For Men’s Health Month, we catch up with Milton Stokes, PhD, MPH, RD, and VP of Scientific Affairs at Sensei Ag to get his perspective on men’s health and health in today’s world.
“Recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.”
– Congressman Bill Richardson
June is Men’s Health Month. It’s a month that aims to bring more awareness to men’s health issues and encourage men, boys, and their families to seek advice for early disease detection and prevention.
Promoting better health is one of the reasons why Sensei Farms was founded. We have a unique perspective that produce should not only be delicious, but also, always highly nutritious. Which is why we employ a team of health experts and dietitians whose jobs are dedicated to maximizing the nutrition in our products.
Dr. Milton Stokes, one of our health experts and VP of Scientific Affairs, recently joined our team. He has a wealth of knowledge in health and dietetics and even wrote a New York Times Best Seller. He has quite the credentials, so I was “stoked” that he agreed to an interview where he shares his thoughts on men’s health.
Milton, we’re so excited to have you on the Sensei Ag Team! Can you tell us about yourself and what you were doing prior to joining Sensei Ag?
Thanks! I’m thrilled to join a company focused on transforming health. I’m a dietitian, so Sensei Ag’s mission is important to me. Nearly no one in the US eats enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, it’s been called a consumption crisis. I want to help change that.
I’ve worked in agriculture for the last 7 years, and I’ve always been a food and nutrition person. I started out owning a restaurant in Kentucky with my mom. Then I studied dietetics and became a dietitian working in hospitals and nursing homes in New York City providing nutrition care and leading clinical nutrition teams. I also wrote as a freelancer for magazines, newspapers, and web sites, and I had a few book projects—all focusing on food, nutrition, and dietetics in one way or the other. Writing felt like a better way to reach more people to talk about the healthfulness and joy of good food.
In terms of education, I got a masters in public health and did my PhD in communication and marketing where I focused on health communication. For my dissertation I examined the body image of Hispanic females in the context of how much media they were consuming as well as the type of media.
After the PhD, the next natural step felt like it should be teaching, and I had a tenure-track professorship—still focused on food, nutrition, and health communication. In 2013 my students were asking questions about food labeling that led me to do some additional exploration about the topic. I started asking questions to colleagues in the Ag industry, and those conversations opened the door to me working in Ag. While I loved higher education, it felt like the right time to explore food production and agriculture more deeply.
In my work, I saw myself as this connector, someone to bring the nutrition and food community together with agriculturalists. A lot of consumers were interested in how food was produced—or as I like to say, “How does food happen?”—but the people talking about food production weren’t from agriculture; they hadn’t been on farms or talked to farmers or ranchers, and a lot of their information about agriculture was coming from documentaries, which to me, were more like shockumentaries.
I created opportunities to bring these stakeholders together so they could learn from each other and then share that knowledge with societal audiences. What a transformative experience for me!
That is quite a journey! You clearly stay busy. What is a project you’ve enjoyed working on?
One of my favorite projects has been the ongoing work that I’ve done with dietitians, physicians and food professionals in the Philippines. I have attended their annual conferences for a number of years where I was an invited speaker, exhibitor, and organizer of workshops and immersive experiences where I took stakeholders to explore agriculture. We visited a vegetable seed company as well as a row crop farmer. It was very interesting to hear from the growers and plant scientists about the challenges and opportunities in the Philippines. I’ve made some wonderful friendships and see some of my colleagues from the Philippines at nutrition conferences around the world.
What a great example of how health and nutrition is universal. So June is Men’s Health Month. What is “health” in today’s modern world and what does a “healthy lifestyle” look like?
Health is balance, wellbeing, joy, adequate sleep, and good food. Not everyone has attained this or keeps it consistently. There are bumps in the road and barriers. Achieving health takes a lot of resources, and progress can be easily derailed. I work on health every day and see it as a process.
What are a few health areas that men often overlook or should focus more on?
Men don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. The numbers are just so low. I’ve looked at why this is, and other organizations are also focused on this. Despite all that’s been done to communicate the healthfulness of fruits and vegetables, men—and women, too—consume very low quantities. I don’t think we have a knowledge deficit: most people know fruits and vegetables are good for them. But what about taste? I think one barrier is coming from produce that doesn’t perform consistently, and if you think about packaged food or food from quick service restaurants, it’s almost always consistent. Eaters know what they’re going to get when they purchase a meal from one of these restaurants or buy packaged snack foods. What about fresh fruits or vegetables? As a parent, my kids are so disappointed when I cut open a melon that’s hard and bland.
Think of the possibilities if we could produce consistently crave-able fruits and vegetables? This is what makes working at Sensei Ag so exciting! We care about flavor… that experience when you enjoy the perfect tomato, for example. That’s who we are and what we want to bring to more people.
Agreed, that is the Sensei dream. Speaking of your kids, do you have any favorite hacks that help you and/or your family achieve better health?
Plan ahead. Map out your meals so you aren’t stuck last minute trying to figure out what’s for dinner. Planning can help avoid family frustration and fight food waste. And I’m a big fan of convenience foods. I always told my patients when I worked in healthcare that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables were great choices to have on hand. Yes, I love fresh, but frozen mango or frozen blueberries are always ready when I am, and always nutritious. If you can save time and still eat well, go for convenience items.
I really appreciate that response from a dietitian! This has been awesome, thanks Milton. If there is only one thing you’d like our readers to take away or remember, what would that be?
The perfect diet is the one that offers a balance of good-for-you nutrition and deliciousness. Enjoy the food you eat.
With over 60 million people in the United States describing themselves as a road runner, trail runner, couch to 5k-er, or jogger, there’s a good chance that you too will be celebrating Global Running Day. Whether you anticipate and embrace this informal holiday or view every day as a running day, you need purposeful nutrition to fuel your miles. This year, when you lace up to hit the road in quest of better health, fitness, and wellness, do something good for the planet by fueling up with more plant-based energy and protein. Here’s how to incorporate more plant-forward nutrition and make plant-based performance come to life.
Make It Colorful
A wide variety of natural color on your plate offers so much more than visual interest and appeal. Filling fruits and vegetables quiet post-run hunger with filling fiber and refreshing high water content while handily restocking essential vitamins, minerals, and more. Along with bringing bursts of flavor, delightful textures, and brilliant color to your plate, nutritional powerhouses such as colorful Cherry Red Lettuce, bright Lana’i Sweet Peppers, and sweet Cherry Tomatoes, deliver phytonutrients and antioxidants for health and recovery in the off hours not spent running. Nutritionally dense but light on calories, you can enjoy your fill of fruits and veggies without overcompensating on calorie intake.
Time It Right
Plants have a lot going for them. Flavor, texture, nutrients, and fiber. They are great choices in the hours leading up to a run, the evening before a tough workout, or dinner following a late evening jog. Fruit is packed with a natural sugar – fructose, which the body puts to work with ease, but since sensitive stomachs don’t always agree with fruit sugar, be sure to add in other sources of carbs alongside your berries, bananas, and apples. Try sliced banana with warm oatmeal an hour or two before a long run. Or snack on sliced apples, carrots, and hummus with pita bread for a mid-afternoon snack.
In addition to fructose, fruits and veggies contain lots of fiber, a nutrient that most all of us need more of… but not in the minutes leading up to a run! Save those texture rich, crunchy, crispy veggies for the hours post run in order to prevent the need to make a pit stop mid-run! Within 30 – 60 minutes post run, be sure to add in some high-quality protein along with carbs to speed along recovery and restock energy in anticipation of tomorrow’s workout.
The accumulated effect of early wake up calls, intense training, and time spent running, calls for serious recovery. Foam rolling and stretching may come to mind in the time post-run, but nutritional recovery should not be overlooked. Taking the form of liquids alongside carbohydrates and protein, nutritional recovery works to replenish fluids, restock muscle glycogen stores, and begin repair of tired and tattered muscles. To avoid the sufferfest of post-exercise soreness, fatigue, and lengthier recovery times, experts recommend grabbing 15-30 grams of protein to support muscle health, 2-4 times as much carb for glycogen restoration, electrolytes to speed rehydration, and fluids to replace the volume lost during the sweat sesh.
Plant-based recovery calls for carefully curated amounts and types of proteins from multiple sources. Most plants don’t offer a complete blend of essential amino acids needed for muscle repair and recovery, so be sure to add in multiple plant sources like pea, rice, soy, and others. Variety often brings a more complete blend of amino acids and assures consumption of the amino acids needed for performance. To simplify post-run recovery, try a refreshing smoothie made with a base of plant protein powder containing multiple sources of plant proteins. Blend with nutrient dense whole food choices, and you’ll meet the needs of muscles, restock energy stores and glycogen, and replete a variety of vitamins and minerals lost in sweat and through metabolism. Smoothies are a great choice in the hours post run thanks to convenience and form. If you’re one of the many runners who find they simply cannot stomach solids after a cool down (raises hand), a carefully crafted smoothie or smoothie bowl can check all the boxes of recovery, restoration, and rehydration.
So this year on Global Running Day, while you’re logging miles to benefit your health and wellness, fuel up on plant-based energy and recovery that benefits you and the globe. By instituting the good habits of plant-based performance nutrition, you can have a delicious routine in place on Global Running Day and miles into the future. See you at the finish line!
The four highest-impact things an individual can do to tackle climate change are eat a plant-based diet, avoid air travel, live car-free, and have fewer children. Of those four actions, only plant-based eating immediately addresses methane and nitrous oxide, the most urgently important greenhouse gases.
– Jonathan Safran Foer
Climate change is overwhelming. In my opinion, that is a gross understatement. Report after report on increasing rates of extreme weather events and the relentless upward creep of global average temperature drive home the very real consequences of decades of reckless use of resources that have followed the industrial revolution. While it makes sense to be nervous about climate change, we can’t afford to let that nervousness become resignation. It doesn’t always feel like it, but there are actions that most people can take today that have a real, measurable impact on our planet. It all starts with what we are choosing to put into our bodies. As explained by our very own Dr. Jenna Bell in her recent blogpost, introducing a greater proportion of plant-based foods into our diets benefits both our health and our bank accounts. Given the carbon intensity of the meat production industry, it turns out that eating more plants and less meat will also be essential to turning the tide on climate change. While there is a lot that I could write on the science underpinning this assertion (see Resources at the end of this post), I would instead like to share my own experiences with vegetarianism and some thoughts in the hopes of lowering the barriers to entry for anyone considering reducing their meat consumption.
I would describe myself as a reluctant (and flexible) vegetarian. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, in a culture where meat was a non-negotiable center piece to every meal, I had no reason to entertain the idea of being a vegetarian until I moved to the United States for university. As I increasingly gravitated to the earth sciences, the proportion of my peer group who were devout vegetarians and vegans grew. Knowing that it would be a tectonic shift in my lifestyle, I diligently avoided looking too closely at the arguments for why vegetarianism made sense if you cared about climate. It was on a visit home that I unwittingly walked right into an ambush that forced me to confront this blaring inconsistency between my passion for climate justice and ardent carnivorousness. My sister, inspired by her boyfriend, had become a vegetarian. One conversation with her on her reasoning made it impossible for me to keep letting myself off the hook. So, my New Year’s resolution that year was to stop eating meat, and now, almost six years later, I am very glad that I made the choice. I won’t pretend that it was easy, and I cannot pretend that I don’t still miss meat. But was it worth it? 100%. I know all too well how difficult it can be to make that shift, so here are three pieces of advice that will hopefully ease the way for anyone considering this.
It’s not all-or-nothing
The self-imposed dichotomy between my diet and the hard-and-fast vegetarian lifestyle was one of the primary reasons for my initial resistance to making the change. In my mind, it was go vegetarian or go home; so when I gave up meat, I went cold turkey for several months. Eventually, I reintegrated fish as an occasional addition to meals, and would now more accurately label myself pescatarian or flexitarian. In retrospect, it’s clear that this simple allowance means that I am far less likely to ever go back to a meat-heavy diet. Give yourself permission to limit your meat consumption in a way that doesn’t make you feel like if you have one more bite of steak, you might as well scrap the whole thing.
There is a name for this philosophy: Reducetarianism. It is a movement that champions the realistic limitation of animal-based products for the sake of human and planetary health. The central tenet is that perfect should not be the enemy of the good; when it comes to a plant-based diet, this might mean Meatless Mondays or being vegetarian on weekdays.
Not all animal products are created equal
While reducing your meat consumption is the ideal first step in fighting climate change through diet, being intentional about the meat that you continue to include is another means to limit your impact on the planet. According to OurWorldInData, while beef production causes up to 100 kg CO2eq (CO2eq is a standard measurement of the equivalent mass of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, a proxy for warming potential) per kg consumed, chicken has an equivalent footprint of 10 kg CO2eq. This means that for every kg of meat consumed, beef causes ten times more carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere than chicken. (See Resources below for online tools to calculate the carbon footprint of your food.)
For some people, this knowledge enables well-informed trade-offs to be made. One of my friends, for example, switched from being vegetarian to eating limited amounts of chicken, but cut cheese out of her diet completely (as cheese has a higher carbon footprint by mass than chicken). An alternative consideration is replacing at least some meat intake with plant-based substitutes such as Beyond Meat, or Impossible Foods.
Be open to this being a positive experience
When I initially became a hardline vegetarian, I focused a lot on the newly imposed limitations in my life. Doing the right thing was rewarding but didn’t totally fill the void that bacon had left behind. As time has passed, however, and this lifestyle has become second nature, a lot of good has come from this:
While it does feel like many of the forces at play on the global climate stage are outside of our sphere of influence as individuals, we all have some agency in the impact that we are having as consumers. As written by Jonathon Safran Foer “Changing how we eat will not be enough, on its own, to save the planet, but we cannot save the planet without changing how we eat.”
As any parent will agree, nourishing kids with fruits and vegetables on a daily basis can be a challenge. For me, I have found that being dietitian does not eliminate the struggle with my girls. I often wonder what other dietitian households look like, so I asked for tips from my colleague Pamela Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, LD – internationally renowned nutrition expert and author of Sweat. Eat. Repeat. The 90 Day Playbook (VeloPress; 1st edition, December 17, 2019) and most important to this blog, mother of three tots. Here’s what she said. Verbatim.
A Dietitian-Mom’s Guide to Fruits & Veggies
“Confession: My children don’t begin each day clamoring for vegetables, nor do they go to sleep with visions of sugar beets dancing in their heads. At first, their lackluster love of vegetables brought heartbreak and a sense of failure to this nutrition expert, but over time I came to accept three truths. First, having a wealth of nutrition knowledge does not equip you with the superpower needed to prompt healthier eating. Second, lighting a fire for love of vegetables, or any new food for that matter, is often a slow burn. Third, the fact that my children don’t have much passion for dark leafy greens is not that uncommon.
Over the years I’ve learned that inspiring healthy eating can be a heavy lift, but it’s not impossible and the effort is totally worth it. Here are some hard earned, dietitian-approved ways to get your kids asking for “more vegetables please”!
Make It Fun
Did you know that Brussel sprouts make you faster? Or carrots help you see in the dark? Or watermelon just might turn you into a camel since it helps you store water? Maybe I’m pushing the limits of imagination but when you make food fun, kids open up to trying it. So get creative with produce. Find out who can crunch the loudest with carrots or Crystal Head Lettuce. See who runs fastest after a meal with sprouts. Maybe blueberries make you bounce higher on the trampoline. See where I’m going here? With creativity, produce is not only powerful, it’s fun too.
Be a Good Role Model
Rare is the child who fills their plate with produce while the adult in their house dines on all things deep fried. Instead, children tend to model their plates after peers, siblings, and parents. No pressure, right? Before lamenting that your little love won’t dine on fruits and vegetables, check your own plate. If you yourself don’t embrace produce…. you see where I’m going here. Children learn what they live. So, make sure their life has fruit and vegetables present.
Whether your house is a member of the clean plate club OR leans more towards “no thank you bites”, remember that all kid-friendly portions are small. We’re talking size-of-fist for the entire meal if you need a visual. While many of us adults simply can’t get enough produce, to a child a mountain of greens can be overwhelming. Start with a sprinkling and grow from there.
Let them Participate
Brace yourself. I’m about to recommend you take your children grocery shopping with you. In all seriousness, encourage your child to pick out the most colorful or most unusual or most beautiful produce they can find. Find a recipe which incorporates the new food. There’s a good chance it’s an adventure for both of you. Maybe no one in your house is familiar with that dragon fruit or eggplant or arugula but there’s a good chance your about to find a new favorite (looking at you, arugula!).”
Looking for your new favorite recipe to incorporate your find? Check out some of our favorites here. And remember, you got this.
Trying to add more plants to your lifestyle? Start simple.
Despite the decades of research on the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, less than 70% of American adults meet recommendations for daily intake (equal to ~2 cups fruit and 2-3 cups vegetables). At the farm, we think that people may eat more fruits and vegetables if they loved the taste of them and knew how to easy it was to incorporate them into your day. To help increase the amount of fresh produce at each meal, we believe in doing the simplest first – start with the low hanging fruit, so to speak.
If you often have a breakfast that is mostly tan, you may need more fruits and vegetables. If the tan is toast, mash a banana or an avocado to top that toast. Bagel? Sliced tomato or leafy greens atop the cream cheese. Cereal is much brighter with juicy strawberries, blueberries or raspberries.
Like to scramble some eggs in the AM? Try:
You can have salad for breakfast:
On the sweeter side:
Toss shredded carrots, shredded coconut and diced apples with pepitas or walnuts, and sprinkle with cinnamon or spice.
Fancy it up with super simple charcuterie: slice, dice and chop colorful assorted raw veggies, hummus dip, nuts and seeds. You can also add protein with cheese, grilled chicken or hardboiled eggs.
Some days you may want to take advantage of a packaged good like a quick-cooking grain dish, dry pasta or a prepared soup to feed the fam. Up the nutritional value:
Dinner on the green. And by that we mean that you can put your favorite dish – chicken, steak, fish, pork – on a bed of greens or sliced tomatoes. You can also top them with greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.
Two words: dinner salad. Click here for your next big salad.
Remember that you don’t have to go out of your way to increase your veggie and fruit intake – just add to what you’re already eating!
It’s likely you’ve heard that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you. Your mom, dad, doctor and dietitian have been saying this for years. More recently, the recommendation has become a way of life – now referred to as a “plant-based diet”.
Unlike other diet plans, plant-based eating is not prescriptive – there are many choices. A survey from the International Food Information Council found that one-third of respondents believed that “plant-based” means that you consume zero animal products, like veganism. Thirty-three percent described “plant-based” as being a focus on minimally processed foods from plants, with limited consumption of animal meat, eggs and dairy. Slightly less than 25 percent of respondents stated that “plant-based” was a vegetarian diet. The remaining responses said that it’s a pattern with mostly fruits and veggies without a limit on meats, eggs and dairy. From the perspective of experts, none of the responses are incorrect – plant-based eating may be interpreted as each individual see fit.
However you get there…
Public health consensus is clear – eating a plant-based diet is beneficial to your health. The aim is to have a greater focus on fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses (beans, legumes, dried peas, lentils) and nuts while leaving less space on the plate for meat, dairy and eggs. As with the recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables, the reason for more plants is to increase your intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients while consuming fewer calories, dietary cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat.
In addition to nutrients, plant-based diets are associated with whole body health benefits. Eating more plants at the expense of animal-products appears to lower risk factors for chronic disease. Research comparing plant-based diets without meat (such as vegetarian and vegan patterns) to meat-friendly diets, the meatless tend to have healthier biomarkers like body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and glucose levels. Reductions in key risk factors and correlational studies have shown that plant-based eating can help your body function better. Like in these critical areas:
But could eating plant-based actually be better for your wallet too?
A study published by Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition compared a plant-based diet to the current MyPlate plan by the USDA. The researchers found that plant-based diets saved shoppers about $750 a year per person compared to those who followed MyPlate (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy). That’s a savings of $62.50 per person, per month. Not only was it budget-friendly, the plant-based eaters excelled in achieving recommended intakes of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They ate significantly more servings of vegetables (44.50 vs. 19.33), fruits (34.50 vs. 30.75), and whole grains (34.0 v 20.0). Another way to look at it is to consider that the MyPlate diet cost $746.46 more per year while providing fewer servings of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
In an online survey by Jack Lawson from sousvideguy.com shared his findings from a poll on plant-based eating. Lawson found that roughly 27% of those polled acknowledged reducing or eliminating their meat intake to save money in 2019. Apparently, that works. While most people didn’t think it could be done, people on meatless diets spent an average of $23 less on food every week in this poll (that’s a savings of about $1200 per year).
Need some plant-based recipes?
Look no further…
Our recipes: https://senseifarms.com/recipes/
The Plant-Based Dietitian: https://plantbaseddietitian.com/recipes/
The Conscious Dietitian: https://theconsciousdietitian.com