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Nutrition: Why Women and Men Are Not Equal

There are good reasons that nutrition advice differs for women and men. Changes in our bodies and our life stages mean women and men have different nutritional needs.

These differences aren’t huge – each member of your family doesn’t need to follow their own diet. But it’s important to know about the differences and make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.

Nicole Hahn, RD, a clinical dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, shared some areas where women should focus on their nutrients.

What’s your calorie count?

Let’s start with the big picture – calories and macronutrients. Generally, women don’t have as much muscle mass as men. Therefore, women won’t need to take in as many calories throughout the day.

On average, women need 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day while men need 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“That means women usually need fewer macronutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrates – compared to men. Choosing which macronutrients to prioritize is up to you, based on your goals and lifestyle,” said Hahn.

For example, if you’re an athlete, you might emphasize protein, while if you’re aiming to lose weight, you might focus on complex carbs.

Different needs for some vitamins and minerals

Women need more of specific vitamins and minerals compared to men, Hahn said.

  • Calcium. Women need more calcium after menopause to help keep their bones strong because hormone changes increase their risk of osteoporosis.
    • What you need: Women aged 51 to 70 need 1,000 milligrams per day, while men in this age group need 800 milligrams per day.
    • Where to get it: You can find calcium in dairy foods, certain nuts and seeds, salmon, beans and lentils.
  • Iron. Women lose iron during menstruation and need to replace that iron, so they don’t become anemic.
    • What you need: Before menopause, women need 18 milligrams of iron per day while men need 8 milligrams.
    • Where to get it: Good sources of iron are meat, seafood, green leafy veggies and iron-fortified foods.
  • Folic acid. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in babies, so it’s important for women of child-bearing age.
    • What you need: You need 400 micrograms of this B vitamin daily.
    • Where to get it: For folic acid, choose liver, spinach, black-eyed peas and fortified cereals.

Your needs change as you age

As an adult, your metabolic rate decreases – that’s why you might notice that you gain weight even if your diet doesn’t change. You naturally lose muscle mass as you get older, and if you’re less active you’ll lose even more muscle mass.

Hahn recommends staying active as you age, to help keep your metabolism revving. It’s important for women to stay active and protect their muscle mass since they’re starting with less muscle mass on average compared to men.

How can you make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need?

“Most people can meet their needs for macronutrients and micronutrients with a good old-fashioned well-balanced diet – whole grains, lean protein, and fresh fruits and veggies,” Hahn said. If you can’t eat certain food groups because of dietary restrictions or food sensitivities, talk to your doctor to see if it makes sense for you to take a multivitamin or a specific vitamin or mineral.

The bottom line

Women need to make sure they choose foods that meet their calorie requirements and give them the vitamins and minerals they need for optimal health. If you want to make sure your diet is right for you, talk to your health care provider.

Learn more about healthy food choices with these articles:

Nutrition Women's Health