It’s a perfect summer evening, meant for drinks on the deck and supper on the grill. You’re filling your plate with a crisp salad and secretly watching (and dreading) as your husband piles on the meat.
“Honey, don’t you think some of these fresh veggies would be great with that steak? You know what the doctor said.”
Pause, and maybe a slight glare. “Later.”
Or maybe you are that husband.
How can you make your husband eat healthier and cut back on some of those ‘Man Foods’ he just loves when this is the conversation you find yourself having day after day? How can you as a Man-Food-lover either make some small tweaks to help your health … or accept help from your partner?
This article is going to help you do just that. You’ll:
- understand more about how Man Foods might be affecting your or your partner’s health
- learn ways to make some small changes with big impact
- get my 5 dietitian-approved man food tips
- see it all in action with a Recipe Makeover example
It’s time to stop feeling stuck and start feeling empowered. Keep reading for tools that will help your husband eat better … ones that work better than nagging or starting a fight.
About men’s nutrition and health
Let’s back up a bit here and review some background info about men’s health in general.
Before we get started, I want to point out that most of this article talks about food. But there are other important ways for men to take care of their health, like getting regular physical activity and dealing with stress.
What conditions are men at higher risk for?
In Canada, the leading causes of death for men between the ages of 55-74 continues to be cancer and heart disease (1). Men are also commonly diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression (2). They tend to get these conditions at younger ages than women, and as such, they’re more likely to live fewer healthy years than a women (3).
But more than just looking at the numbers … when we think of our later years, many of us just want them to be healthful and enjoyable. We may not know exactly how many years we have left, but we do know how we want to spend them.
Men do worry about their health
A study by the Cleveland Clinic found that men’s top health worries were heart attack prevention and cancer, with 44% and 42% respectively (4). Weight gain and having a stroke were also common worries for about 24% of the men interviewed (4). There’ll be more on this study in a bit.
So even though they may not talk about their health worries, they do have them! The common theme is that men are typically most worried about anything that will affect their independence and their quality of life, such as memory loss or loss of mobility (5).
But despite this, 80% of men only go to a doctor because their spouse or partner is nagging them (3). So while you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, know that at least some of what you’re saying may actually be sinking in.
2 reasons why men are at higher risk
Health gets kinda complicated sometimes and there are many things that might affect how our bodies are working. Here are 2 reasons though that men, in particular, are at higher risk of health problems.
1. Getting help with their health
One reason could be that they drag their feet about getting to the doctor when something doesn’t seem right. Men aren’t used to seeing their health as a priority. There are also unhelpful stereotypes about men that prevent them from seeking help – that they’re independent, risk takers, or ‘the strong silent type’ (3). They feel like they need to suck-it-up.
That study by the Cleveland Clinic I mentioned before (4) talked to 500 US men by phone (aged 18-70) and found:
- 60% of men will wait to go to a doctor until symptoms are unbearable
- 50% of men in the Boomer age range won’t discuss their health with male friends “because they don’t feel it’s any of their business”
- 54% will discuss health with a spouse or partner, though 26% don’t discuss private topics with anyone
- for some reason, that the researchers didn’t pinpoint, men with children were even less likely to talk about their health compared to men with no children
Another reason that men are at higher health risks is the way they eat.
Research from 2018 found that poor health habits in men are becoming more common and it’s leading to long-term consequences (2). The team talked to 2000 Canadian men (with over 30% of them being 55+) and took a look at 5 major areas of health, including eating patterns.
What I found most striking from the information was the drastic difference between healthy and unhealthy eating behaviours: 61.8% of men were considered unhealthy when it came to their eating while only 38.2% had healthy eating patterns.
It’s well-known that diet, as well as other lifestyle habits, has an impact on many of these health concerns. Blood pressure, risk of stroke, cholesterol levels, artery blockages, inflammation, certain cancers and mental health can all be strongly linked to how we eat.
What is man food?
If you’re like the other people I’ve talked with, you answered your own question about 2 seconds after you asked “what is man food”?
Meat, meat and more meat. And maybe some potatoes on the side.
Men’s eating pattern tends to be higher in meat, lower in fruits and vegetables and higher in salt (3). They tend to treat food in a utilitarian or purposeful way and often prefer fill-me-up meals. For example, soup is definitely not a meal on it’s own, as it might be for some women!
Men and women often eat differently
Of course I’m really generalizing here … but it might be interesting to pay attention to this over the next while and see how it plays out at your house.
What I see with clients is that food choices and approach to eating can be quite different between men and women. I will again generalize and chalk this up to the gender roles they grew up with in North America.
While women might plan out a meal, thinking of how to combine flavours and create variety, men often focus on using food to stop hunger. A woman who chooses to have a bagel, might want to toast it, spread on cream cheese and top with some cucumber and sprouts. A man would be more likely to say, ‘who has time for that’ and grab a slice of bread from the bag or a plain chunk of bagel as they pass through the kitchen.
What man food means for your husband’s health
Ok so we know that eating patterns affect health. But let’s take a closer look at 3 areas that are being affected by eating ‘man food’ frequently.
One reason I focus on helping people who are concerned about their heart health, diabetes and/or weight is that they are all quite closely related, as you’ll see below.
Considering one of men’s strongest worries about health tends to be heart health, there are a couple of key areas to focus on:
- lower saturated fat – to help control blood cholesterol levels (dyslipidemia)
- lower salt – which can lead to high blood pressure, a well-known risk factor for coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke (6)
Interestingly, people who have high cholesterol AND high blood pressure are at higher risk of fatal heart disease than people with just high cholesterol (6). It’s also been found that treatments for high cholesterol levels can help with blood pressure too.
Controlling blood pressure is not only important for heart health – people with high blood pressure may be at higher risk of developing diabetes as well (6).
People who have diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease and often struggle with their weight.
Eating a variety of foods, including fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins and whole grains can help manage blood sugars as well as slow the progression of diabetes for people who are borderline.
If weight is a concern for you, know that even losing 10lbs may help prevent high blood pressure (6).
Getting a handle on weight or losing a few extra pounds can help many of the people I work with to manage their diabetes better … or lower their risk of developing it.
Let’s now think about this in terms of the most common parts of a man food diet.
- may drive up bad cholesterol levels
- a new study adds to the argument that eating more red meat, especially processed, means higher risk of death from heart disease or cancer (7)
- chicken and other white meats may not actually be better for heart health than red meat, as was found in another recent study (8)
- Little-to-no fruits and vegetables
- not getting enough of those anti-inflammatory foods or fibres that protect against a variety of conditions including heart disease, cancer and diabetes
Putting this all together, we can see that men are at higher risk of heart disease and/or diabetes. And if they’re eating man food often, their eating patterns are not protecting them from these risks.
How can I make my husband eat better?
One thing I see people try to do is to make a change on their own and expect everyone else to just be on-board … because, well, it’s good for you.
Of course, it goes without saying that eating well for yourself is a good first place to start, especially if your eating isn’t role-model-worthy.
So what if you are already eating well but just want your husband to eat better too. You just need him to eat better … or even just show you some sign that he cares about his health. You’re positive he’ll like it … if he would just agree to try it!
If your house is like many of my clients, wives often do the majority of the cooking. And this puts you in a good position to make recipe/ cooking tweaks that will help your partner eat well too. He might notice some, but others he won’t … which could be the best place to start if this has been a long-standing battle.
Tips for making healthy eating the easy choice
Many men I work with choose the easiest option – if there are leftovers in the house or anything else that can be microwaved, they’ll eat it. If nothing is easy? Some guys will either skip that meal or grab whatever they see first … the cookies or bagels on the counter.
- writing it out, like literally, goes a long way – tell him what’s to eat and where it can be found (ie there are dinner rolls in the freezer and leftover chilli from last night)
- still with the convenience factor, have fruit or veggies chopped up and ready to eat, all in one container. Bonus points if you use the same container all the time (so everyone in the house knows there’s veggies ready-to-go) and if there’s something to dip them in.
Again, we’re not talking huge changes here. Eating better doesn’t have to mean only beans or tofu or green salad (aka rabbit food). If you can make a number of small changes … they might even go unnoticed!
- heart healthy margarines vs butter for people who use a lot of it
- cut off the extra fat from meat
- use cooked meat (chicken, roast, turkey) for sandwiches instead of deli meats – easy to do when you cook a larger cut than what you need for one meal, freeze slices for later use
- use lower salt broth, soups, etc; take the salt shaker off the table, consider using a salt substitute (however this should be chosen with caution for people with kidney problems or existing heart conditions)
- include beans, lentils and legumes more often
A note about supplements: for most supplements, there’s no good proof that they actually do the same job that a food would do. This means that taking calcium, potassium and/or magnesium does not help to lower blood pressure the same way that eating foods with high amounts of these would. Same goes for fibre supplements – they do their job for some people when it comes to regularity but don’t have the same protective properties as fibre in foods.
My dietitian-approved top 5 man food tips
Now I’m not suggesting that you ban man food altogether. But there are some simple tweaks you can make to 1) decrease the amount and 2) add in ways to boost nutrition.
By following some of these tips will help you:
- decrease saturated fats, sugar and salt
- increase fibre, plant-based proteins and overall nutritional quality of meals
… all those things we talked about earlier.
1. Meat swaps
- cold water fish 2 times a week – BBQ salmon anyone?
- plant-based proteins have the best effect on blood cholesterol levels. Important to note: this doesn’t need to be the dreaded tofu however should also not be ultra-processed options that are packed with salt
- bump out some fo the meat by building more veggies into the meal with shish kabobs or a pan of roasted veggies
- grilling can be a great way to cook as the grease drips off … be careful though about charring or letting that grease get out of control on your grill since burning fat makes harmful by-products
- rather than cutting out meat altogether, focus on cutting down, making portions a bit smaller, having meatless options sometimes (like Meatless Monday)
2. Watch the condiments
- use more home-made marinades and/or herbs/spices vs BBQ sauce or other high salt/ high sugar options
- cut back on ketchup, store-bought sauces and dressings
- replace potato chips with air-popped popcorn or unsalted pretzels. You can add small amounts of melted margarine and salt as well as other spices to create custom flavours. Try cayenne or cinnamon, add a small handful of nuts or even a bit of dried fruit, top with shredded cheese or Parmesan
4. Make it a meal
- stews and chilies, especially when made at home can be a hearty meal
- load up on beans, even if you still choose to add meat
- add barley or quinoa to boost the fibre (and the fill-me-up factor)
- serve over couscous or brown rice or with home made cornbread
- if he’s really feeling adventurous, try a whole salad for a meal, just make sure it’ll fill him up by adding grilled chicken, tuna, nuts, beans, marinated tofu or some other protein-rich food
5. Eating out
- ask 1/2 fries to be substituted with 1/2 a salad
- get a side of fruit salad and or oatmeal along with the bacon and eggs
- limit the alcohol
- order gravy on the side
Man Food recipe makeover: Beef Tacos —> Taco Salad
Now let’s see some of these tips in action.
This is a super simple one … but one that is a great example of how you can use these tips with many other meals
- The step with the biggest impact is how you make your taco meat filling. You’ll be aiming for 1/2 beef and 1/2 lentils which will cut back on the beef and will boost your plan-based protein and fibre.
- To do this, prepare some brown or green lentils as per the instructions on the package. You can also use canned but be sure to rinse well in order to get rid of any salt.
- Use a homemade taco seasoning mixture so you can cut waaaaay down on the salt. Email list members: watch for my favourite taco seasoning recipe in the next monthly newsletter.
- Brown the ground beef, add in the cooked lentils, add taco seasoning and cook as usual.
- Prepare a variety of taco toppings (canned corn, shredded cheese, iceberg lettuce, avocado, diced fresh tomatoes, black beans, green onions, diced fresh bell peppers, olives).
- Pile plate with taco toppings, addn some taco meat mixture on top as well as some tortilla chips.
- Spoon some sour cream and salsa over it all, mix up and enjoy.
If salad is going too far for your guy, make your usual tacos using the beef/lentil mixture – you’ll still be getting more plant-based protein and lower salt from the homemade taco seasoning mixture.
Taking the focus off of man food a bit
At the end of the day, no person can change another person. But, you never know what seeds you’re planting with each conversation or action. You never know what will motivate someone to make that change, the comment that will stick, the event that will ‘open’ their eyes.
It’s clear that wives and partners have a really important role in men’s health, across multiple areas – from cooking, to being his health partner, to pestering until he goes to the doctor.
At the end of the day, whether your guy is ready to ditch man food completely or is only willing to (maybe) talk about different options …
–> starting small is better than not starting at all
–> it’s never too late to make a change (old dogs can certainly learn new tricks!)
–> focusing on preserving and protecting your health together as a couple can help you both
No one likes to feel like they need to make excuses all the time about their eating. That their every move is being watched. By focusing on working together for a common goal of well-being, it might help to take the spotlight off of his eating. Sometimes, this creates some breathing room where he can come to his own realizations about his health. To ignite his curiosity so he can learn more about healthy eating on his own terms.
And when people start making changes because of some spark of motivation inside of them … it makes all the difference in the results they achieve!
Sometimes it has nothing to do with you
While I alway try my hardest to share helpful tips, know that these might just be a starting point. Talk with your doctor and/or dietitian to find solutions for your specific concerns. If you are are worried about your partner’s health and talking to them just doesn’t seem to be working, consider talking to a trusted health professional about resources to either help you or for you to share with your partner.
As I mentioned at the beginning, depression is a health concern that can show up as men get older. Check out this great Canadian website for more info about depression for men and their friends/family, the section about how to initiate a conversation with a guy about depression is particularly well-done on this website: www.headsupguys.org. And as always, if you are concerned that your partner is dealing with depression, reach out to your local health professionals for help.
As you were reading, I’m so curious to know how you see this happening in your life? Did you come up with any ideas of your own? What’s 1 thing you can start doing this week?
Send me a message and let me know what was most helpful (or not). What info do you want to see more about? How does your partner react when you talk about eating? Or anything else you’d like to share … hearing from you really makes my day and helps me write the most useful info for readers like you!
1. Stats Canada website: leading causes of death, total population, by age group. Accessed June 10/19.
2. American Journal of Men’s Health (2018). Unhealthy Behaviors Among Canadian Men Are Predictors of Comorbidities: Implications for Clinical Practice https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1557988318799022.
3. Canadian Urology Association Journal (2014), Status of men’s health in Canada, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4145701/.
4. Men and their Health: They don’t want to talk about it (2016). https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2016/men-dont-talk-about-health-cs.html.
5. The Aging Male (2012), Effect of age, education and health status on community dwelling older men’s health concerns,
6. Cardiovascular Disease – Hypertension Practice Guidance Toolkit (2019). Dietitians of Canada via Practice Evidence-Based Nutrition (PEN) website. Subscription required. Accessed May 29/19.
7. The BMJ (2019). Association of changes in red meat consumption with total and cause specific mortality amount US women and men: two prospective cohort studies. https://www.bmj.com/content/365/bmj.l2110.
8. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2019), Effects of red meat, white meat, and nonmeat protein sources on atherogenic lipoprotein measures in the context of low compared with high saturated fat intakes: a randomized controlled trial, https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ajcn/nqz035/5494812; cite: https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz035.
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on helping people take back control of their health & weight … before it feels like their health controls their life. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.