That men are from Mars and women are from Venus is universally agreed upon. As opposite as they seem to be in character, are their dietary requirements also different from each other? It has been found that due to the different functions that the bodies of men and women perform, their nutrient requirements differ significantly in quantity, though not in quality. This means that men and women need the same nutrients but in different quantities as per their physical needs.
Men and women also approach eating very differently from each other. For men, eating is a functional action, food satisfies hunger but for women, food is attached to their emotions. So, the food trigger for men is hunger, but for women, the trigger can be happiness, sadness, depression, confusion as well as, of course, hunger. If they go on a diet, their bodies need different amounts of exercise to reach their goals.
Let us first look at the differences that men and women have physiologically.
How are men’s and women’s bodies different?
Externally, the bodies of men and women are mostly similar with some differences which exist due to the different functions that they perform. Men have more of testosterone, which is the male sex hormone, while women have more of oestrogen, which is the female sex hormone. Testosterone causes men to grow more than women and have more muscles, whereas oestrogen makes women develop breasts and hips. So, men are generally larger and more muscular than women while women tend to store more fat. Generally, men store fat in the abdomen area and women in the hips.
How do the dietary requirements for men and women differ?
Men and women essentially need the same nutrients but they need them in different quantities. By the time boys are ten years old they have started gaining muscle at a greater rate than girls. Adult men have 20% more muscle than women. In terms of diet, this means that an average adult male needs 2800 calories daily in comparison to an adult female’s requirement of 2000 calories. 15 to 20% of these calories should come from proteins for both sexes, while 30 to 35% of daily calorie intake should come from fat. The rest should come from carbohydrates.
There are significant differences in the requirements of some nutrients for men and women. Read on to find out some of the main differences in dietary requirements for men and women.
Calcium is the main mineral in our bones and teeth and hence is vital for everyone. As babies, calcium is needed for the proper growth and development of the bones. Until the age of twenty-one, calcium is added to the bones and physical growth takes place. After this age growth takes the backseat and calcium is required for maintenance of the bones. Women, however, need more of calcium than men during pregnancy and lactation. During pregnancy, the growing baby needs calcium to grow, which it takes from the mother. So, the mother’s calcium intake needs to be supplemented. During lactation, too, calcium intake has to be increased so that adequate and good quality milk can be produced.
When a woman reaches the age of menopause, her oestrogen production is drastically reduced. This causes her to lose calcium from the bones which results in bones becoming weaker unless the calcium is somehow replaced. So, a woman at various stages of life needs more calcium than men and this should be included in her diet. Women below the age of fifty, need 1000mg of calcium per day. This increases to 1200mg per day for women above fifty. Milk and milk products and other calcium sources should be a regular part of a woman’s diet to meet her requirements.
In men, it has been noted that too much calcium increases the risk of prostate cancer. Men need to keep their calcium intake to 800mg per day.
Vitamins: An optimum quantity of each of the thirteen essential vitamins is needed by everyone for the proper functioning of their bodies. Vitamins need to come from food as the human body cannot manufacture vitamins. Some vitamins are more important than others especially in the diet of women.
i) Folic acid, a synthetic form of vitamin B, is very important because its deficiency leads to serious birth defects like neural tube defects and Spina Bifida. Folic acid supplements are prescribed to women when they are pregnant, but as the vitamin is needed in the early stages of formation of the embryo, it is important that the diet of women contain folates (the natural form of the vitamin) even before the pregnancy is detected. Folates can be added to the diet by eating a lot of green leafy vegetables, liver and legumes. Men too need this vitamin in their diet, as folic acid is known to lower the risk of dementia, stroke and heart disease but for them, folic acid is not as vital as it is for women.
ii) Vitamin D is another essential vitamin which is very important for women as it helps the body absorb calcium from food. As mentioned before, adequate calcium intake is very important at certain stages of a woman’s life. Vitamin D, therefore, becomes important as the calcium cannot be utilised by the body without it. The liver converts vitamin D into its active form called calciferol before it can perform its function of aiding the intestines absorb calcium. During pregnancy and post menopause, vitamin D should be taken religiously to prevent osteoporosis in women. Our bodies can manufacture this vitamin in the presence of sunlight, but almost 60% of women have been found to be deficient in vitamin D. Large quantities of vitamin D is found in fish oils and it can also be taken as supplements. As it is an oil soluble vitamin, it should always be taken with food.