Nutrition

5 Ways Men Can Level Up Their Diets

13 min read
When it comes to key nutrients and habits, data shows that men's nutrition is falling behind. Fortunately, there are some easy fixes.
When it comes to key nutrients and habits, data shows that men's nutrition is falling behind. Fortunately, there are some easy fixes.

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Even the most fit among us may have certain blind spots when it comes to health and wellness. Take nutrition, for example: Even if we’re aiming to eat a healthy diet the majority of the time, there are other things that can get in the way of meeting daily nutrient needs, like dietary restrictions, genetic variations, and more. The bottom line? While we always recommend aiming to meet nutritional requirements through food first, doing it “perfectly” can be a tall order—and chances are there could still be gaps. Those gaps can look different depending on age, gender or assigned sex at birth, and current life stage—but many of us have them in some form.

Even though most of us may be vulnerable to gaps, recent data shows that men in particular are falling behind women when it comes to their diets—from general fruit and vegetable intake to specific nutrients like vitamin A and magnesium.*

In other words: It’s time to level up nutrition habits. And learning precisely where nutrient gaps could be is the first step.

1. Men’s diets score lower than women’s for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

→ Level Up: Aim to get more variety of healthy foods on your plate. Raid the produce section at your grocery store—or better yet, hit up your local farmer’s market.

Did you know that some national nutrition experts are tasked with scoring our diets? Diet quality is assessed using a tool called the Healthy Eating Index, which compares daily nutrient recommendations to the way Americans are actually eating, monitoring dietary patterns over time. (1)

Diet Quality Scores

According to the latest data, men† are scoring lower than women for key dietary components like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 meaning that all recommendations are met). Another way of looking at it? Only 9.2% of men are meeting the recommended intake for fruits, and only 7.6% of men are meeting the recommended intake for vegetables. In all fairness, women aren’t exactly hitting these goals either—but they’re still pacing ahead of men at 15.1% and 10.9%, respectively.† (2)

We probably don’t need to remind you that fruits and veggies are excellent sources of many of the micronutrients we need on a daily basis, and eating them is a surefire way to hit many of those goals. Want an example? One cup of cooked kale is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Vitamin C and vitamin A both play an important role in supporting normal immune function (in addition to other duties in the body); vitamin K2 helps out with supporting blood and bone health. These are key nutrients the body needs, and they’re easy to pile onto the plate, especially when you load up on produce.* (3)

2. Men are falling behind women when it comes to getting enough magnesium from their diets.

→ Level Up: While it’s always a good idea to fill a plate with nutrient-rich foods, a multivitamin can help fill gaps in the diet.*

How well do you know magnesium? While calcium gets a lot of credit for being a bone health superhero, the truth is that it works alongside a lot of helper nutrients, which lend important support. Magnesium also plays a role in supporting vitamin D metabolism and supporting muscle protein synthesis. So, yeah—magnesium is a multitasker that works hard behind the scenes.*

The catch is that even though magnesium can be found in a lot of whole foods (leafy greens, peanut butter, and avocado, to name a few), diet isn’t always a reliable source for meeting recommended magnesium intake. That might help explain why 53% of men ages 19-50 aren’t meeting their magnesium needs through their diets. That number increases to 59% for men over 50.* (4, 5)

But while they’re also generally falling short, women still have the edge when it comes to getting more magnesium on their plates: 49% of women ages 19-50 and 53% of women 50 and up aren’t meeting recommendations for magnesium intake. The bottom line: Both women and men may want to consider supplementing magnesium with a multivitamin.* (4)

(The same goes for vitamin A.)

Allow us to properly introduce you to vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in supporting immune function and normal vision. Roughly 53% of men ages 19-50 aren’t getting enough vitamin A from their diets—and the same goes for 46% of men over 50. That's why we include vitamin A in our men's multivitamins.* (3)

While many foods are rich in vitamin A, it’s important to note that there are actually two forms found in our diets. Preformed vitamin A—aka retinol and its esterified form, retinyl ester—is found largely in animal products like beef liver, dairy products, and fish. Provitamin A, most commonly beta-carotene, is technically the precursor to the form of vitamin A our bodies use, and it’s found largely in vegetarian sources like sweet potatoes, kale, and other leafy greens. The caveat is that our bodies have to convert both preformed and provitamin vitamin A to the active forms (retinal and retinoic acid) to use it intracellularly, a conversion which may not be as efficient for provitamin A carotenoids. (6, 7)

3. Men have other common nutrient gaps, too.

→ Level Up: When it comes to certain nutrient gaps, it’s not just about diet—factors like genetics and lifestyle can come into play. That’s also where a multivitamin can come in handy.*

While men are falling behind women for vitamin A and magnesium specifically, there are other key gaps that can’t be ignored. Take vitamin D3, for example—the “sunshine” vitamin that helps support bone health and normal immune function. 93% of men ages 19-50, and 90% of men over 50 aren’t getting enough vitamin D through diet, and factors like climate, skin tone, and even SPF usage can all make sunlight an unreliable source. That’s why many experts will argue that a combo of diet, sunlight, and supplementation may be the way to go to support vitamin D3 needs.* (4,8)

Which brings us to an important point: It’s not always about diet, and in some cases we really can’t out-eat our nutrient needs. Folate is a great example. While this B-vitamin is really important for supporting blood health and energy-yielding metabolism, the commonly-used synthetic form, folic acid, isn’t always a reliable source. Up to one-third of people have a genetic variation that can make it difficult to efficiently utilize folic acid. The workaround? Eating more folate-rich foods and choosing a multivitamin with methylated folate.* (9)

4. Some men tend to prioritize exercise over diet.

→ Level Up: Both diet and exercise offer important health-supporting benefits—so don’t over-prioritize one at the expense of the other.

Don’t get us wrong: When it comes to a balanced, healthy lifestyle, regular physical activity is essential. In fact, according to recent data, men are working out more than ever, which is great!

But in a Ritual survey, men also ranked exercise twice as important as diet—when in reality, both are equally important. Think about it this way: Maintaining appropriate activity levels is only one part of the equation. After all, protein synthesis wouldn’t happen without the help of macronutrients and micronutrients (magnesium, for example) that we get through our diets. In other words, it’s time for a shift in priorities.* (10, 11)

Macronutrients vs. micronutrients? A quick refresher

Our bodies need a balance of both to function—though, as the names indicate, macronutrients (think protein, fat, carbs) are needed in larger amounts than their micronutrient counterparts (vitamins and minerals).

Let’s start with protein—in addition to supporting satiety and helping build lean muscle mass, dietary protein also supports bone health. There are many protein sources available—some derived from animals (think seafood, chicken, and other lean meats, including red meat), and some derived from plants (like oats, peas, and lentils, the latter of which belongs to the legume family). Ritual’s Essential Protein Daily Shake is another great option, and not just for post-workout purposes—it provides an excellent source of protein, and a complete amino acid profile, to boot.* (12)

When it comes to sources of fat, we recommend reaching for heart-healthy fats like olive oil and avocado (or salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids). The same goes for carbs—instead of turning to refined carbs as a go-to, try incorporating more nutritious options, like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, and other whole grains. (While delicious, refined carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, bagels, and pizza dough tend to lag in fiber compared to their whole grain counterparts . Another plus? Studies show that whole grain intake can help support heart health.)* (13, 14, 15)

There’s no shortage of different eating approaches—from keto, gluten-free, and vegan to the paleo diet, Mediterranean diet, and dozens more, it can feel overwhelming to parse through the options and figure out what’s ideal. So what is the best diet plan, or way of eating, to follow? Rather than deeming one specific approach (or meal plan) the holy grail, many nutritionists and dietitians take a more expansive and personalized view—encouraging eating healthy meals at appropriate portion sizes, and incorporating a mix of all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy (including low-fat dairy and/or dairy alternatives). “Try to check off all the food groups when you go to the grocery store,” advises Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RDN, Ritual’s VP of Scientific Affairs. “I like to make sure that in one meal I have all the food groups that are needed.”

5. A lot of men might not see the value in multivitamins.

→ Level Up: Choose a multivitamin made for skeptics, by skeptics.* (We got you.)

According to a 2019 Ritual men’s health survey, only about 61 percent of “healthy-ish” men—that is, men who describe themselves as fairly active and eating nutritiously more often than not—see multivitamins as a valuable addition to their daily routines. To be clear, it's true that when it comes to meeting nutrient needs, diet should be the #1 priority—and that means making every effort to fill our plates with balanced, nutrient-rich foods. But when factors like genetic variations, dietary restrictions, and lifestyle preferences come into play, we can still be vulnerable to gaps, which is where a quality multivitamin (not to mention a protein powder) can come in handy.* (11)

If you're among the healthy-identifying men who don't necessarily believe in vitamins, you’ve come to the right place: In a 2019 Ritual survey, 68% of our current customers reported never sticking with multivitamins in the past, and even our founder and CEO was a lifelong vitamin skeptic before starting Ritual. It’s why we take a different approach to formulation, poring over the latest nutritional data to identify nutrients that are really lagging from our diets—depending on age, assigned sex at birth, dietary preferences, and current life stage. We focus on helping fill dietary gaps, rather than adding extra nutrients people are probably getting enough of from the diet (like antioxidant vitamin C, for example). We’re mindful of vegan and vegetarian diets, as well as major food allergens and genetic considerations. And we skip the shady extras, like mystery additives and colorants.* (11)

The bottom line? Leveling up your nutrition habits doesn’t have to be complicated—it’s all about reprioritizing what’s on your plate, and maybe taking a multivitamin (and possibly a protein powder) to help fill gaps. If you have questions about nutrition or supplementation, we always recommend reaching out to a trusted healthcare provider.*

References:

  1. Reedy J, Lerman JL, Krebs-Smith SM, et al. Evaluation of the Healthy Eating Index-2015. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018;118(9):1622‐1633.
  2. Lee-Kwan SH, Moore LV, Blanck HM, Harris DM, Galuska D. Disparities in State-Specific Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption — United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:1241–1247.
  3. USDA Food Data Central. Kale, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169238/nutrients
  4. USDA, Agricultural Research Service, 2019. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016
  5. Office of Dietary Supplements. Magnesium: Fact sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, 2021
  6. Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin A: Fact sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, 2021.
  7. Tang, Guangwen. “Bioconversion of Dietary Provitamin A Carotenoids to Vitamin A in Humans.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 91, no. 5, Mar. 2010, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674g.
  8. Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D: Fact sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, 2021.
  9. Tsang BL, Devine OJ, Cordero AM, et al. Assessing the association between the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) 677>T polymorphism and blood folate concentrations: A systematic review and meta­analysis of trials and observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):1286­1294.
  10. NCHS National Health Interview Survey 2008-2018.
  11. Ritual - Men’s Health Survey. November 2019. n=300.
  12. Savarino G, Corsello A, Corsello G. Macronutrient balance and micronutrient amounts through growth and development. Ital J Pediatr. 2021;47(109).1-14.
  13. Holesh, J. E., Aslam, S., & Martin, A. (2021). Physiology, Carbohydrates. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
  14. Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L. T., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D. C., Tonstad, S., Vatten, L. J., Riboli, E., & Norat, T. (2016). Whole grain consumption: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 353, i2716.
  15. USDA MyPlate. Grains. 2021. https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/grains.
  16. Marketing Health to Men - US - 2015 (Mintel) N963

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Meet Our Experts

This article was reviewed by members of our Science Team.

Science Thumb — Nima

Dr. Nima Alamdari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Nima Alamdari is Chief Scientific Officer at Ritual. He was previously faculty at Harvard University where he researched muscle metabolism in health and disease. He received a PhD in Muscle Physiology and a First Degree in Biochemistry from The University of Nottingham in the UK. He has authored many original articles in top international peer-reviewed journals and presented at world-leading international conferences.

Science Thumb — Nima

Dr. Nima Alamdari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Nima Alamdari is Chief Scientific Officer at Ritual. He was previously faculty at Harvard University where he researched muscle metabolism in health and disease. He received a PhD in Muscle Physiology and a First Degree in Biochemistry from The University of Nottingham in the UK. He has authored many original articles in top international peer-reviewed journals and presented at world-leading international conferences.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

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