25g serve
Aussie Bodies chocolate Protein Revival
Sanitarium choc ice Up & Go (250ml)
Save 320kJ while still rehydrating and aiding recovery with carbs and protein
Dare Iced Coffee
Rush low-fat iced latte
Save 824kJ, 14.9g fat and 10.6g sat fat, with a similar protein and calcium hit per 500ml bottle
High 5 Zero tablet in 750ml of water to drink after a moderate workout
Save 775kJ while still replenishing your electrolytes
Look for snacks that are less than 600kJ per serve.