Should men and women eat the same?
Content by Anna Kallianteri, RD, BSc, MSc, Dietitian
Whilst general guidance for following a healthy diet applies to everyone, there are some considerable gender-specific differences on eating choices, preferences, and dietary needs.
A 27-year-long study that examined health effects of dietary risks published in 2017 showed 22% of deaths and 15% of poor health (1), it is a key area to consider when trying to make positive changes to your health.
Gender difference in food choices
Gender difference in food choices is influenced by many psychological and socio-cultural factors (2).
Women tend to have a higher awareness, better knowledge of nutrition and seek nutrition counselling more frequently than men. In terms of food choices, evidence suggest that women consume more fruits and vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. On the contrary men seem to consume more often red meat, eggs, alcohol, and high sucrose foods. Women are also more regular consumers of dietary supplements of different types than men are (3).
So what drives this difference in food choices? Gender differences in food choices demonstrate women’s greater efforts for weight control and beliefs in healthy eating (4). Women have a lower satisfaction with weight opting to diet as a control whereas men prefer monitoring their weight with exercise. Over an individual’s lifetime, 74% of females try dieting compared to only 48% of men (5).
Food and emotions
A big topic of discussion is food cravings. Cravings are experienced differently between sexes with 28% of women experiencing food cravings compared to only 13% of men. Where men experience positive feelings, women experience a more regular feeling of guilt after eating craved foods (6).
Cravings are higher for energy-density foods with 75% of those being chocolate, ice-cream, bakery stuff and salty snacks (7). If frequent, such dietary habits, can affect our body weight and nutritional quality as these foods tend to be high in energy but low in nutrients.
Gender, fat and metabolic health
Key gender difference in how fat is distributed effects metabolism. There are two ways fat is stored in the body, the first is viscerally, which is where fat is stored deep around abdominal organs, whereas the second type is subcutaneously, which is where fat is stored under the skin.
Men physiologically have the classic android body distribution meaning they tend to accrue fat viscerally whereas women (pre-menopause) tend to accrue fat subcutaneously. This means men pose greater risk for cardiovascular disease whereas in premenopausal women, the subcutaneous fat protects them from cardiovascular disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome (8).
Gender Difference in Energy and Macros
Different needs come with how much energy men and women need every day, based on average body size and composition, where muscle mass tends to be lower for women and body fat mass tends to be higher. Men require daily at least 500kcal more compared to women and just for being at rest, without any activity, some evidence shows that men need around 200–400kcals extra than women do, irrelevant of age range (9, 10).
According to the NHS an average woman should consume around 2,000 calories a day and an average man around 2,500 calories. How much this varies from one another and how much you need depends on lots of things, including how active you are (11).
Recommended micronutrients for men and women
Adult men require more vitamins C, K, B1, B2 and B3, and zinc than women (13).
The following advice is for adult women (13):
Iron: Menstruating women have increased iron needs due to iron losses with their period which puts them at risk or anaemia and may require supplementation. Suggested iron needs decrease from 18 mg per day in women aged 19–50 to 8 mg/day after age 50, due to better iron conservation and decreased losses in postmenopausal women compared with younger women who menstruate.
Vitamin B6: Women taking contraceptive agents may have higher requirements for vitamin B6 than those who don’t.
Magnesium: Women taking medication to reduce their stomach acid (such as omeprazole, esomeprazole) may have increased needs for magnesium. Magnesium may be effective for better glucose metabolism and has been associated with reduced negative effects during menstruation.
Vitamin B12: There are higher needs for women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Vitamin D and calcium: Postmenopausal women have high risks of osteoporosis and bone fracture so require more vitamin D and calcium to promote healthy bones. However, it is still a generally essential maintaining bone mineral density in adulthood.
How female hormones affect diet
Female sex-steroid hormones and hormone fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can affect weight and the body composition in women of reproductive age. Appetite and energy requirements change during the menstrual cycle. Sex hormones interact to modulate a woman’s energy balance which means that women will have increased energy needs during their luteal phase as compared to their follicular phase. Additionally, during the luteal phase, women experience an increase in their appetite as well as food cravings so these should be considered when providing nutritional advice (14).
Later in life, in the transition to post menopause, other physiological and energy requirement changes will need special consideration. After menopause, women tend to store fat more viscerally (near the organs) which means there is a greater risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome (8).
Why precision nutrition is the next step
Gender differences in metabolic rate, reproductive functions and body structures mean women have more complex nutritional needs than men do. Adult women differ from men in their nutritional requirements predominately for biological and physiological reasons such as their hormonal changes across lifespan, adiposity, their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause (13). It is crucial to consider sex-specific differences in nutritional status for the impacts of diet, body weight, and energy balance on nutritional advice and dietary supplement use at different phases of life.
Precision nutrition approaches use dietary habits and eating patterns, together with information on genetics, circadian rhythms, health status, socioeconomic and psychosocial characteristics, food environments, physical activity, and the microbiome, to identify modifiable factors to improve the nutritional status and health outcomes (14).
At Uniquely Health, we can work together and offer you personalised nutritional recommendations based on the interplay of these factors.
Start your holistic health journey today
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