There are many factors that can affect nutrient requirements for both men and women. Every person is different, and factors such as body size, muscle mass, physical activity level and illnesses that change nutrient requirements can all change the amount of different nutrients that need to be consumed as part of our daily diets.
It follows that men and women, being very different physically, can also have very different nutrient requirements and thus may need to follow quite different diets to achieve optimum nutrition. As men are in general larger than women, in general they have higher requirements for a lot of nutrients, however this is not the case for every nutrient. Since men also have a greater requirement for energy due to their larger body mass, this means they generally eat more, which will often cover any extra requirement for nutrients, provided they eat a healthy balanced diet.
As women can go through pregnancy, childbirth and also menopause, their nutrient requirements also tend to vary quite vastly depending on the stage in life. Therefore at times there may be greater differences between men and women in terms of nutrient requirements.
Here are some of the key areas where a healthy diet may differ for men and women:
As previously mentioned, men are generally larger than women, and thus require more calories to maintain their body weight. In addition to this, men usually have more muscle whilst women are naturally disposed to have more fat. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, thus this also contributes to the increased energy from calories required for most men.
Many women find that they gain weight when living with a man for the first time, as they may find themselves mimicking the males eating habits. Unfortunately, whilst he may be able to get away with it, if a women who is much smaller starts to eat like a man, she is likely to be consuming more calories than she needs and will gain weight.
In general men have a higher protein requirement than women, but this is mainly due to their increased energy requirements overall. For both sexes, protein should make up around 15% of your daily intake, which is obviously a higher amount for men, although those working out and trying to build lean muscle may have greater requirements.
Very high protein intake can be risky in both sexes as it can lead to excessive loss of calcium in urine. In men this can increase the risk of kidney stones and for women it may it may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
3. Carbohydrates and fibre
Once again, males will generally have higher requirements for carbohydrates due to their increased energy needs. Both sexes should consume low GI, whole grain based carbohydrates where possible and a wide variety of vegetables and legumes for fibre as this type of intake has been shown to have benefits for heart and digestive health. Men have a higher requirement for fibre than women, needing around 38g per day compared to 25g.
Fat consumption should be moderated to a maximum of 30-35% of daily calories for both men and women. Both sexes should choose fats from unsaturated sources such as olive oil and the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish as these have been associated with decreased risk of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and stroke.
However, there may be some difference between the health benefits of one type of unsaturated fat for men and women. One of the fats found in canola and flaxseed oil, known as ALA has been associated with improved heart health, however there is some suggestion that is may not be beneficial for the prostate, meaning that a high intake of this fatty acid for men may have the potential to be dangerous and contribute to the development of prostate cancer.
Further research is still needed in this area before a definite recommendation can be made however.
Due to their larger body size and an increased amount of the enzymes required to metabolize alcohol and therefore increased ability to process alcohol, men tend to tolerate larger quantities of alcohol better than women. This difference is reflected in guidelines that suggest men should limit their alcohol to a maximum of two standard drinks per day, whilst women should only have one.
In general the health benefits and negative aspects are the same for both sexes, with a moderate intake of alcohol thought to offer heart protection and increasing intake associated with increased risk of liver disease and high blood pressure. Women may also have an extra risk to consider though and another reason to limit alcohol intake, as it may contribute to increased risk of breast cancer.
Calcium is one nutrient that may be more important for women than men as they are generally at greater risk of osteoporosis, especially in later years at life when they are going through menopause. Dietary calcium had been shown to reduce risk of development of this disease in women, but there is much less evidence of this in men.
Large quantities of calcium may even be harmful for men as there has been suggestion that a high calcium intake is associated with increased risk of prostate cancer, which may mean that men should moderate their dietary calcium more than women although this needs further investigation.
This in one nutrient that is definitely more essential for women than for men, due to losses of iron in blood during menstruation. Women need around 18mg of iron per day, whilst men only need about 8mg. This requirement may become more similar after women reach the age of menopause.
Alex has been writting about nutrition, fitness and weight loss since 2006. He recently joined a team of nutritionists and certified fitness expers at Nutrition Style, a blog about nutrition and weight loss through a healthy lifestyle.