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Does diet affect erectile function?

A man in a blue shirt sitting on a sofa and speaking to a health professional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the question you may have always wondered, but were too shy to ask!

June is Men’s Health Month, so let’s take a look at some of the research on this topic.

A study published in the Journal of the American Association Network Open journal suggests that a healthy dietary pattern may play a role in maintaining erectile function in men. Researchers from the University of California and Harvard University looked at the food and nutrient data from over 21,000 healthy men aged 40 to 75 who had no previous diagnosis of erectile dysfunction or diabetes or heart disease. The men were part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The researchers found that men at all ages who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had the lowest risk of erectile dysfunction. A Mediterranean-style diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish.

Fruits and vegetables contain special plant nutrients called flavonoids.  Researchers in Greece found that eating fruits and vegetables lowered the risk for erectile dysfunction by 32% in men aged 18 to 40 years.

Another study from researchers in Spain looked at 83 healthy men aged 18-35. For 14 weeks, these men were asked to follow their usual diet and were divided into 2 groups – one group also ate 60 grams (about ½ cup) of nuts a day such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts; the other group of men did not eat nuts. The study found that a healthy diet supplemented with mixed nuts may help to improve erectile and sexual desire.

Bottom line: Fruits, vegetables and nuts are the foundation of an overall healthy diet that can benefit not only your heart health but also your sexual health.

 

What are pink strawberries?

A cluster of pink strawberries with an overlay of Sue's headshot and the words "What are pink strawberries?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you seen these little pink strawberries at Costco or your local grocery store?

They look like underripe strawberries, but they’re not. These little gems are actually pineberries – which is a fusion of the words “pineapple” and “strawberry” although there isn’t any pineapple in them. In fact, the pineberry belongs to the strawberry family and is a cross between the strawberries native to North America (Fragaria virginiana) and strawberries native to Chile (Fragaria chiloensis). Inside, the flesh is white. You may also see these cute little berries called pineberry strawberries or hula pineberries.

What do pineberries taste like?

Pineberries have a softer and creamier texture than a red strawberry. There are subtle aromas and flavours of pineapple (thus the name pineberry), pear and apricot.

What about nutrition?

Both pineberries and strawberries contain vitamin C, folate, fibre and potassium. Strawberries will have higher levels of “anthocyanins” – which are the healthy plant compounds that give strawberries their beautiful red colour. Since they’re more rare than red strawberries, pineberries tend to be more expensive.

How to eat pineberries?

Ripe pineberries will have a blush pink colour and bright red seeds. Eat pineberries the same way you would strawberries! Add them to your yogurt bowl, toss into a salad or add a handful to a snack board.

Will you try them? Have you tried them? Tell me what you think in the comments!

 

What are your thoughts on the Dirty Dozen?

A woman shopping for veggies at a grocery store. A headshot of Sue is overlayed with the text "Ask a Dietitian. What are your thoughts on the Dirty Dozen?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you heard about the Dirty Dozen? Let’s take a closer look at this and what it means for you and your family.

What exactly is the Dirty Dozen?

The Dirty Dozen is an annual list created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a United States-based environmental advocacy organization. The list ranks the top 12 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in the United States that they claim should be avoided due to pesticide residues.

But what the Dirty Dozen list doesn’t tell us is how much residual pesticide is actually on the produce. We need this information to figure out if the amount we’re eating is at a level that could harm our health.

So what about pesticides?

Pesticides are substances that can be from either synthetic or natural sources, and are used on foods to protect them from diseases and pests such as insects and weeds. With the help of pesticides, farmers are able to grow safe, affordable and abundant food for Canadians.

As a dietitian, I worry that the Dirty Dozen list may cause food fear. The fact is both organic and conventional farmers use pesticides to control pests. Just because a pesticide residue is present, doesn’t mean that it poses a risk to our health. In fact, detection technology is now so sophisticated that it can detect parts per billion (think a drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool). And, Canada has one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world for pesticides. Before a pesticide can even be used on a food product, Health Canada assesses the health impact of any pesticide residues that may be in or on the food. It even takes into account the sensitivities of specific subsets of the population like infants, children and pregnant women.

Health Canada also sets Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), which is the maximum amount of pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on a product when it is used according to the pesticide label – and these residue limits are typically set at least 100 times or more below levels that would have any impact on human health.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects domestic and imported foods for pesticide residues. Over 99% of the food that is tested is below the MRLs. And in rare cases where the residue level is above the MRL, it does not pose a health risk as the MRL is set significantly below any level of concern.

My advice

We all want and deserve safe, nutritious and affordable food for ourselves and our families. Here are some things to consider if you’re concerned about pesticides.

  • Put the Dirty Dozen list in perspective. Health Canada states that there is no health risk from eating conventionally grown foods because of pesticide residues. Use this Pesticide Residue Calculator which shows you the number of servings of different fruits and vegetables that we could eat and still not have any adverse effects from pesticide residues. For example, a child could eat 181 servings of strawberries a day (or 1,448 strawberries) without any adverse effects from pesticide residues!
  • Wash fruits and veggies very well under cold water. This helps to remove dirt, bacteria, and any tiny amounts of residues which may be on the outer layers of the produce. There’s no need to use soap or detergent. You can also peel the skin on fruits and veggies, however keep in mind that you’d also be peeling away some fibre and nutrients, as well as contributing to food waste.
  • Feel good about the food you eat! Enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables every day that are tasty and affordable. Whether they’re organic or conventionally grown, both options are safe, nutritious and important for good health.

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post with CropLife Canada. The information shared in the blog are my opinions based on my review of this topic. I consult only with companies which align with my personal and professional values.

 

What are plant sterols?

A white heart-shaped bowl filled with heart healthy foods such as nuts, broccoli, kiwi and blueberries. A headshot of Sue is within the image with the caption reading "Ask a Dietitian."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant sterols are also called “phytosterols” (phtyo means plant). They’re like cousins to cholesterol because they have a similar structure, and are found naturally (in tiny amounts) in plant-based foods – such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and vegetable oils.

If you have high blood cholesterol, plant sterols may be beneficial because they’ve been shown to decrease the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein cholesterol) – this is the type of cholesterol that is a risk factor for heart disease.

In the body, plant sterols partially block the absorption of cholesterol. The cholesterol gets removed as waste (i.e. in our feces) which then results in an overall lower level of LDL cholesterol in your blood.

So, how much plant sterol is needed for this benefit? Research shows that eating 2 grams (2,000 milligrams) of plant sterols every day can lower LDL cholesterol levels by 8-10%. This amount is nearly impossible to get with regular foods since a typical healthy diet only contains about 200-400 milligrams of plant sterols.

To get 2,000 milligrams of plant sterols a day, you’ll need to consume foods and beverages that are fortified with plant sterols. In Canada, foods fortified with plant sterols include mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressing, yogurt, yogurt drinks, vegetable juice and fruit juice. A serving of these foods may contain up to 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) of plant sterols, so read package labels to check the exact amount. Plant sterol supplements are another option.

Plant sterols from food and / or supplements are not a substitute for a heart healthy diet or cholesterol-lowering medications. Always check with your doctor first before consuming foods or supplements with plant sterols because your medications may need to be adjusted.

Does vitamin K help with bone health?

Vitamin K rich foods such as beets, avocado, Brussels sprouts and leafy greens. A headshot of Sue is in the middle with the words Ask a Dietitian.

Vitamin K was first discovered for its blood clotting or coagulation effect. In fact, the “K” stands for the German spelling of “koagulation.”

Not only does vitamin K help you blood clot when you’re bleeding, but it also does help to build strong bones. Research published in the Journal of Osteoporosis and the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research from the found that low vitamin K may be linked to low bone density and a higher risk of hip fractures. Other bone building nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D are also key for bone health.

There are actually 2 forms of Vitamin K.

Vitamin K1 is found mostly in plant foods especially leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, Swiss chard and beet greens. This form of Vitamin K1 is called phylloquinone.

Vitamin K2 is found in animal foods (like meat, cheese) and also in fermented foods such as natto (fermented soybeans), tempeh, miso and sauerkraut. This form of vitamin K2 is called menaquinone and there are many different subgroups ranging from MK4 to MK13. Vitamin K2 seems to have the greatest impact on bone health.

Adults need 90-120 micrograms of vitamin K every day. You can get this amount from ½ cup of broccoli or 4 Brussels sprouts or ¼ cup of raw kale, a few servings of cheese or natto.

Now what about supplements? If you have osteoporosis or are at risk for osteoporosis, a vitamin K supplement might be helpful. Check with your health care professional or dietitian because vitamin K can interfere with blood thinner medications such as warfarin.

 

Is it OK to eat processed foods?

young adult reaching for a box of foods at a grocery store

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, the answer is YES! As a Registered Dietitian, I believe that all foods can be part of a healthy diet, in sensible amounts. But there are actually different categories of processed foods, and some are better choices than others. Let’s break it down.

When you hear the term “processed foods”, you may automatically think of foods that come in a box or package. There’s more to the term “processed foods” though. Scientists at the School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil developed a classification system called NOVA (it’s not an acronym) that groups foods into 4 different categories depending on the extent of the processing:

Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods: 

Unprocessed foods have not undergone any changes whatsoever. Some examples are fresh fruit and veggies as well as plain unseasoned fish and meats. Minimally processed foods are essentially unprocessed foods that have been cleaned, dried, ground, pasteurized, fermented or frozen. No oils, fats, sugars, salt or other substances have been added to the original food. Dried fruit, frozen veggies, dried beans, dried herbs and ground spices are just a few examples of minimally processed foods. Both unprocessed and minimally processed foods should from the foundation of a healthy, balanced diet.

Processed Culinary Ingredients: 

These are oils, fats, salt and sugars. These ingredients have been extracted from whole foods using processes such as pressing, grinding, refining and crushing. Vegetable oils for example are made from crushed seeds, nuts and fruit. Table sugar and molasses are obtained from sugarcane or sugar beet. Maple syrup is extracted from maple trees, and sea salt is mined from sea water. 

Processed Foods:

These are unprocessed foods with added oils, fats, salt or sugars. Most processed foods have just 2 or 3 ingredients. Some examples are salted nuts, smoked fish, fruit packed in syrup, pickled veggies, and homemade / bakery-made bread. These foods can still be enjoyed as part of an overall healthy diet. 

Ultra-processed Foods:

Most ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat products would be considered as ultra-processed foods. These are foods that are made by a series of processes and have extra ingredients such as additives, colours, flavours, emulsifiers, thickeners. Some examples are cake mixes, packaged pasta dishes, frozen entrées, reconstituted meat products and seasoned packaged snacks. While these foods can be convenient, enjoy them occasionally and in sensible amounts.

 

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