Plant-rich diets vital to men's health

Benton-Franklin Community Health AllianceJuly 9, 2014 

Men's diets can affect their odds of developing prostate cancer, an enlarged prostate gland, erectile dysfunction and lower urinary tract problems. A diet high in meat, processed meats and animal fat is associated with such problems and diseases.

The risk of developing diseases of the male reproductive system can be mitigated. A study published in 2005 in the Journal of Urology concluded that men could decrease their risk of erectile dysfunction, prostate gland enlargement and lower urinary tract issues by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, decreasing meat and fat intake and eating more vegetables, seeds, beans, lentils and other plant foods.

The National Cancer Institute says consuming animal fat is a risk factor for prostate cancer. A 2009 study found that there were about 23 times more cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 men in the U.S. than in India.

The lower rates of prostate cancer in India may be explained in part by their plant-rich diet. In that year, India was the world's largest producer of fruits and second-largest producer of vegetables, with 96 percent to 98 percent of fruits and vegetables eaten fresh. Indians also consume significant amounts of herbs and spices, which contain the most antioxidants of any type of food by weight. On average, Indians who eat meat only have one or two servings of meat per week.

Men in Japan also have low prostate cancer rates. In comparison, Japanese-American men have risks similar to the rest of the U.S. male population. This indicates that it is the American diet and lifestyle, and not only genetic factors, that contribute significantly to prostate cancer.

Diet is even important for men who have prostate cancer. In a 2007 review of diet and survival after diagnosis, plant-rich diets high in fiber and micronutrients and low in fat and saturated fat were determined to positively influence patient survival.

All these studies are a good reminder that meat doesn't have to be the centerpiece of summer barbecues.

Vegetables and other plant foods also taste great on the grill and help alleviate these and other health problems rather than contribute to them.

For dessert: Grill up some pineapple. Slice a peeled and cored pineapple 3/4 inch thick and place it on an oiled grate over medium high heat for about 3 minutes per side.

The recipe below is for grilled vegetables. You could turn this into a meal by placing the vegetables on a whole grain bun smothered with hummus and roasted garlic.

-- The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance's monthly food column discusses how to reduce the risk or severity of health problems by eating better. More information is at

Grilled Vegetables

Start to finish: 1 hour. Servings: 4.

4 tablespoon olive or other oil
1/2 cups red wine vinegar or other vinegar of choice
1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 peppers, quartered
3 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
1 pound of asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1/2 pound mushrooms of choice
1 eggplant, sliced 1/4 thick
2 onions

Place onions in a covered, microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 4 minutes. Allow to cool. Mix first 6 ingredients in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Slice the vegetables, add to the marinade, and stir gently. Slice the onions about 3/4 inch thick. You may find it helpful to hold the onion slices intact by skewering each slice with 4 evenly-spaced round toothpicks, forming a cross. Add to the marinade. Let vegetables marinate while you light and heat the barbecue to medium high. When hot, spray or oil the grate.

Cook vegetables 2 to 4 minutes per side, until nicely browned, brushing with the marinade if desired.

Other options: Place vegetables and canned navy beans on polenta and top with marinara sauce or pesto; or place vegetables on a tortilla with refried beans, salsa and cilantro. Go easy on the cheese if adding: it's high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Nutrition information per serving: 266 calories, 14 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 30 milligrams sodium without added salt, 30 grams carbohydrates (16 grams sugars), 12 grams fiber, 9 grams protein, high in vitamins A and C.

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