Swap out refined and processed foods for unrefined and unprocessed foods.
Seem simple enough right?
Research has shown that the average diet consists of about 50-70% refined foods.
According to this study, from 1999 to 2018, the average teen increased their total calorie intake of ultra-processed foods from 61.4% to 67.0% (R).
“Ultra-processed foods account for almost 50–60% of calories consumed in Canada , the USA , and the UK , and approximately 20–30% in Brazil  and Chile . Consumption of ultra-processed foods is currently higher in high-income countries, but it has been steadily increasing in middle-income countries .” (R)
That’s quite a huge chunk of calories coming from junk food. Even if you only consume 1 meal of junk food, it’s still a big chunk of calories since junk food is generally very high in fats and carbs (which is a lot of calories).
Processed food classification
There are 4 main categories of processed foods.
- ‘Unprocessed or minimally processed foods’ (MPF). Foods that have not been processed at all, e.g., fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, meat, milk, honey, etc.
- Processed culinary ingredients (PCI), which are substances extracted from group 1 (e.g., fats, oils, sugars and starches) or from nature (e.g., salt) used to cook and season MPF, not intended for consumption on their own.
- Processed foods (PF), where industrial products are made by adding PCI to MPF (e.g., canned vegetables in brine, fruit in syrup, cheese). Not the worse, but not the best.
- UPFs, which are defined as ‘formulations of ingredients, mostly of exclusive industrial use, that result from a series of industrial processes (hence “ultra-processed”), many requiring sophisticated equipment and technology’ (e.g., sweet and savoury snacks, reconstituted meats, pizza dishes and confectionery, among others).
- Ingredients characteristic of UPFs include food substances of no or rare culinary use, including sugar, protein and oil derivatives (e.g., high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, protein isolates, hydrogenated oil) and cosmetic additives (e.g., colours, flavours, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, thickeners, and artificial sweeteners) designed to make the final product more palatable.
Number 1 and 2 are the best to consume. But in terms of convenience, number 3 can also be good. Examples include dried meat, cheese, yogurt, canned oysters, frozen veg, etc.
It’s still easy to go overboard with 1 and 2. The main issue with UPF is that it’s too easy to overconsume it, which leads to weight gain and all kinds of other issues. But it’s also easy to overconsume natural foods. E.g. throw honey and cream in your coffee, butter over your potatoes, cook with lots of coconut oil, lots of olive oil over your salad, etc. Calories add up quickly and can also lead to excess weight gain and health issues.
An average day of eating for the average individual
Breakfast: wheat bix or some cereal or maybe toast and jam.
Lunch: A burger, fries and coke or maybe sandwiches.
Dinner: Maybe a home-cooked meal, but because you’re tired and came home late, Chinese food or pizza sounds like a great idea.
Every meal contains some form of ultra-processed food.
Why is this a problem?
Because consuming ultra-processed foods:
- Can quickly lead to excess calorie consumption. This 2018 study shows that energy intake was 508±106 kcal/d greater than an unprocessed diet (R). That very quickly leads to weight gain, which lowers testosterone. Check out all the reasons why being overweight is bad for testosterone here.
- Lead to nutritional deficiencies e.g. zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, selenium, B-vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, etc., etc, all of which are essential for testosterone optimization.
- Promote inflammation.
- Reduces the amount of phytochemicals consumed. Plant compounds can help to lower inflammation, inhibit excess aromatase, improve insulin sensitivity, stimulate steroidogenesis, etc. As a side note, meat and milk from grass-fed animals contain equal amounts of phytochemicals compared to plant foods.
- “Several phytochemicals found in grass-fed meat and milk are in quantities comparable to those found in plant foods known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and cardioprotective effects.” (R)
Ultra-processed diet can lower testosterone
Quite a few studies have found that “high consumption of bread and pastries, dairy products, and desserts, eating out, and a low intake of homemade foods, noodles, and dark green vegetables) independently predicted hypogonadism” (R).
Additionally, a diet “rich in preserved vegetables or processed meat or fish, deep-fried foods, innards organs, rice or flour products cooked in oil, and dipping sauce, but low in milk, dairy products, legumes, or beans, and dark or leafy vegetables) was associated with a poor testicular function.” (R)
And lastly, men eating a Western diet had lower testosterone than vegetarians and we know that being a vegan isn’t the best thing for you T (R).
To boil it all down, the consumption of processed foods, namely:
- Flour (pastries, pizza, burgers, bread, etc.),
- Deep-fried food
- Food cooked in oil (PUFA oils mainly)
- Processed dairy (ice cream, milkshakes, sweetened dairy drinks, pizza, but not milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.
…is associated with lower testosterone.
Consuming dairy, meat, eggs, shellfish, fruit, tubers and veggies as minimally processed will provide your body with all the nutrients to optimize testosterone.
The easiest trick to increase your testosterone is just to swap out ultra-processed foods for minimally processed foods.
Stick to the testosterone food pyramid and you should be good.
Testosterone optimization time-effective meal plan
Breakfast – Egg shake
- Crack 4 eggs into a 750ml jug
- Add 2 tbsp honey
- Add 1 large banana
- Fill up with milk
- Blend well
- Drink up
Lunch – Another egg shake or solid meal with meat and starch/fruit
- 200-300g ground beef fried in its own fat.
- 500g potato / 2 bananas / 1-2 cups rice / 1/2 mango / 1/2 papaya / 2-3 slice pineapple, etc.
Dinner – Same as lunch
Try to have oysters and beef liver or kidney a few times a week.
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