Why real men need to eat vegetables

The Cancer Council of Victoria says prostate cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 103.2 per 100,000 males, with the median age at diagnosis being 69 years.

Prostate cancer prevention might just begin on the dinner plate. Paula Goodyer explains the latest evidence in favour of plant-based eating on the statistics around prostate cancer. The Mediterranean diet - an eating style rich in vegetables, oily fish and legumes - is also proving useful.

By Paula Goodyer

A lower risk of prostate cancer and better sexual health - why real men need more vegetables

One in 6 Australian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85 - that’s the bad news. The good news is the growing evidence that more plant food on the plate might help prevent it.

Last year, UK researchers reported a 43% reduced incidence of prostate cancer in men eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, compared to meat eaters. An earlier US study also linked a lower risk of fatal prostate cancer to eating more plant foods, while another found that men with early prostate cancer eating a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of their cancer progressing.  

So how strong is the evidence that diet can help? Although the Cancer Council recommends eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains  - and less meat - for preventing some cancers, it still has no specific guidelines on diet and prostate cancer - even though some studies suggest a link between dairy products and foods high in calcium, and a higher risk of the disease.

“The evidence isn’t strong enough to recommend avoiding them, especially as there is also evidence that dairy foods and foods high in calcium are associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer,” says Clare Hughes, Chair of the Cancer Council Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee.

“But there are still good reasons for a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruit and wholegrains because it can help reduce the risk of a number of other cancers, as well as preventing weight gain -  and  there’s strong evidence that overweight and obesity are  linked to a higher risk of 13 cancers, including advanced prostate cancer,” she points out.

It was a Stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis at the age of 50 that propelled surfing writer Tim Baker into changing his diet.  He’d seen an earlier study online by US researcher Dr Neal Barnard, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, suggesting that shifting towards more plant foods might help treat the disease.  

Eight years on he’s symptom-free and enjoying a diet that’s mostly plants with some fish and occasional serves of poultry, meat or dairy. But Baker, whose recent memoir Patting the Shark charts his experience of living with prostate cancer, stresses that diet is an adjunct to conventional treatment, not a replacement. He sticks with a regimen of meditation, exercise, healthy eating and a good night’s sleep.

Author Tim Baker explains his approach to post-prostate cancer living in this interview.

And for those men still clinging to the idea that eating more plants is punishment, Baker’s tips for eating more veggies on the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia’s website should convince them otherwise. What’s so hard to swallow about Thai red fish curry, home made pizza or mushroom risotto?

When it comes to men’s health, the Mediterranean Diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, whole grains, nuts and seeds, oily fish, and legumes, ticks a lot of other boxes - including better sexual health.

Mediterranean-style diets include small amounts of meat and dairy but large amounts of vegetables, legumes, extra virgin olive oil and fish.

Studies have linked a Mediterranean Diet or other plant-rich diet not only with a lower risk of heart disease but a lower risk of erectile dysfunction too.  Erections, like hearts, depend on healthy blood vessels to work well and that’s where the Mediterranean diet can make a difference, says Melbourne based dietitian and advocate for men’s health Joel Feren.

“There are so many elements of this eating pattern that can help keep blood vessels in good shape and although it emphasises healthy fats from nuts, fatty fish and extra virgin olive oil, vegetables and fruit, there’s still room for a little meat.

“We’re realising the power of good nutrition, along with physical activity to help keep us well and maintain good sexual function.”

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional health care provider.

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