We all know that there are differences between the nutritional needs of adults and children, but much less is said about the differences between males and females, at all ages. It is becoming clear that our diets are in fact “gendered”, differing to better address the issues that may arise in a male or female body.

Following puberty, the different hormonal structures involve many changes that lead to differences between males and females, also affecting nutritional needs.

So, although the rules of good nutrition remain the same regardless of gender, some important factors must be considered when following a correct diet.

The first is the amount of energy that must be consumed, which, in cases of the same age, height and physical activity, is lower for females than for males. This is due to the mostly lower percentage of muscle mass in women: muscle is the tissue that consumes the most energy even at rest. The recommendations on how to distribute energy don’t take gender into account (20-35% is from fat, especially saturated, and 45-60% from carbohydrates), but obviously the quantities “by weight” will be less. The recommendation for proteins intake remains unchanged, which equates to 0.90 g per kg of weight for both male and female individuals.

The recommended intake of vitamins C, B1, B2 and A is slightly lower for women than for men of the same age, but for the others there are no differences. Among minerals, the most important difference is found in iron. The recommended intake of iron for males (10 g per day) is much lower than that for females of childbearing age (18 g per day). This is because menstruation results in a loss of this mineral, which must be compensated for. Unfortunately, this can be fairly difficult, and women often have an iron deficiency that can worsen during pregnancy. Another difference is found with calcium, particularly in menopausal women (60-74 years). During this period of life, hormonal changes lead to an increase in bone tissue loss which must also be combated by means of the diet if osteoporosis is to be avoided. After the age of 75, males will also need to consume a greater amount of calcium, because osteoporosis is not just a problem among females despite usually occurring earlier in women.

Alessandra Bordoni,
Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences,
University of Bologna