One in five women have a history of painful urinary tract infections. “I had three in one year,” says Patty Buxton*, a Colorado middle-school teacher. Reading that cranberry juice may help prevent these infections, Buxton went on a regimen a year ago, and since then she’s been infection-free. She thinks cranberry juice did the trick.
Cranberry juice isn’t the only food that offers protection from specific illnesses. Here’s a list of disease-fighting foods for men and women.
Foods for Men
1. Tomato Sauce. Men who eat a lot of tomatoes, tomato sauce, or pizza smothered with the stuff may be giving themselves a hedge against prostate cancer. So say researchers at Harvard, who studied the eating habits of more than 47,000 male health professionals. They found that men who ate tomato sauce two to four times per week had a 35 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer than men who ate none. A carotenoid called lycopene, which tomatoes contain in abundance, appeared to be responsible. But scientists were puzzled: tomato juice didn’t seem to have a protective effect. Other research showed why. For best absorption, lycopene should be cooked with some kind of fat. So pizza may be just what the doctor ordered.
2. Oysters. Myth has it that oysters are the food of love. Science may agree. Just two to three oysters deliver a full day’s supply of zinc, a mineral critical for normal functioning of the male reproductive system. Scientists are divided over reports that sperm counts have declined over the last 50 years and that environmental factors are to blame. Nutritional deficiencies do seem to be the cause of certain cases of low testosterone. Getting adequate zinc is sometimes the answer (11 mg per day is recommended for men; more than 40 mg can pose risks). In one trial, 22 men with low testosterone levels and sperm counts were given zinc every day for 45 to 50 days. Testosterone levels and sperm counts rose.
3. Broccoli. A recent Harvard study finds that cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, may protect against bladder cancer. It’s one of the most common cancers in this country, and affects two to three times as many men as women. Scientists analyzed the diets of nearly 50,000 men and discovered that those who ate five servings or more per week of cruciferous veggies were half as likely to develop bladder cancer over a ten-year period as men who rarely ate them. And broccoli and cabbage were singled out as the most protective foods.
4. Peanut Butter. If you want a healthy heart, spread your morning toast with peanut butter. Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women, but men fall victim at an earlier age. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University compared the cholesterol-lowering effect of the American Heart Association’s Step II Diet with a higher-fat diet based on peanuts. The AHA plan included more carbohydrates. The peanut regimen was 36 percent fat. After 24 days both diets lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol. But the peanut plan also caused a drop in blood fats called triglycerides and did not decrease HDL, the “good” cholesterol. The AHA diet raised levels of triglycerides and lowered levels of HDL.
“Peanut butter is a little higher in fat,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., the lead author of the Penn State study. “But it’s the type that’s good for you — monounsaturated fat.” Researchers have predicted that the peanut diet could reduce heart-disease risk even more than could the AHA diet. Just don’t go nutty plastering on the tasty spread, since it is high in calories.
5. Watermelon. Until the age of 55, more men suffer from high blood pressure than do women. Research suggests that foods rich in potassium can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. The evidence is so convincing that the Food and Drug Administration recently allowed food labels to bear a health claim about the connection between potassium-rich foods and blood pressure. “There isn’t a dietary requirement for potassium,” says Kathleen Cappellano, nutrition-information manager at Tufts University in Boston. “But a good goal is about 2000 milligrams or more a day.” Watermelon, a rich source of this mineral, has more potassium — 664 mg — in one large slice than the amount found in a banana or a cup of orange juice. So cut yourself another slice and enjoy the taste of summer.
Foods for Women
1. Papaya. This tropical fruit packs about twice the vitamin C of an orange. Add it to your arsenal against gallbladder disease, which afflicts twice as many women as men.
After analyzing the blood of over 13,000 people, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who had lower levels of vitamin C were more likely to have gallbladder illnesses. One medium papaya (about ten ounces), with its 188 mg of vitamin C and a mere 119 calories, is a refreshing source of the vitamin. The once exotic fruit now can be found in most supermarkets.
2. Flaxseed. Bakers use this nutty-flavored seed mainly to add flavor and fiber. But scientists see the tiny reddish-brown seed, rich in estrogenlike compounds called lignans, as a potential weapon against breast cancer. An exciting report at last year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium showed that adding flaxseed to the diet of women with breast cancer effectively slowed tumor growth. You can flavor your muffins with flaxseed, but the easiest way to get the beneficial lignans is to sprinkle a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your morning cereal. Look for the seeds in health food stores or in supermarkets on the flour aisle. They’re easy to grind in a blender or coffee grinder. But get seeds — there are no lignans in the oil.
3. Tofu. Foods high in soy protein can lower cholesterol and may minimize menopausal hot flashes and strengthen bone. Isoflavones, plant chemicals in soybeans that have a structure similar to estrogen, may be the reason. Though animal studies form the bulk of the evidence, a human study found that 90 mg of isoflavones was beneficial to bone (specifically the spine). And two other studies suggest that 50 to 76 mg of isoflavones a day may offer some relief from hot flashes. A half-cup of tofu contains about 25 to 35 mg of isoflavones.
4. Buffalo Meat. Due largely to menstruation, women tend to be anemic more than men. And low iron levels in blood can cause severe fatigue. To get a good dose of iron, try bison. Bison, or buffalo, meat is lean and has what diet-conscious women want — lots of iron and less fat than most cuts of beef. “The iron content is about 3 milligrams in a 3 1/2-ounce uncooked portion,” says Marty Marchello, Ph.D., at North Dakota State University. “That portion contains less than 3 grams of fat.” Buffalo meat can help boost energy and lower weight. And you don’t have to have a home on the range to get some bison anymore. You can pick it up at many supermarkets across the United States, or through mail order or on the Internet.
5. Collard Greens. This humble vegetable may help fight osteoporosis, which afflicts many women late in life. In addition to getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, some studies suggest that vitamin K may have a bone-protective effect as well. Based on data from one of the largest studies of women, the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers discovered that women who ate enough vitamin K-rich foods (at least 109 micrograms of the vitamin daily) were 30 percent less likely to suffer a hip fracture during ten years of follow-up than women who ate less. Researchers point out that dark-green leafy vegetables — Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli — are all good sources of the vitamin. But collard greens, with about 375 micrograms per half-cup, are among the best.
There you have it: five great foods for women and for men that can keep both of you well fed and healthy too.
*Name changed to protect privacy.