Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are Vegetables Sexy?

American men and women tend to view meat, especially beef, as more masculine than vegetable-based foods and salads, according to researchers whose study was published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research. Their findings indicate that to the “traditional, macho, All-American male,” meat is a strong, macho food. Vegetables and salads are wimpy.

The newest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 2010, make an even harder push for an increasingly plant-based diet. Following this approach, we’re asking men to trade a food they view as masculine for a food they view as weak. I can see how this presents a problem.

So why can’t we just let our “All-American” men continue to be primarily carnivores if that makes them feel good? Well, quite simply, this will lead to a much bigger list of problems, namely increased risk of cardiovascular disease—one of the top causes of death in Americans. The larger portions of meat we’re accustomed to being served in America also contributes to the growing obesity and diabetes epidemics. Although we can’t attribute all health problems to diet and exercise, poor food and exercise behaviors are certainly major contributors. It is well-documented that plant-based diets, containing smaller amounts of meat, yield healthier individuals. More meat means more cholesterol, saturated fat and calories; which in the end means more obesity and heart disease.

So how can we make non-meat foods more appealing to men? How can we make vegetables sexy? Macho?

The researchers suggest that marketers and health advocates take men's attitudes into account when promoting products, such as soy products. “Men may find meat analog products more tempting if they more closely resembled meat.” I’m not sure this is even the answer. Using myself as an example: I’ve been a self-proclaimed “meat and potatoes” girl for as long as I can remember. But I also love plant foods (and by the way, they do make up the majority of my daily diet). When I choose a soy burger or soy “chicken” patty over meat, it’s because that’s what I’m in the mood for. Swapping one protein food for another, plant-based or not, doesn’t solve the problem that we’re just not eating enough of what we should: whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

As a dietitian, I think it’s manly when a male makes healthy food selections! If a man makes a positive food choice, he’s making a positive choice for his health. What’s more powerful than that?

We’re all human and all human bodies require the same basic fuels. Man or not, none of us need the huge quantities of meat promoted to us in our culture. Portions are just too big, especially for meat. The only way we can change is to band together and let our health goals be heard. Dine more at home where a wider variety of foods (and control) is available and let restaurants know that we like our fruits and vegetables!

Ultimately, have your meat and eat it too. Just make sure there’s other good stuff on your plate as well. And guys, don't be ashamed to fill half your plate with veggies! I think that's sexy.

Don't forget about my Father's Day give-away! Contest ends June 6. Visit RDbyyourside on Facebook to enter. More details here.

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