It may be surprising, in a country with such abundant food resources, that men aren’t getting enough of the nutrients they need. But the fact is the high-calorie, low-nutrient foods so many Americans rely on leave men struggling with low levels, and sometimes even outright deficiency, of the nutritional building blocks they need.
Men’s health depends on getting enough of these four key nutrients. But unfortunately, many men are falling short. Read on to learn what nutrients men need more of, why they’re important, and how to get them.
Vitamin D and men’s health
Vitamin D is one of the most talked about vitamins—and with good reason. First, because it’s essential to health. And second, because vitamin D deficiency is staggeringly common. According to one study, more than 40 percent of American adults are deficient in vitamin D. (1) The numbers who have less-than-ideal levels of the vitamin are even higher.
Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is produced in the body when we’re exposed to ultraviolet rays. If you don’t get much sun exposure with sun protection, or if you’re dark skinned, you might need to up your vitamin D intake. In addition, older adults, people with inflammatory bowel disease, obese people, and people who have had gastric bypass surgery are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. (2)
Why vitamin D is important for men
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for healthy bones. In addition, vitamin D plays a vital role in muscle and nerve health and makes it possible for the immune system to protect us. Inadequate vitamin D levels can lead to increased risk of bone fracture (3) and several types of cancer. (4)(5)
Another reason men need to be concerned about vitamin D levels is that they’re linked to testosterone levels. In one study, men who were overweight and deficient in vitamin D saw increases in their testosterone levels after taking 3,333 IU of vitamin D a day for a year. (6) Another study found that men with low vitamin D levels had significantly lower testosterone levels than men with normal vitamin D status. (7) It’s not entirely clear why vitamin D and testosterone levels are linked, but it’s clear that keeping your levels up is a good idea all around.
How much vitamin D men need
Aim for 600 IU per day if you’re between the ages of 19 and 70. If you’re 71 or older, that number goes up to 800 IU per day. (8)
How men can increase their vitamin D
Mostly through exposure to sunshine. Also from fortified foods, fatty fish, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. And of course, supplements are available—an easy and reliable backup plan.
Calcium and men’s health
Calcium is so scarce in the Standard American Diet that it earned a place on the “nutrients of public health concern” in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (9) You’re at higher risk of deficiency if you have lactose intolerance, don’t eat dairy, or are over the age of 70. Also, vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, so if you’re not getting enough of that key vitamin, your calcium levels may suffer as well.
Why calcium is important for men
Calcium is essential for healthy bone development, meaning it’s especially important to get enough while bones are developing—up to age 30. But even after that, low calcium intake can lead to bone breakdown. That’s because when you’re not taking in the calcium needed for things like cardiovascular function, muscle function, and hormone secretion, your body will pull the calcium it needs from your bones.
There’s also some evidence that diets with enough calcium may help lower blood pressure. (10)(11) Given that men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure—and that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease—it’s important that men do what they can to keep their blood pressure in check. (12)
How much calcium men need
If you’re between the ages of 19 and 70, you need 1,000 mg per day. If you’re 71 or older, aim for 1,200 mg per day. (13)
How men can increase their calcium
The obvious source is dairy products, but that’s not the only way to get calcium. Kale and broccoli are good natural sources, and cereals are often fortified with calcium. Supplements are available as well, but be careful not to overdo it. There’s some research that suggests getting too much calcium from supplements increases men’s risk of cardiovascular disease. (14)
Omega 3 and men’s health
Omega 3s are fatty acids that we get through dietary sources like fish and nuts. When we talk about the health benefits of omega-3s, we’re generally talking about the three main ones: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
In a perfect world, we’d get plenty of these essential fatty acids from our diet. But as we know, the Standard American Diet is anything but perfect.
We face two challenges when it comes to omega 3s. One is that the vast majority of us simply don’t get enough. The other problem is that omega 3s need to be in balance with other fatty acids, omega 6s.
The problem is that since we started relying on industrial foods, our omega 3/omega 6 ratio has gone seriously awry. Scientists believe that human bodies evolved to need a 1:1 ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. But because we rely now on so many processed foods—which are abundant in omega 6s—our ratio is now something like 1:20. That means we’re getting 20 times as much omega 6 as omega 3. (15)
Why omega 3 is important for men
Omega 3s are essential fats, meaning you need to get them from your diet—your body can’t make them. They are key to countless aspects of health, but here are some of the biggies that men need to consider:
- Brain health. Omega 3s are the building blocks of nerve cells, so they’re crucial for brain health. Research has found links between omega 3s and a variety of brain and mental health issues: Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Parkinson’s, learning ability, and more. (16)
- Heart health. Heart disease is the leading health concern for men. Omega 3s have been shown to reduce heart disease risk nearly across the board—lowering your chances of heart failure and both fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease. (17)(18)
- Exercise recovery. Omega 3s help curb the muscle soreness that comes with weight lifting. This is good news not just for those who go to the gym a lot, but also for people undergoing physical therapy. (19)
How much omega 3 do men need
The official adequate intake for men is 1.6 grams of omega 3s per day. (20) Some of the studies that were looking for therapeutic effects used higher doses.
How men can increase their omega 3s
Seafood—specifically fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and herring—is the best source of DHA and EPA. ALA can be found in vegan sources like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. Supplements are another good option, and high-quality ones don’t contain mercury, which can be a concern when eating fish.
Magnesium and men’s health
Most men do not get the recommended daily intake of magnesium—but men in their 70s and beyond are especially susceptible to magnesium deficiency. People with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, those with type 2 diabetes, and those who consume too much alcohol are also at risk of not getting or absorbing enough magnesium.
Why magnesium is important for men
Not getting enough magnesium won’t necessarily produce any immediate signs or symptoms. But over time, low magnesium intake can lead to a number of health concerns. Here are a few of the main ones men need to worry about.
- High blood pressure and heart disease. Research shows that eating a diet rich in magnesium or taking magnesium supplements can lower blood pressure. (21)(22) Plus, research has found that people with the highest levels of magnesium in their blood are 38 percent less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death. (23)
- Type 2 diabetes. Magnesium is an important player in glucose metabolism, which might be why people with higher magnesium intake have a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (24)
- Osteoporosis. When we think about bone health, we usually think about calcium. But magnesium is also essential for bone formation. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis and low bone density. (25)
- Migraines. If you have migraines, low magnesium might be playing a role. People who supplement with magnesium daily report reduced frequency, duration, and severity of migraines. (26)
How much magnesium do men need
Between the ages of 19 and 30, aim for 400 mg per day. If you’re 31 or over, that number goes up to 420 per day. (27)
How men can increase their magnesium
The good news is that magnesium is very easy to find in a whole-foods diet. It’s abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Supplements are also available.
Getting the nutrients you need
If you’re a man looking to improve your health—and maintain it for years to come—you should pay attention to your intake of these key nutrients. The good news is that you can get plenty of them by eating a healthy, whole-foods diet like the Mediterranean diet.
A focus on fish, leafy vegetables, whole grains, and some dairy—as well as a bit of daily sunshine—will check most of the boxes and help you prevent some of the most common nutrient deficiencies in men.