Niki Bezzant: Man up for your health's sake

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If your waist measures more than half your height, you need to act. Photo / Getty Images
If your waist measures more than half your height, you need to act. Photo / Getty Images

It's men's health month, time to turn our attention to the not-so-great health statistics of our menfolk. It's a bit sad that we have to have a special month for this at all. But the fact is Kiwi blokes are not great at looking after themselves.

Where women are used to regular doctor's visits - often for things gynaecological - men are not. And the classic "she'll be right" attitude tends to be reflected in poorer health outcomes for men, since problems tend not to be picked up until they are at a serious stage. New Zealand men live on average four fewer years than women, and one man dies every three hours of a potentially avoidable illness.

This might be the point where most men stop reading. You know what's coming here, right?

Yes, it's time to man up and take a serious look at how you're eating and drinking, because changing that is a big part of the "avoidable" bit.

Sixty-five per cent of men are overweight or obese. That puts you at risk of other diseases: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer. It's easy to check if you're at risk - just measure your waist. If it's more than half your height, you could do with losing some centimetres.

You'll read all sorts of complicated eating advice for men. It's easy to get bogged down in the detail of nutrients - protein, carbs, fat - and forget that we don't eat nutrients; we eat food.

For most men, three simple changes could make you healthier every day.

First: eat more veges. Forty per cent of men don't even get three serves of veges a day, and we should be eating even more. So think at every meal: how can I add veges? Just remember half the plate should be loaded with green, red, yellow, orange - all the colourful veg. Save the potato or kumara for no more than a quarter of the plate.

Eating more veges will probably mean you'll naturally eat less meat, which is another good thing. Higher intakes of red meat are associated with an increased risk of cancer. You don't need to go vegetarian, but you do not need a steak that covers half your plate.

And try a few meat-free meals a week; you might surprise yourself with how tasty they can be.

Finally, watch the alcohol. It's a group 1 carcinogen; it puts you at risk of a host of diseases and it makes you fat. Drinking lots doesn't make you more manly. Trust me on this.

I think sometimes men can take the attitude that caring about their health and putting time and attention into looking after their bodies is somehow vain or unmanly. But it's not. It shows you care. It means you're serious about being alive and well for the people who love you. And as an added bonus: the results of eating well are usually pretty sexy, too.

- Herald on Sunday

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide magazine.

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