People's eating choices usually fall into certain patterns. A recent study of men's eating patterns points out the various health risks each poses. Different groups of men may need to take specific steps to eat better, but some problems are unfortunately common.

The new study tracked 740 men for 16 years after an initial diet assessment, recording changes in their nutrition and heart disease risk. Statistical analysis of their eating habits at the beginning of the study placed each man into one of five groups: Empty Calories, Lower Variety, Higher Starch, Average Male and Transition to Heart Healthy.

Men in the Empty Calorie group ate the most refined grains and desserts, as well as the most sweets, salty snacks and high-fat meat and dairy foods. As a result, they had the highest average consumption of calories and the highest intake of cholesterol-raising saturated fat. If your eating habits put you in this group, switching to lower-fat meats and dairy products can reduce the amount of saturated fat and calories you eat. Selecting healthier snacks and desserts, like fruits and whole grain items, will further reduce calories, fat and sugar in your food, while boosting vitamins and fiber.

The greatest risk for heart disease appeared among the Lower Variety group, which included almost one-third of the men. These men ate the least number of vegetables, fruits and whole grains of all the groups. Thus, they had the lowest consumption of fiber and many nutrients. About a third of this group was treated for high blood pressure. Their excessive sodium intake (from many processed foods) and low potassium intake (from few vegetables and fruits) are probably related.

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If your eating habits are like those of the men in this group, expanding both the amount and variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains you eat will greatly improve your diet. Your diet will also include many more natural plant substances that work better together to lower cancer risk. In addition, studies show there is less weight gain for people who eat this way.

Men in the Higher Starch group also ate few vegetables and fruits, but they stood out for their high consumption of refined grains. By the end of the study, their calorie consumption had increased to be the highest of all the groups. A high consumption of refined grains or low whole-grain consumption may increase levels of insulin and inflammation, which in turn may raise the risk of diabetes and some cancers. Either way, you don't need to give up all refined grains for a healthy diet. Just aim for at least three or four servings of whole grains a day. A serving can be a slice of whole-wheat bread or a half-cup of brown rice.

The Average Male group showed the worst health indicators of all. This group had the highest blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, probably due in part to their low activity level and very high incidence of overweight. Although the current daily goal for most adults is seven to ten servings, these men barely ate four servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Their saturated fat consumption also exceeded current recommendations.

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The Transition to Heart Healthy group had the best overall nutrition. This group ate the most vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish with the lowest amount of saturated fat. Although their heart disease risk was the lowest of all five groups, it was still too high for good health.

Despite the differences among these five groups, they all exceeded recommended amounts of saturated fat and sodium and fell below vegetable, fruit and whole-grain suggestions. More than three-fourths of the men in every group were overweight or obese. Physical activity scores were also low in all groups. These shortcomings are warning signs, because, in addition to heart disease, they also raise the risk of cancer and diabetes.