When considering how to prevent prostate problems, your first thought probably isn't the possible role of that extra-large baked potato topped with sour cream and butter. Or that bacon double cheeseburger and fries.
But your diet plays an important role in your prostate health.
"Everything in the human body is affected by what we eat," says Dr. Brian Miles, a urologist at Houston Methodist who specializes in the prostate. "There's no question that diet is important for prostate health. It's a lesson that extends across all diseases — certainly cancers, including prostate cancer."
Given this, you might wonder whether there are certain foods that promote good prostate health, as well as any that increase your risk of an enlarged prostate, also called BPH, or cancer of the gland.
Do certain foods help protect your prostate?
Wouldn't it be great if there was a list of foods good for prostate health that you could follow? Internet trends would have you believe so. But, unfortunately, it's not that simple.
"People will read that a soy-based diet benefits the prostate and that it can even help prostate cancer go into remission," says Dr. Miles. "So they try it. But as I tell all of my patients, while we know that what you eat plays a role, it's difficult to find a specific 'diet' that's meaningful and relevant in reducing the risk of prostate problems."
For instance, the soy claim likely stems from findings that Japanese men — who eat a high soy-based diet — have a lower incidence of prostate cancer. But Dr. Miles adds that, until the past 20 years or so, this same group of men also had the highest incidence of stomach cancer, likely from all the smoked fish they ate. It serves as a reminder that our eating patterns are complex and the studies analyzing them must take many factors into account.
"Dietary trials are very hard to monitor," explains Dr. Miles. "Not only are there a lot of variables to account for, but you're also relying on participants being open and honest about what they're actually eating — and we all know how that goes."
He adds that diet trends for prostate health come and go, with a new vegetable, fruit or mineral gaining popularity every year or so — carrots, pomegranates, modified citrus pectin, green tea, lycopene and selenium, to name a few.
"Various small trials will report on these, but what we ultimately find is that there's no real, detectable effect on prostate health," says Dr. Miles. "The spice of the moment is curcumin. There's some data from India to suggest that it helps prostate cancer, but these are early and small studies."
Instead of following this year's diet trend, the easiest thing you can do to avoid prostate problems down the line is to adopt a well-balanced eating pattern, packed with vegetables and fruits. (Related: What Does Eating a "Balanced Diet" Really Mean?)
Are there foods to avoid for prostate health?
To prevent BPH or prostate cancer, refined carbohydrates are likely the No. 1 food to avoid.
"It's carbohydrates that are driving most of the health issues in our country today," adds Dr. Miles. "What is the food that leaves your stomach the fastest? Simple carbohydrates."
This means a person ends up eating more, notes Dr. Miles, leading to weight gain. And since these types of carbohydrates are metabolized so quickly, they also cause the blood sugar spikes that can lead to high blood sugar, metabolic imbalance and insulin resistance.
"Obesity, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are all linked to prostate problems, including cancer," says Dr. Miles.
Refined, simple carbs are commonly found in white bread, rice and pasta, hamburger and hot dog buns, pizza dough, chips, crackers, soft drinks, bagels, cakes, cookies, donuts and candy — many of which are staples of the standard American diet.
Other foods thought to contribute to insulin resistance include trans fats, saturated fats and red meat. Additionally, processed meat has been linked to certain types of cancer.
To protect your prostate, as well as your overall health, it's best to limit your intake of these foods.
A well-balanced diet can help prevent your risk of prostate problems
So what should you eat to help protect your prostate?
"There are certainly dietary factors to consider and modify," says Dr. Miles. "But this doesn't mean you need to try some punitive diet that you can't tolerate, because you're just going to cheat."
Skip the trendy diets and start by adopting a healthy eating pattern that prioritizes whole foods — vegetables, fruits, whole grains — over processed, packaged ones. This will help you avoid blood pressure spikes and weight gain, which can help prevent the underlying health issues linked to prostate cancer. (Related: Eating Healthy: 7 Simple Tips for Getting Started Today)
Additionally, working on your diet isn't the only way to reduce your risk of prostate issues.
Other factors that can affect your prostate health include:
- Your weight. Being overweight is linked to prostate cancer and BPH. Reaching your healthy weight and staying there can go a long way toward reducing your risk of developing these prostate problems in the future, not to mention many other chronic health conditions.
- Physical inactivity. Getting 150 minutes of exercise per week provides metabolic benefit and reduces all-cause mortality, meaning you have less chance of dying of any cause. Additionally, some studies show that men who are physically active are less likely to suffer from BPH.
- Your genetics. You can't control your genes, but if prostate cancer or BPH runs in your family, you should be extra diligent about taking the modifiable risk factors above — diet, weight, exercise — seriously.
Lastly, be sure you're following the recommended guidelines for prostate cancer screening. It begins starting at age 50, or younger if you are high risk for prostate cancer. (Related: Prostate Cancer Screening: 5 Things Every Guy Needs to Know)