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Do men who cook live longer?

Did you know Kiwi men live three years less on average than Kiwi women? Perhaps you’re surprised it’s only three years. After all it’s the fairer sex that typically take more care and invest more time (and money!) into improving their health and wellbeing. But in the spirit of equality, I’m on a mission to even the score!

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health more men die from heart disease, trachea and lung cancer, chronic lower lung disease, colon cancer and diabetes than women. There’s two common factors that thread through each of these scary, and dare I say it, often preventable diseases – diet and lifestyle.

From a dietary perspective, a high saturated fat and salt intake, inadequate fibre consumption and too many sugary drinks increase a man’s risk of heart disease and other nasty illnesses. But don’t fret, the key to following a healthy diet is simply a matter of getting the balance right. Just be sure to include foods from the five food groups, and minimise your intake of those “extras” like chips, donuts, sausage rolls, pies etc. There’s certainly no need to completely cut out sugar, fat, dairy or fruit. And you certainly don’t need to drink detox teas or take herbal remedies. That advice goes for both genders.

No doubt, some of the men amongst the audience just started to drift off during that last paragraph. I know you’ve heard it all before. So let me break it down so it’s even simpler. These next four tips are easy to remember, and maybe even fun to put into practice.

Eat more plant-based foods

OK, stay with me here. I know most of us guys enjoy eating meat, but do we have to eat so much? Whole grains, legumes and veggies are nutritional dynamos that possess a high fibre content, antioxidants and a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals. Research shows that people who regularly include more of these foods as part of their diet have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure rates, and are less likely to develop diabetes and certain cancers. The high fibre content of grains, vegetables and legumes may also assist with keeping our weight in check. Even making a few ingredient swaps can immensely improve vegetable and fruit intake and reduce saturated fat and sodium intake. Unfortunately, men are less likely than women to meet their daily fruit and veg intake (only 3% of men met both guidelines versus 7.7% of women). 

Get in the kitchen

Research shows that while many men are interested in cooking, it is often the women in the household who are tasked with this responsibility. In fact, one study revealed that out of 800 Australian men, only 24 per cent cooked at home no more than twice a week. Yet, countless studies suggest that when we cook at home, compared to eating out or ordering in take-away, we eat less calories, sugar, fat and salt. According to a recent study, 84% of those who are confident in the kitchen are more likely to have an excellent diet overall. That’s a pleasing finding for those of us watching our waistlines and the health of our hearts. See my Get Your Man in the Kitchen campaign for some more inspiration or follow #getyourmaninthekitchen on Instagram.

Join the team

Helping with meal planning, food prep and spending time with your significant other in the kitchen is a win-win-win for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Plus, if you have two people in the kitchen motivating each other, then you’re more likely to cook at home more often. Furthermore, studies show that eating at the dinner table makes us more likely to eat slowly and mindfully, and less likely to overeat. So make man-dinner an event! Candlelight anyone?

It’s how you do it

Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but how you prepare them can have an impact on nutrients and just how well your body absorbs them. The solution is to enjoy both cooked and raw veggies. Like with vegetables, how you prepare meat and fish is important as well. Methods that use a minimum of added fats, and allow for fat to render and drain are best, such as grilling, steaming, stir-frying or roasting. Sorry, that means no deep-frying or barbecuing for a while.

Gentlemen, for the sake of your health… it’s time to crank up the heat in the kitchen. Check out my collection of man-friendly recipes to help get you started. Happy cooking!

Joel Feren aka 'The Nutrition Guy' is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with a background in biomedical sciences. Learn more about Joel at The Nutrition Guy.