Many women have already noticed it — their bodies process food differently than their male counterparts. This occurs even if they eat less than men, which most of them do. And yet, experts have said that women should eat more of an unexpected food than men because it keeps women, specifically, healthy.
It’s not surprising that women and men have different dietary needs, considering their bodies are designed to do different things. As such, they’ll require different menus as they perform these roles — for instance, a pregnant woman will have to eat differently than a post-menopausal woman. And, to promote their overall longevity, men and women need to eat differently sized portions of the food groups throughout their lives.
However, conventional dietary guidelines don’t discriminate. Nowadays, the USDA suggests plate-based breakdowns for Americans to follow. The largest portions should be vegetables and grains, while protein and fruits come in smaller helpings. And these guidelines apply to both men and women who rely on the government department’s advice.
But recent research has revealed that these broad, gender-unspecific dietary suggestions may have it all wrong. And, while women tend to eat less than their male counterparts, they should be eating more of one specific food group — one that can actually be detrimental to men if they ingest too much.
Men and women are generally similar creatures — they share 98.5 percent of the same DNA, after all. This means that all people have similar nutritional needs, and calories are just one example of how men and women are quite similar. The rules are based on a person’s size, as opposed to their gender.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “A person’s caloric requirement depends on [their] body size and exercise level.” So, both men and women can maintain their body weight by tracking calories — if they take in approximately 13 calories for every pound that they weigh, they’ll see that same number every time they step on the scale. They can take in 16 or 18 calories per pound if they perform moderate or vigorous physical activity regularly.
Men and women have to follow similar regimens if they want to lose weight, and it’s simple enough — they have to burn more calories than they take in. Again, anyone can determine their daily calorie intake based on their weight, not on their gender. A reduction in that number will promote weight loss in anyone.
Both men and women need a similar amount of carbohydrates — the starchy stuff should make up between 45 and 65 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake. Regardless of gender, these calories should come from unrefined, unprocessed carbs. Think whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and brown rice.
Another area where men and women are similar is vitamin intake. The recommended daily allowance for vitamins and minerals is gender-non-specific. Just as with calories, though, some people may need more of a particular supplement based on their body size. This applies to all vitamins and minerals, apart from two: calcium and iron.
Calcium intake is particularly important for women, who have a higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis as they age. Without an ample supply of the mineral, bones become weaker and more prone to break. And doctors only diagnose it after a person falls and cracks a bone — and at that point, it’s too late to reverse.
There are fewer cases of men developing osteoporosis, and there’s not as much evidence that calcium would protect them. In fact, some studies have shown that too much of the mineral can damage a man’s health. A study conducted in 1998, for one, found that high levels of calcium boosted men’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
Further studies have only reiterated these findings. More research has shown that consuming too many dairy products — which come jam-packed with calcium — can boost a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer by 37 percent. But they can avoid this side effect by limiting their consumption of the mineral — approximately 800 milligrams per day.
Women don’t just need more calcium than men, they also require more iron. Females who haven’t gone through menopause yet should get 18 milligrams of the mineral daily, while the other half needs just 8 milligrams. This requirement all comes down to the menstrual cycle, which causes women to lose iron during their periods.
Much like calcium, too much iron can be damaging to men’s health, too. Specifically, it has been shown to leave mineral deposits that build up in the organs. As such, men should regulate their intake of one of their seemingly favorite types of food: red meat. While tasty, it’s also one of nature’s richest sources of iron.
Speaking of red meat, men and women need different amounts of protein, too. The average person needs a third gram of protein per pound of body weight. According to Healthline, the average American man weighs 197.9 pounds, while the typical U.S. woman measures in at 170.6 pounds. As such, they’d need about 67 and 57 grams of protein daily, respectively.
Studies have shown that men enjoy their protein much more than women do, too. More than 14,000 American adults participated in a survey by the Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network between May 2006 and April 2007. As it turned out, men had a much higher likelihood of dining on meat and poultry, as well as shrimp and oysters.
Meanwhile, the survey found that women were more likely to opt for lighter fare. For instance, they more often ate carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, apples, raspberries and strawberries. They also incorporated eggs, yogurt and dried foods into their daily diets more often than men did. More recent studies have only backed up these findings.
In 2015, one study found that people perceived particular foods as female, while others fell into a more masculine category. You may be able to guess the results — lighter fare seemed to be a more feminine option, while “heavy” meats and other hearty food went into the male bracket.
And studies have found that these choices had little to do with women’s aforementioned need for more calcium and iron and fewer calories. It all had to do with the way women are meant to eat — at least, according to the world at large. When they want to present themselves as more feminine, ladies tend to eat less.
On top of that, women often choose lighter fare because they have a weight-loss goal in mind. Indeed, much of what the experts consider to be “lighter fare” falls into the categories laid out by the survey, which separated men’s and women’s foods. Beyond that, ladies typically go for low-calorie food or smaller portions, according to a study from the early 1990s.
Interestingly, societal pressures have an effect on men with niche diets, too. Because eating animal proteins is so linked with masculinity, male vegans and vegetarians have to deal with lots of heat from omnivorous guys. As explained by Elizabeth Aura McClintock in an article for Psychology Today, “Their choice to avoid eating meat is a perceived challenge or subversion of conventional masculinity and, as such, meets resistance and ridicule from other men.”
This behavior has pitfalls for the macho meat-eaters, too. Some will dine on animal proteins — often in excess — because it makes them feel more masculine. And many will continue to do so even though they know too much meat can actually be detrimental to their health. Social settings have a hand in what people eat or choose not to, as well.
A slew of studies have shown, for instance, that women will eat less when they dine with men than when they grab a bite with an all-female group. Oppositely, men will eat more when they’re out for a meal with a female companion. They actually eat less when they dine with male friends, though.
As previously mentioned, women tend to opt for so-called lighter fare, whether consciously or subconsciously. But, back to the breakdown of the food groups and which one is better for which gender, there’s one that ladies shouldn’t avoid. And it might be hard for many to believe that this one is actually a boon to their health.
Men and women vary when it comes to one final, important category — fat. Both parties should make a point to dedicate 30 to 35 percent of their daily calorie intake to fat. They can drop this number by up to 10 percent if they strive for weight loss, as fat is the most calorie-dense of all the food groups.
On that note, men and women should take care to minimize the amount of unhealthy fats they consume. More than a sparing amount of fat from whole-fat dairy, meat and particularly fatty vegetable-based foods, such as cocoa butter and coconut, can damage both genders’ health. Trans fatty acids, which come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, can hurt you, too.
The answer here, for both men and women, are unsaturated fats, which come in olive oil, for instance. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish boosts health, too — regardless of gender. But Omega-3s found in vegetables write a different story — and one that separates men and women on their quest to good health.
The story with vegetable-derived Omega-3 is much the same as with calcium. It’s wonderful for women’s health — in fact, doctors recommend they ingest it. And they can get it from healthy sources including canola oil or flaxseed oil. But men should stay away from the stuff because it can be bad for their prostates.
It all comes down to vegetable-based Omega-3s’ hearty dose of alpha-linolenic acid. ALA has raised alarm bells in two separate Harvard studies, which showed that it could actually damage the prostate. Specifically, men who consumed ALA had a 3.4-times-higher chance of developing prostate cancer than those who didn’t.
A second study conducted in 1994 found further reasons for concern. The sweeping Physicians’ Health Study, also helmed by Harvard, looked at more than 20,000 men’s health. Even those with moderately high levels of ALA in their bloodstream were once again 3.4 times more likely to get prostate cancer.
For women, though, ALA is a good thing to have in their diets — it’s especially effective when it comes to improving heart health. A clinical trial helmed by the Lyon Diet Heart Study in Europe had subjects follow a Mediterranean diet with canola oil-enriched foods, which boosted their intake of ALA.
Over four years, the study followed a group of 605 participants who had coronary artery disease. And the results of their ALA-enriched Mediterranean diet were stunning — there was a 72 percent reduction in cardiac deaths and heart attacks. They also had a more-than-50-percent reduction in their risk of death from any other cause, cancer included.
Still, knowing this information may not be enough for women to want to boost their fat intake. And that might come down to the results of yet another study focusing on the body stores fat. Women tend to hang onto fat more efficiently than men do, meaning that females are more likely to have a higher body fat percentage.
Women’s bodies have evolved this ability over time, and researchers from the University of New South Wales found that it had to do with their estrogen levels, for one thing. The hormone stalls the body’s normal ability to burn energy after a meal. As such, the female body stores more fat, which experts believe is its way of preparing for pregnancy and delivery.
An evolutionary need would be the only explanation for women having 6 to 11 percent higher body-fat levels than men, on average. Study author Anthony O’Sullivan told the website Science Daily, “From an energy balance point of view there is no explanation why women should be fatter than men, particularly since men consume more calories proportionately.”
On top of that, O’Sullivan said, “In fact, women burn off more fat than men during exercise, but they don’t lose body fat with exercise as much, suggesting women are more efficient fat storers at other times. The question is, why does this paradox still exist?” As such, the body’s natural preparation for impending fertility and pregnancy could explain it.
O’Sullivan continued, “Female puberty and early pregnancy — times of increased estrogen — could be seen as states of efficient fat storage in preparation for fertility, fetal development and lactation.” Still, he concluded, this study didn’t explain all female fat gain — sometimes, environmental and genetic factors played a part, as well.
It’s not all particularly bad news for women when it comes to fat intake, though. In February 2017, the BBC reported a study that followed men and women as they ate large portions of unhealthy fats, such as sugary desserts and red meat. What they found was that men had a harder time regulating their blood sugar levels afterward — a precursor of type 2 diabetes.
Still, none of this is to say that men or women should avoid eating fat. That was, indeed, the guidance provided by nutritional experts in decades past. However, healthy fats are calorie-dense foods that make us feel full. While avoiding fat altogether can leave us feeling hungry, which causes us to overeat.
So, both men and women should make healthy fats a part of their everyday diets. Experts say to focus on poly and monounsaturated fats, which remain liquid at room temperature. So, for example, work olive oil and, if you’re a woman, canola oil into your diet, and reap the rewards. Even if each gender processes it differently, a healthy amount of fat can quell a person’s cravings and leave them satiated, which allows them to make healthy food choices all day long.