Let’s face it, men have different dietary goals than women. Your girlfriend/wife is probably more concerned with foods for weight loss that are super low calorie or have phytoestrogens. On the hand, you want protein superfoods for energy and muscle gain. Plus support for healthy testosterone levels, male fertility, and reproductive health. This is even more true for athletes, bodybuilders, and older men/seniors.
With that in mind, which nutrient-rich foods should you be prioritizing in your diet? What are some of the best foods for men’s health, based on what the scientific research suggests?
If you wanted the answers based solely on antioxidant content, we have a list of hundreds ranked in our ORAC values database. But to save you the homework, here are the best foods for men which take into account health benefits (i.e. antioxidants), fitness/physique goals, and which research suggests may be libido and testosterone boosters. For those with allergies and special diets, all are gluten free and most are vegan or vegetarian.
And unless you’re planning a Bruce to Caitlyn transition in the future, there’s one very common superfood in particular that you definitely need to avoid if you’re a man. And no, we are not talking about tofu. The one food that we are talking about is 18x worse than that! More on this below.
1. Astaxanthin-rich foods
Haven’t heard of astaxanthin? It’s time you do.
This is one of the most potent antioxidants known to mankind. How potent you ask? It has been found to be up to 6,000 times more powerful than vitamin C at neutralizing damaging free radicals in vitro (in test tube experiments) (1).
How well astaxanthin works in the human body is TBD. But even without knowing its efficacy, it probably isn’t a bad idea to include in your diet, wouldn’t you agree?
Especially since unlike many antioxidants, astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier and therefore might be a superfood for brain health and function.
For men in particular, astaxanthin might be even more useful.
Think about your sun exposure. You know, that constant daily pounding you get on your face and body from the UVA and UVB rays. Giving you wrinkles, moles, and other unattractive characteristics.
Many ladies probably get less exposure than you. Why? Because statistically, they’re far less likely to have blue collar jobs which involve a lot of sun (roofers, landscapers, construction workers, and so forth). Secondly, they often wear makeup which has SPF 15 sunscreen built in.
Chances are, as a man you’re not wearing that makeup.
How this all relates to astaxanthin is that it might offer the skin and eyes some protective benefits against UV rays, as suggested by various studies (2) (3) (4). Understand that’s only a suspected benefit and not proven in humans (who would want to be a guinea pig for those trials). Even if it is were ever proven, it definitely would never be a substitute for sunscreen, so don’t get the wrong impression. You need to always wear sunscreen.
2. Goji berries
Before you roll your eyes, hear us out.
We are well aware that goji are yesterday’s superfood. We were never particularly impressed with them since the amount of antioxidants in goji is comparable to blueberries. Yes, dried do have a higher concentration, but that’s only because the water content is removed (so all nutrients are denser).
The real reason we often recommend goji is because of their protein content. In a fruit?! Yep that’s right. Check out our list of high protein fruits and you will see goji ranked as numero uno.
How much do they have? This much…
|NDB No.||Food Report||Calories Per USDA Serving Size||Protein Per USDA Serving Size||Converted To Protein Per 100 Calorie Serving|
|23508||USDA Commodity, beef, ground, bulk/coarse ground, frozen, raw (5)||194 calories (85g serving)||14.76g||7.62g|
|09110||Goji berries, dried (6)||98 calories (5 tbsp/28g serving)||3.99g||4.00g|
That’s right, over half as much protein as ground beef! This makes it one of the best bodybuilding superfoods. Obviously 4 grams per serving is not sufficient as you’re only source, but it’s yet one more way to easily boost the amino acid content in your oatmeal, cereal, and protein shakes.
Oh and speaking shakes, here are the protein powders that don’t cause gas in excess.
Move over quinoa, there’s a new supergrain in town. Well actually not new, it’s frequently eaten in other parts of the world and occasionally in some Southern states here in America. But for the most part, it’s ignored.
That’s too bad because check out the protein amount in sorghum versus quinoa:
|Essential Amino Acid Profile Per 100 Gram Serving (3.5 Ounces)|
|Amount (g)||RDI*||Amount (g)||RDI*|
|Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
*RDI per World Health Organization’s recommended daily intake for an adult weighing 70 kg (154.3 pounds) (7)
When compared on an equal calorie basis, sorghum has 86% as much protein as quinoa. Not to mention, it’s exponentially cheaper since quinoa is mostly grown in select parts of South America, while we grow sorghum right here in the breadbasket of America.
With the exception of a few cereals and crackers, not many prepared foods use it. However since sorghum is a gluten free grain, a lot more foods are starting to use it. If you cook from scratch, you can easily buy sorghum flour and use it in recipes which call for wheat flour.
4. Hemp seeds
Next on the list is another rich source of protein. One serving of hemp seeds – 3 tablespoons – has 10 grams of protein.
Being 170 calories per serving may seem high, but keep in mind the calories you’re taking in from the beef mentioned above. Running the math on that, a 170 calorie serving of beef would yield 13 grams of protein. Yes a difference, but not huge.
On the right is a look at how they compare versus chia and flax seeds. That image is courtesy of a bestselling brand that we order ourselves all the time, Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts.
Add them to your oatmeal, cereal, salads, and sprinkle on pasta for an instant protein boost.
Peanuts are the highest protein nut, but pistachios are close behind in 2nd place. So why are we recommending pistachios versus peanuts? Aside from being more allergy friendly, the benefit is pistachio’s amino acid profile.
Both have almost the exact same calories, but pistachios offer more of the BCAAs.
|Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) content|
|Leucine||1535 mg||1600 mg||1170 mg||1461 mg||1285 mg|
|Isoleucine||833 mg||932 mg||625 mg||745 mg||731 mg|
|Valine||993 mg||1262 mg||753 mg||848 mg||1040 mg|
If you’re an athlete, whether a weight lifter or a long distance runner, the BCAAs are very important for muscle gain and repair after workouts. Whether you’re a teen male or an older man, you really don’t need to supplement with BCAAs as long as you get them from dietary sources such as this. They’re a great heart healthy snack for energy.
Pistachios also have an ORAC value of 7,675 which is over 2x that of peanuts.
This sweet syrup is a good choice for both genders since its lower glycemic than refined sugars, but men in particular may benefit from a natural chemical in it called chyrsin as well as its nitric oxide.
Chrysin is an inhibitor of aromatase enzyme activity, which means it helps block testosterone from converting to estrogen. Since it’s found in flowers, naturally honey is one of the highest food sources for it.
But does it boost testosterone in males? Only one study has been done which looked at honey supplementation in males over a 21 day period. Their urine was then measured at 7, 14, and 21 days to look at hormone levels (8). There was no increase in testosterone and the study theorized it was because the amount of honey consumed is too low to make a difference.
Other people have expressed different viewpoints but until more studies are done, it would be premature to count this as a benefit. Either way, we would agree that a superfood containing a potential testosterone promoter is better for men than one that’s an estrogen promoter!
“Nitric oxide (NO) is thought to play an important regulatory role in penile erection.”
“These findings indicate that an increased production of NO in the corpora cavernosa is necessary but not sufficient for maintaining penile erection.”
In plain English, the corpora cavernosa is the spongy tissue that fills up when you um, get excited. Research suggests NO plays a role in that. And elsewhere in the body, NO is important for learning and memory processes in your brain.
To the best of our knowledge, no human studies have been done to look at whether or not the NO levels in honey (or any other food) can help men in the sexual stamina department. So again, no one can claim this is a benefit of honey, but the fact that it might be is an advantage for any man.
Speaking of foods that promote nitric oxide production, next on our list is cocoa.
No, we’re not talking about that Hershey’s bar from the gas station, which is reportedly only 11% chocolate (12). Nor are we talking about other milk chocolates and highly processed cocoa products.
If you take pure cocoa powder or nibs – also known as cacao – it’s actually one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world. On an equal weight comparison, pure unsweetened cocoa powder has an ORAC value that is about 30x higher than kale.
Cocoa is a healthy food that has almost universal appeal. Maybe you don’t like kale, but you’re still down for the taste of a couple scoops of cocoa in your protein shake.
Then there’s the protein content. Did you know that an average 2.5 tablespoon serving has only 60 calories and packs 3 grams of protein? It’s another benefit for bodybuilding men.
That natural caffeine content in chocolate makes it a natural energy booster.
Going back to the nitric oxide, there have been a number of studies over the years which have found cocoa to promote nitric oxide levels (13) (14). Perhaps that’s why so many people claim chocolate is an aphrodisiac.
Here’s another good food for men that has multiple benefits associated with it.
On a per calorie basis, spinach has more protein than ground beef. Yes, it’s true. Look in the USDA Nutrient Database if you don’t believe us (15). Every 100 calories contains 12.5 grams of protein.
However eating 100 calories of spinach would be a tall order. Your standard clamshell of spinach has around 20 to 30 calories in it. So you would need to eat at least 3 of those (which would be easier to do if you steamed it).
If you’re an athletic male, you will appreciate the BCAA content in spinach:
|Protein & BCAA Content In Spinach|
|3.5 Ounce Serving (100g)||15.4 Ounce Serving (436g)|
|Calories||23 cal||100 cal|
|Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28|
Another advantage is that spinach has some of the highest levels of natural nitrates to boost your body’s NO.
9. Maitake mushrooms
Do you have low T? It seems like you can’t watch ESPN without being asked that question, by a commercial peddling some pharmaceutical treatment for men with low testosterone.
Do mushrooms boost your testosterone? Nope. So don’t get the wrong idea that mushrooms – or any other foods – are a medical treatment.
However broadly speaking, a number of studies have found that low vitamin D levels correlate with low testosterone levels.
In a study involving 199 senior citizen males (age 65 and over), it was concluded that healthy vitamin D levels correlated with higher testosterone and lower SHBG count (Sex hormone-binding globulin) versus the older men who were deficient (16).
Another study, which was a year long, had 54 men who completed it. Those who were supplemented with 3,332 IU of vitamin D per day had an average testosterone level that was about 25% higher than the placebo group, who didn’t receive vitamin D (17).
Or how about the studies which look at healthy vitamin D levels being positively correlated with sperm quality (18).
Does this mean that someone can claim things rich in vitamin D like fish, mushrooms, and fortified milk are superfoods that boost testosterone and increase male fertility? The research does not talk about specific foods (in fact, most involve vitamin D supplements) so no, you can’t claim that. Rather, what the research is suggesting is that having healthy vitamin D levels might be very important for maintaining a man’s testosterone levels. For those over 40 years old, it may be even more crucial.
If you need more vitamin D rich foods in your life to get your RDA of 600 IUs (or 800 IUs for age 70+), then maitake has exponentially more than any other mushroom type. 1 cup of maitake has 786 IU and is only 22 calories.
But be warned. Even though maitake are a rich source, they – along with other fortified foods – may not be what you’re expecting. Make sure you see our vitamin D2 vs. D3 exposé before buying foods. D3 supplements are a much better source than any food.
10. Shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Last but not least is something we call the men’s superfood. Why? Because it might offer something for every male, whether it’s protein, libido, or nitric oxide you’re after.
Oh yeah, and frugal males will appreciate it’s affordability versus some exotic food from a far off land. Because let’s face it… us men are pigs so we need our food cheap since we eat so much of it!
Pumpkin seeds are very rich in L-arginine, which is an amino acid that plays an important role in the synthesis of nitric oxide. For older men over 40, the potential libido benefits will be of particular interest.
In a double-blind and placebo controlled study involving 50 men with ED, 31% of the men who received L-arginine supplements reported “significant improvement” in sexual function (19). Reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and other antiaging benefits – including for brain and memory – have also been suggested as possibly resulting from L-arginine (20).
As an herbal dietary supplement, the Mayo Clinic’s website lists the following dosage information (21):
“For erectile dysfunction, 5 grams of L-arginine has been taken by mouth daily for six weeks.”
Coincidentally, 5.35 grams is how much is found in 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of shelled pumpkin seeds. In fact, out of the 18 amino acids found in these seeds, only glutamic acid is in higher concentration than L-arginine (22).
One of the UK’s largest newspapers, The Telegraph, listed pumpkin seeds as 1 of 3 foods that “every man needs in his life” specifically for its zinc content (23). Indeed they contain a lot – 7.8 mg of zinc per 100 grams.
Zinc is an essential mineral for many reasons, including for your white blood cells and skin. However specific to men’s health are the important roles it plays in sperm motility and testosterone levels. If you were to entirely eliminate zinc from you diet today, in just a few weeks your testosterone levels would plummet, because the mineral is needed for its production (24).
Are pumpkin seeds a complete protein? Yes and they contain a lot. A serving of ¼ cup provides you with 10 grams of protein. Unlike other vegan sources of protein like brown rice often coming from China, you don’t have to worry about lead or contaminants if the pumpkin seeds are from crops grown here in the US.
That’s why Sprout Living pumpkin seed protein powder is an all-time favorite of ours. With all those nutrients plus a whopping 19 grams of protein per 110 calorie serving, what’s not to love?
And 1 superfood men should avoid
You’ve probably heard that men should go easy on soy because of its phytoestrogens. None of us want man boobs!
Flax seeds are an excellent source of omega 3. Do you know what else they’re high in? Phytoestrogens (25). Tofu doesn’t even hold a candle to how much is in flax…
¼ cup flaxseeds = 163,133.6 µg
¼ cup tofu = 8,688.0 µg
The amount of phytoestrogens in flax is over 18x higher than tofu! Men… if at all, consume those seeds carefully and with extreme caution.