Experts say regularly planning healthy meals and snacks that include high-performance foods may help men shed belly fat and stave off disease, including prostate cancer, cardiovascular issues, and even osteoporosis. “But many men don’t think about food until hunger hits,” says Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, author of The Powerfood Nutrition Plan (Rodale, 2006). Kleiner asks her clients to carry a backpack of food with them, “so they’re never at the mercy of a vending machine or a fast-food joint.” Whether in a backpack or the fridge at home, choose these must-have foods for men’s health.

Broccoli and tomatoes 

This antioxidant-rich duo packs more prostate cancer protection than diets that include only one of the vegetables, preliminary research shows.

Tip: Eat three or more servings of both broccoli and tomatoes weekly (not necessarily at the same time) to reduce prostate cancer risk, says professor John Erdman Jr., PhD, of the University of Illinois.

Dark chocolate

“The darker the chocolate, the better it is for cardiovascular health,” says Michael Murray, ND, author of What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know (Atria, 2010). Generally, a high percentage of cocoa content is associated with greater health benefits: Studies show powerful antioxidants in cocoa called flavanolsmay help boost HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improve insulin action. But keep in mind, some (often proprietary) processing methods are better than others at preserving flavanol levels. According to Delicious Living’s medical editor, Robert Rountree, MD, minimally processed organic chocolate may tend to retain more flavanols; some labels specify flavanol content per serving.

Fish 

Battling belly bulge without success? Eat fish. “Initial research suggests there’s something unique about some fish proteins that helps trigger your body to burn abdominal fat for energy,” Kleiner says. Plus, omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish can help boost brain function and keep your heart healthy, she adds.

Tip: Start with fish once a week and work up to as many as five weekly fish meals, Kleiner advises. “Salmon and other omega-3–rich fish are smart choices, but any kind of fish protein seems to help trigger your body to burn belly fat, including shellfish.” Choose fresh or frozen wild-caught salmon over farmed salmon when possible to minimize toxins. Check seafoodwatch.org to learn about safe and sustainable seafood choices in your region.

Low-fat dairy

Consuming milk, cheese, and yogurt are easy ways to slip in protein and calcium to help bones stand up to both everyday workloads and the weight of heavy lifting.

Tip: Eat 6 ounces of low-fat Greek yogurt 90 minutes before a workout to fuel up with carbohydrate and protein, plus get 15 percent or more of your daily calcium.

Berries

“Flavonoid-rich berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, have tremendous anti-aging and antioxidant effects,” Murray says. A 2010 study found obese men and women who ate 50 grams of freeze-dried blueberries (about 2 cups fresh) daily for eight weeks significantly reduced their blood pressure and harmful oxidation of LDL cholesterol compared with a control group who didn’t eat blueberries.

Tip: Boost your berry quota by eating freeze-dried and frozen berries, in addition to fresh. Choose organic whenever possible to avoid pesticide residues.

Nuts and seeds

Research suggests eating foods rich in the mineral selenium, such as nuts and seeds, may help reduce prostate cancer risk, says researcher Lawrence Mroz of the University of British Columbia. Nuts and seeds may also help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, plus fight belly fat, studies show.

Tip: Aim for 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) of a variety of nuts or seeds daily. On average, just one or two Brazil nuts—the richest food source of selenium—supply an entire day’s worth of the mineral. Walnuts and flaxseeds are highest in heart-healthy omega-3 fats.Grind flaxseeds before eating, for best absorption.

Grass-fed beef

Eating a small amount of steak can be smart—if it is grass fed. Meat from grass-fed cattle gives you more protein and less fat per bite compared with animals raised on grains such as corn, says Loren Cordain, PhD, author of The Paleo Diet (Wiley, 2010) and a researcher at Colorado State University. Grass-fed beef also contains healthier fats than meat from grain-fed cattle, including less saturated fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fat that may help fight cancer.

Tip: Find grass-fed beef at your local natural products store.