An apple may have tempted Eve, but modern women and men need to be far more savvy about food choices due to their different physiological demands, not only between the sexes but at different ages.
Examining the five most vital nutrients illustrates how men’s and women’s needs differ.
Calcium: our foundations
As most of us know, calcium strengthens bones to help prevent the development of osteoporosis and numerous other brittle bone diseases as well as regulating our blood pressure. However, in recent years, too much calcium in males has been linked to increased likelihood of prostate cancer and as a result, guidelines for men and women have been established.
Women under 50 years of age are advised to consume around 1000 milligrams with an additional 200 milligrams for those over middle-age while all men, regardless of age, are recommended to include only 800 milligrams in their daily diet.
For a woman weighing approximately 60 kg, aged under 50, this could mean a daily diet of one cup of low fat, enriched milk (375-440 mg), a 200 mg tub of natural yogurt (340 mg), and 100g of almonds (240 mg). For a man weighing approximately 80 kg, this could mean 35 g of Swiss or Edam cheese (both 300 mg), a small can of salmon (200-300 mg) and a 30 g serving of calcium fortified breakfast cereal (200 mg). Some vegetables are also rich in calcium – the highest calcium content is found in Chinese kale and Chinese mustard leaves.
Iron: keeping the blood healthy
Physiologically, women require a larger amount of iron due to their monthly loss of blood. Iron plays a key role in regulating our metabolism and in transporting oxygen around the body, as well as producing vital substances including dopamine, DNA and white blood cells.
The effects of iron deficiency can do you much harm beyond developing anaemia – from damaging your ability to think to lowering your resistance to infection.
Iron intake should amount to around 18 milligrams a day if a woman’s menstrual cycle is regular, dropping to just eight milligrams for post-menopausal women.
For a menstruating woman, this could mean a daily diet of 100 g of red meat (3.7 mg), 100 g of fish (1.2 mg), 2 slices of wholegrain bread (3.2 g), two-thirds of a cup of cooked lentils, dried peas or beans (2.5 mg), 50 g of cashews (2.5 mg), one cup of bok choy (2.6 mg) and two poached eggs (2 mg).
Nutritional differences men and womenFor a post-menopausal woman, this could mean a daily diet of 80 g of skinless, baked chicken (0.6 mg), two slices of wholemeal break (1.4 mg), one average serve of iron-fortified breakfast cereal (3 mg), 25 g of almonds (1 mg) and 100 g of baked beans (1.6 mg).
While iron is also a vital nutrient for men, high levels of consumption may lead to increased risk of heart attack and other terminal heart conditions. Consequently, men of all ages are advised to consume only 8 milligrams per day – the same amount as for a post-menopausal woman.
Keeping in mind that the average serve of red meat in an Australian diet is easily double the suggested serving size, then if a man eats a 200 g piece of red meat, he has consumed 7.4 g of his recommended daily iron intake of 8 g. So, halve your serving or save your steak for every second day to avoid coronary disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids: heart health
Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as fish, soybeans and grains, are commonly referred to as “the good fats”. Omega-3s not only lower triglycerides, the chemicals in our bloodstreams linked to both heart disease and stroke, but increase our levels of favourable HDL cholesterol which transports fat deposits from the arteries to the liver for excretion.
Additionally, regular intake of omega-3s helps prevent blood clotting throughout the body. Find your fill of foods rich in Omega-3s from nuts and seeds, vegetable oils and numerous fish varieties, most notably mackerel, salmon and herring.
The Heart Foundation recommends at least two serves of fish a week for both men and women. Men in particular benefit from marine sources of omega-3s, with research indicating that marine sources help stop the spread of prostate cancer.
Protein: for growth and repair
The body utilises protein towards continuous growth and repair and, alongside carbohydrates, it is an excellent source of energy for men and women alike. However, as is the case with excess consumption of just about anything, such benefits can prove otherwise if intake is excessive.
Excess protein rapidly accelerates the body’s excretion of calcium through urine, reducing the function and strength of bones and encouraging the development of osteoporosis and other bone degeneration.
The recommended amount of protein is calculated relative to one’s weight. Generally speaking, men require larger quantities due to their larger muscle capacity and hence, weight. Moreover, athletes or those regularly involved in physical activity require increased amounts to repair and refuel muscles. 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended however, 60 grams daily is sufficient, regardless of one’s size.
Achieving 60 grams of protein in a daily diet could mean one 100 g serve of lean beef (22.7 g), two boiled eggs (12.7 g), 60 g of canned tuna in spring water (14.6 g), 28 grams of almonds (6.03 g).
Fibre: internal cleaners
The benefits of fibre are well known, not least of which are preventing and relieving constipation and haemorrhoids and reducing high cholesterol, which significantly lowers the likelihood of heart disease. Its ability to lower blood sugar levels also contributes immensely to better management of diabetes.
In women, fibre has been proven to help reduce the risk of diseases including colon and breast cancer and is most effective in amounts ranging from 21-25 grams per day.
Men generally require larger amounts of daily fibre; approximately 38 grams daily recommended for men under 50 years, dropping to 30 grams for those over 50. Fresh fruit and vegetables are both excellent sources of natural fibre.
What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. The differing nutritional needs of men and women have numerous ramifications for health, with different amounts required for the sexes, and at different ages.