The 20 Worst Foods for Men Over 40
You know the saying, "You're only as old as you feel"? Well, research indicates that this is not hyperbole designed to provide comfort as time trudges forward, but in fact reality. Although there's nothing we can do to turn back the hands of time and shave off some years on our chronological age, certain lifestyle choices can either slow down or accelerate the clock on your biological age (aka, a measure of your health based on the quality of your physical fitness and mental astuteness).
Your chronological age can exceed that of your biological age, meaning that even in your 40s, 50s, and beyond, your physical health and wellness can still rival that of someone in their 20s or 30s. The key is to make well-informed lifestyle choices—starting with your diet. For guys who are still settling into middle age and older, this means avoiding the worst foods for men ages 40 and up.
As you get older, there are some physiological changes that are to be expected—your hormones shift, your metabolism slows, and things that may have come naturally easier to you in adolescence may now take a little more effort to possess (ie, having more energy, better sleep quality, muscle and bone strength, and so on). The outcomes of these changes can play a major part in the state of your biological age. But in circumventing some of the worst foods for men, you can effectively deter some of these signs of aging—one of which is weight gain.
"High-calorie foods impact men over the age of 40 through weight gain over time and may impact hormone levels, like testosterone," Caroline Thomason, RD, LDN, CDCES, tells Eat This, Not That!
To be clear, this doesn't mean that once a man hits 40, the occasional indulgence in unhealthy foods suddenly becomes a death sentence. In fact, Thomason points out that "the most recent research shows that metabolism doesn't start slowing down until after the age of 60."
"Even so, it slows at a very slight rate per year," she adds. "This means, if you have found yourself gaining weight before your elderly years, you likely need to check in on your lifestyle habits like diet and exercise."
So, the sooner you can start prioritizing physical fitness and making healthy eating choices, the easier it will be to remain biologically young despite the passing of every new birthday—not to mention, the confidence boost having a clean bill of health can provide for you.
With that in mind, we wanted to find which items were considered among the worst foods for men to consume, especially those who are 40 and older. Read on to find out which foods dietitians and scientific research suggest steering clear of—and for more healthy eating tips to help you embrace healthy aging, be sure to check out What Science Says About the Eating Habits That Actually Slow Aging.
Buffalo chicken wings
"Buffalo chicken wings top the list of foods for men to limit or avoid," says Melanie Marcus, MA, RD, a culinary dietitian based outside of Charlotte, NC. "A six-count of these game-day favorites can easily add up to 550 calories and that's before you account for the ranch or blue cheese for dipping. That's easily 25% of the average man's calorie allotment for the day! By nature, Buffalo wings and drumettes are a high-fat protein thanks to their skin which is consumed after being fried and tossed in a buttery sauce. Top that with dipping into a creamy dressing and you have a perfect storm for inflammation and weight gain."
"Creamy dressings like ranch and blue cheese [dressing], often favorites for men to pair with wings, creamy sauces like Alfredo, creamy spreads like mayonnaise, and the like are typically high in saturated fat and low in nutrients. Consistent intake of saturated fat long term can contribute to increases in bad cholesterol as well as additional calories, potentially leading to weight gain," explains Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board.
"Swap balsamic vinaigrette for creamy salad dressings, consider Greek-yogurt-based dips, use marinara sauce or olive oil-based sauces on pasta, and try spreads like mustard or even mashed avocados on sandwiches and wraps," suggests Goodson.
Deep dish pizza
"Pizza is one of those foods that is quite easy to overeat and takes a large volume to feel full for many people," says Thomason. "It is also lower in protein relative to its total calorie content. Further, deep dish pizza is even higher in carbs and calories."
"Many men love a good ribeye, pork belly on the grill, or wings with the boys," says Goodson. "But these high-fat meats provide lots of saturated fat, which can contribute to increases in bad LDL and total cholesterol over time. Not to mention, many of these foods are high in calories as well and could make it harder for men to maintain their weight if eaten on a regular basis."
"Swap lean beef like sirloin or filets for ribeye, try lean pork (after removing the visible fat) instead of pork belly, and on guy's night, go with naked wings," Goodson suggests. "Consuming adequate portion sizes of lean protein can help men maintain lean muscle mass as they age."
"If you normally sit down with a bowl of ice cream to unwind at the end of the day, you might want to reconsider this habit long term," says Thomason. "One serving of ice cream is about a half of a cup for most brands, which is a shockingly small portion if you haven't been measuring already. Every once in a while, ice cream is no big deal. However, when over-consumed every night, this can have a huge impact on your health."
"Similar to ice cream, cake is shockingly high in calories for the recommended portion size. If you are regularly consuming cake, or similar cake products, you are probably not doing your health any favors," says Thomason.
"Focus on decreasing your portion size or the frequency in which you choose to eat cake for dessert," she suggests. "If you reserve cake for special occasions, you might find that it holds a special meaning to you without the negative health consequences."
Low-fiber processed grains
"Low-fiber grains like white breads, the buns you find on fast food favorites, various breakfast foods, etc. are typically low in fiber," says Goodson. "Fiber is an important nutrient as it helps with gut and heart health. Eating whole grains provides prebiotic fiber, which feeds the good bacteria in our gut. This prebiotic, or "soluble", fiber can help lower total and bad LDL cholesterol. While the Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 25–38 grams of fiber per day, men fall into the higher end of the recommendation, with a goal of 30–35 grams per day. Most Americans are not eating enough fiber and as men age, this can be a problem."
"Swap processed sugary breakfast foods for oats, choose 100% whole wheat and whole grain breads, and look for whole grain options when out to eat or in the fast food drive-thru," Goodson suggests.
Processed cheese dips
"While more data is needed to confirm this link, some data suggests that men who eat more cheese may experience less healthy sperm, especially if they smoke or are past smokers," explains Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility.
Couple some of the possible physical side effects of eating cheese with the adverse impact ultra-processed foods are known to have on your immune system and propensity to develop chronic conditions, and passing on Velveeta-saturated nachos to opt for something like veggies and hummus starts to look more advantageous after turning 40. However, if fertility is of particular concern, according to Manaker, not all varieties of cheese are completely off the table for aspiring daddies-to-be ages 40 and older.
"Other data suggests that intake of full-fat dairy foods, like cheese, are linked to less healthy sperm," Manaker continues. "Since having healthy sperm is an important part of conception, limiting cheese intake may help achieve this goal."
Though there are some baked goods out there that use other varieties of more wholesome grains and flour, the pastries more folks are inclined to pursue when looking to satisfy their sweet tooth tend to be comprised of added sugars and refined grains that can impact your immune system, lead to weight gain, and even impact your testosterone.
"Data suggests that eating pastries is linked to reduced testosterone levels," says Manaker.
Chips & processed snack foods
"Nothing like sports parties, guy's nights, and eating on the go to offer lots of chips and processed snacks," says Goodson. "While it's not to say you can't ever eat them, cutting back on processed snack foods like chips can help men maintain a healthy weight as they age. Chips and fried snack foods have more saturated fat than other whole grain, baked alternatives, making chips an option that should be chosen less often."
"Swap chips for better-for-you snacks like flavored Wonderful Pistachios that contain 6 grams of complete plant-based protein and 3 grams of fiber per serving, Hippeas Puffs or Tortilla Chips made with chickpea flour, or many of the baked cauliflower chip and cracker alternatives," advises Goodson. "Choosing 100% whole grain crackers and pita chips is another nutrient-rich solution as they should contain more fiber."
Though convenient, takeout can do a number on your blood pressure, thanks to all the sodium that's packed into some orders.
"Men over 40 should avoid takeout foods high in sodium. Eating too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure," says Kimberley Wiemann, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Long Island, NY. "The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for most people. However, some takeout options contain more than this for just one meal!"
Boxed mac & cheese
If boxed mac and cheese was among your go-to favorite dishes during your childhood, I hate to say it, but "I got the blues; Kraft Macaroni & Cheese" may take on a whole new meaning after crossing the threshold to your 40s. One serving of Kraft's mac, which is only a third of the box, contains 560 milligrams of sodium, which is 24% of your daily recommended intake of this mineral. Other commercial brands even exceed this, containing upwards of 30% of the daily value for sodium.
"Men over 40 should avoid eating processed meats, including hot dogs, canned meat, and beef jerky," says Haley Bishoff, RDN, owner of Rūtsu Nutrition, LLC, in Las Vegas. "Processed meats are highly linked with colorectal cancer and have also been tied to stomach cancer. Colorectal cancer is more common among men and is one of the top cancer-related deaths in America. Not to mention, processed meats are loaded with sodium and saturated fats which can be very harmful to heart health."
"Heart disease is the [number one] killer for men in the U.S.," explains Manaker. "Many hot dogs are packed with saturated fat and salt—two factors that can work against your heart-health goals."
A type of processed meat, consuming an abundance of pork, beef, or lamb sausage can be detrimental to your ability to healthily age by upping your chances for high blood pressure, high LDL (or "bad") cholesterol, and unwanted weight gain.
"In general, sausage is high in fat, sodium, and calories," explains Thomason. "It comes in many forms from breakfast sausage to bratwurst to Italian sausage."
"Swapping your sausage out for a lean protein the majority of the time can help keep you healthy as you age, reduce your risk for heart disease, and may improve overall hormone levels related to weight loss," she suggests.
"Fried foods [like French fries] undermine your health with a one-two punch," says Pam Hartnett, MPH, RDN, co-founder of The Vitality Dietitians. "They typically contain sugars or refined carbohydrates, which create inflammation by raising blood sugar too quickly and can contribute to weight gain, especially the more dangerous belly fat. They also produce chemicals in the body called advanced glycation end products (appropriately called AGEs) that promote aging and increase the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease."
Unfortunately, French fries aren't the only popular fast food menu staple that can wreak havoc on your body, especially as you age. In fact, most fast food items can be a setup for health consequences that only worsen with time.
"Fast food—including burgers, fried chicken, soda, etc.—these foods are designed to activate all the taste centers in your brain and make you want to eat more," says Marie E Murphy, MS, RDN, owner at MEM Nutrition & Wellness. "This makes overeating and eating too quickly more likely. Both of these behaviors contribute to weight gain and digestive issues."
"Fast food meals are also deficient in vegetables, which are the mainstay of a healthy diet that supports longevity and long-term health," Murphy continues. "Vegetables contain important micronutrients essential for health at the cellular level. They also contain dietary fibers, which play important roles in managing gut health and body weight, as well as cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Avoiding fast food and choosing home-cooked or minimally processed meals is a good way for men over 40 to support their long-term health."
In the case of fast food, the associated health risks not only stem from that which is consumed, but also from the wrappers and packaging.
"The wrappers of fast food items have been shown to have 'forever chemicals," adds Manaker. "Ingesting these chemicals in large quantities is linked to a slew of negative health effects, including an increased risk of cancer and a weaker immune system."
"Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest providers of added sugar in the American diet," says Goodson. "Many times, foods that have lots of sugar are also lower in nutrients, and beverages like soda, sweet tea, and many fruity drinks are great examples of this. In addition to sugar contributing to added calories in the diet, which can eventually lead to weight gain if consumed regularly, consuming lots of sugar can cause a spike in blood sugar. While that sugar spike might leave you feeling good for a little bit, it typically results in a blood sugar drop or "crash" later, which typically makes people crave more sugar. This can become a vicious cycle of sugar highs and lows, ultimately leading to people craving sugar on a regular basis."
"Swaps include drinking flavored sparkling waters or better-for-you sodas like OLIPOP," suggests Goodson. "With only 2–5 grams of sugar per can, plus 9 grams of prebiotic fiber, it's a "better-for-you" soda that boasts of added benefits for microbiome and digestive health."
Although coffee can have some beneficial side effects, like boosting your metabolism, increasing your focus, and helping to better regulate your gut activity, the excess of added sugars and high calories included in many pre-bottled coffee drinks can do more harm than good for your body, including messing with your hormones and increasing your risk for diabetes.
Pre-packaged or bottled coffees aren't the only caffeinated culprits that can impede healthy aging for men after turning 40. From foods like caffeine-infused energy bars to other highly caffeinated beverages like energy drinks, the combination of caffeine as well as added sugars can increase your chances of having to deal with some unwanted health consequences as you age, including weakened bones. That's right fellas—women aren't the only ones who are susceptible to developing osteoporosis.
"Data shows that caffeine can cause the bones to lose calcium—which, over time, can result in weak bones," says Manaker. "Since men are at risk of developing osteoporosis as they age, too, avoiding foods that do not support bone health is key."
Affordable, shelf-stable, and easy to prepare (really, all you need is a can opener), canned fruit may seem like a convenient way to consume a healthy snack. However, the sweet syrups packed into most cans of fruit increase the added sugar amount considerably, which can actually serve as a shortcut to weight gain—especially in terms of accumulating visceral fat around your mid-region.