Men’s Health Month might be right time for diet change

Dr. Jonathan Appelbaum
Cristina Caro

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Holidays like Memorial Day and July Fourth could be the most challenging time for men who care about their physical wellbeing. 

The summertime holidays mean time for gathering with plenty of colloquial food – macaroni and cheese, corn bread, collard greens and sweet tea. That, said Cristina Caro, a Sodexo regional dietitian and wellness manager, is the recipe that feeds potential health issue for anyone.

However, as Caro makes her rounds in June throughout the South, she is quick to remind listeners that this being Men’s Health Month could be a good time to start on a diet that might reduce the chances of having to deal with health issues common in men.

“Not every Southerner can give up their sweet tee but we can find little compromises,” said Caro. “I think that is something we need to consider.”

Men’s health has long been a concern and advocating for better healthcare gained momentum in 1994, when former US Senator Bob Dole pushed through a Men’s Health Week bill. That has evolved into the month-long acknowledgement. 

Dole, 97, was diagnosed with prostate and stage four lung cancers just a few years after former President Bill Clinton signed the bill. 

Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death among men. Research has found that in part is because compared to women, men are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol. Men also generally have less healthy lifestyles than women.

Helping men recognize their health challenges has to be a priority between doctor and patient, said Dr. Jonathan Appelbaum, Medical Director at Care Point in Tallahassee. But the challenge is for physicians to persuade men that there is nothing to fear, as he suspects is sometimes the case.

“I think there is somewhat of an ostrich affect,” Appelbaum said. “They think if they don’t deal with it, it will go away. And if it doesn’t really affect them on a day-to-day basis; it’s something they can ignore for awhile.”

Having a month to focus on men’s health is a good start to bringing about lifestyle changes and healthcare maintenance, said Appelbaum.

“Women live longer than men,” he said. “There is no doubt about that and some of that can be changed if men were more proactive about getting more screening and preventative services.”

However, Caro said making lifestyle changes almost always should involve a dietitian along with working with a physician.

“The good thing about a referral to a dietitian if that is going to be possible is that; yes the dietitian helps when the doctor say, ‘hey, I’m going to need you to eat low fat,’ ”

Putting a plan in place would begin with an analysis of the prospects’ overall health, Caro said. Calories will also figure into the conversation, she said, noting that calorie range is about 2,300 to 2,800 per day for men who are moderately active.

 “It’s got to reduce the risk for chronic diseases that are more common in men, but it’s got to fit into your work pattern, your recreation and all that or you’re not going to be able to stick with it,” Caro said. 

Insurance companies may not cover the cost of a dietitian, she added, but men may also generally feel uncomfortable about having a conversation on diet.

“They are a little embarrassed about the subject or they are afraid that you’ll tell them ‘you have to stop eating this or stop doing that,’ ” Caro said, adding that the challenge is maintaining the lifestyle change.

If a person goes “back to your old ways, after behavior change,” she said, “then all problems associated with that (old) diet pattern come back.”