The Superhero Diet
Whether you're a scientist, an eccentric billionaire, or just a regular joe who has been exposed to high levels of radiation, eating right can give you powers beyond those of mortal men. While you're eating your vegetables and fighting the forces of evil, remember that every man is a superhero to those who love him.
To keep your vision as powerful as Superman's, you need two key nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin. Macular tissue, the clump of photoreceptors on each retina, degenerates faster than the rest of the eye. As it does, you lose the ability to see clearly, to read, and to drive. Researchers at Heinrich Heine University in Germany found that lutein and zeaxanthin help filter blue light, which may destroy macular tissue. "People with high levels of these two phytonutrients are at lower risk of both macular degeneration and cataracts," says Dr. Steve Pratt, M.D., author of SuperFoods Rx.
Your secret source: Dr. Pratt recommends 12 mg a day of the two nutrients combined, or 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cooked spinach, one of the best sources. Cooking increases the concentration of these two nutrients. It also concentrates the spinach itself and makes it easier to eat; to get 12 mg from raw spinach, you'd be munching forever.
To build shoulders and biceps like the Hulk's, eat at the right time to make the most of your workouts. Drink a protein shake immediately after your workout -- you have a 60-minute window for maximum protein uptake and glycogen restoration after exercise. The rest of the day, make sure you take in the calories and protein you need for muscle growth.
Your secret source: Bulk up on lean protein, nuts, and cheese; cut empty calories. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that cutting carbs can change body composition better than cutting fat can. In a 6-week study, normal-weight men who trimmed calories by following an old-school low-carb diet traded 7.4 pounds of fat mass for 2.4 pounds of lean muscle. According to lead researcher Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., "the effects are more pronounced when the diet is only slightly restricted in energy." That means there's no need to be all crazy about cutting calories. Just be sensible: Skip the cookies before bedtime.
What would Batman be without his deductive powers? Just a lonely, frustrated millionaire in a cape. You, on the other hand, can stay sharp by getting enough niacin. A study at Chicago's Rush Institute for Healthy Aging found that people with diets high in niacin had a lower risk of both Alzheimer's and age-related cognitive decline. In the study, the top 20 percent of niacin consumers, who got 20 to 48 mg a day from food, had an 80 percent reduction in Alzheimer's risk.
Your secret source: Excellent sources of vitamin B3 (niacin) include crimini mushrooms and tuna. Very good sources include salmon, asparagus, and halibut.
Now you see him, now you... well, see less of him. George Fahey, Ph.D., a professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois, studies pig stomachs for clues to men's stomachs. He has established that compounds called oligosaccharides and resistant starches aren't digested completely and so have fewer calories than we think. But are men pigs? Depends who you ask, but Fahey says our digestive systems are similar. If pigs don't digest it, men won't either.
Your secret source: Smart dieting is easier than you think, Fahey says. Artichokes, onions, shallots, bananas, and beans have fewer absorbable calories than standard measures show -- i.e., consequence-free food. Beans and peas are particularly high in resistant starches: "A conservative estimate is that people extract approximately a third fewer calories from beans than the label says," according to Fahey. Sadly, oligosaccharides and resistant starches haven't yet been found in prime rib or cheesecake.
Superheroes are on call 24-7, in perpetuity. No old age, no retirement, no condo in Florida. How to cope? "Keep your biological age lower than your chronological age," Dr. Pratt says. One way to do that is by getting your astaxanthin, the potent carotenoid that gives salmon its orangey color. Astaxanthin acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that age your cells. "While there aren't any clinical human studies yet," says Dr. Pratt, "astaxanthin is showing promise in the fight to slow biological aging."
Your secret source: Dr. Pratt recommends 3 ounces of salmon 4 days a week. Salmon caught in the wild has up to 80 percent more astaxanthin than the farmed kind. The wild variety should be easy to find now, because it's just coming off its peak season. (Other sources include shrimp, crab, lobster, trout, and Haematococcus, a green algae.) Besides astaxanthin, salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which lower your risk of heart disease--particularly helpful, because not dying is the ultimate superhero power.
Content adapted from Men's Health Magazine