Do Men and Women Need Different Diets? Eating Healthy Could Be Gender-Specific
Nutrition is the key to total body wellness but what constitutes “eating healthy” may differ between men and women.
Have you ever been sitting in a restaurant when you notice a couple at a nearby table – he’s eating a huge steak and she’s eating a dinner salad? Maybe you’re that couple? It turns out the food choices we make may have more to do with our gender than our preferences.
The nutritional needs between men and women also depend on age and lifestyle. Young people of both genders process calories more efficiently than older people do, although the older you are, the healthier food choices you tend to make.
If you are physically active, you definitely need more water. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, cutting back on fats is crucial to maintaining a healthy body weight.
Learning how to eat healthy isn’t so hard once you know a few key facts about how men and women differ genetically. Here are the categories most important to overall nutritional health and knowing how to eat healthy.
Basic Calorie Consumption
Since men tend to weigh more than women, their caloric intake is usually higher. But in order to lose or maintain a healthy weight, no matter your gender, you must burn more calories than you take in.
According to the Harvard Family Health Guide, if you get very little exercise or are sedentary you should consume approximately 10-13 calories per pound of body weight each day.
If you get moderate exercise each day, you need 16 calories per pound/per day. If you exercise often, your body requires 18 calories per pound/per day.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Protein requirements for men and women are essentially the same. Despite the current fads featuring high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets the human body doesn’t require more than 60 grams of protein per day. That is the equivalent of 8 ounces of chicken or 6 ounces of tuna.
Getting too much protein in your diet can lead to calcium loss and osteoporosis in women and a greater risk of kidney stones in men.
For those working to build muscle mass, an increase in daily protein is common, but consider adding beans, fish, low-fat dairy or eggs to your diet instead of meat.
Eating most of your protein at night helps repair muscle while you sleep.
Going for Grains
Carbohydrates are our primary fuel, and you need the right variety to function at your best, no matter your gender. When it comes to carbs, making sure you consume complex kinds such as whole grains, beans and fresh produce is critical.
In the U.S., our carbohydrate consumption consists of too many “simple” carbohydrates, such as include candy, frozen pizza and pastries.
Complex carbohydrates have more fiber and take longer to digest, which means you retain the benefit of the energy they provide longer.
Simple carbs give you a small, inefficient burst of energy that leads to a “crash”. Carbohydrates are also high in fiber. Preventing colon cancer and heart disease dictates a higher recommended fiber intake for men.
The more calories you consume, the more fiber you should include in your diet.
Fats are Good for Your Body…In Moderation
Fat is high in calories so people who maintain a healthy weight should not exceed 35% of their total caloric intake. If you are currently overweight, it is recommended to keep your fat consumption below 25%.
Limiting fried foods and processed snack foods is good not only for your heart, but also your blood sugar and cholesterol levels as well.
Some fats are worse than others: The alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in vegetable oils – such as canola and flaxseed – may contribute to prostate cancer and should be avoided by men.
Alcohol In Moderation
Low quantities of alcohol have been shown to improve the cardiovascular system and help with lowering your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. However, medical experts recommend that women consume no more than one glass each day – approximately half the amount of alcohol men can safely consume.
Be advised: Alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Getting enough calcium is the best way for women to lower their risk for osteoporosis. The recommended daily allowance for women is 1,000mg before age 50 and 1,200mg after age 50.
The drawback: High calcium levels have been linked to prostate cancer.
The safest amount of calcium for men to consume is about 800mg per day. Some foods are rich in calcium and you might not even realize it. Spinach, broccoli, almonds, beans, and calcium-fortified juice and cereal can be added to the list of calcium-rich, low-fat dairy.
Your Daily Iron Needs
Women require 18mg of iron each day as long as they are menstruating. The best sources are leafy greens (spinach and kale), dried fruit (especially prunes and raisins), assorted beans, and mollusks (oysters, clams and scallops). Adding more red meat is not advisable since it has been linked to increased breast cancer risk.
Too little iron can result in anemia, exhaustion and lack of focus in women.
After menopause, women don’t lose iron as rapidly and no longer need so much of it – they can safely reduce their iron intake to 8mg per day.
Men need less than 8mg per day at any age because their bodies do not lose it each month the way women’s bodies do. Excess iron builds up in men and can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
How Much Water Are You Drinking?
Proper hydration is crucial to your overall wellness, and water in its natural form is the best way to get it. Women need to drink no less than 68 ounces per day while men need around 100 ounces per day.
Water – this simple aspect of total body health is often overlooked.
Water regulates your metabolism and body temperature, moisturizes your joints and lungs, transports nutrients and oxygen to your cells, and is a natural detoxifier.
Your Body is a Machine…Fuel it Up!
Forgetting to hydrate and eat regular meals is a growing problem for both men and women. As our schedules get busier every year, we are skipping meals, consuming more caffeine, and “grabbing a quick bite” at the local fast food joint between activities.
Your body runs on fuel and it prefers plenty of water, fruits, vegetables and complex carbs.
Planning out your meals and snacks ahead of time has been proven to help you avoid overeating (or forgetting to eat at all) and the chances are better that you’ll make healthier selections.
Science Looking More Closely at Food and Gender
According to a recent study conducted by the University of New South Wales, diet has a direct impact on your immediate health, reproduction and lifespan.
Associate Professor Rob Brooks, Director of the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre explains, “We need to look more closely at the individual, their sex, and their reproductive stage in life. It may be, for example, that women in their child-bearing years need a different diet than those who are post-menopausal.”
UNSW is performing ongoing research on the Australian black field cricket. Scientists have found that the males and females choose a high carbohydrate, low protein diet. However, male crickets would live longer on a diet made up of an 8-to-1 ratio of carbs to proteins, while women would do better with a 1-to-1 ratio.
In other words, crickets have the ability to choose sex-specific foods and increase their lifespan, but instead, compromise on a less efficient, “blended” nutrition plan which results in a shorter lifespan…much like humans.
Knowing how to eat healthy is important at any age and for either gender. Knowing how to help your body operate at peak and sticking to the food plan that is right for you…well now, that makes you smarter than the Australian black field cricket.