Despite social changes that took place over the past 100 years, and the fact that modern world countries apply equal rights for men and women, we still see many differences between the genders that go far beyond appearance and genitals. When it comes to health, even the body structure and distribution of body fat are different.
Apple or pear shape?
In the medical field in general, and particularly in preventive medicine, there are material differences between men and women. Female obesity is typified by accumulation of fat in the thighs and buttocks area (“pear-shaped” obesity), whereas men accumulate fat in the upper abdomen (“apple-shaped” obesity). The location of fat is not the only distinctive characteristic here; the size and number of fat cells vary as well. Fat cells in the thigh area are small and numerous, whereas abdominal fat cells are larger and smaller in number. Male obesity is more dangerous as it contributes to the development of diabetes, increased blood fats, blood pressure and heart disease, but treatment is relatively quick and easy. Female obesity, on the other hand, is not considered a health risk, but proves to be more difficult to treat and produces much slower results. It should be noted that more and more women develop obesity before and during menopause, which puts them on the same level as men in terms of the incidence of these diseases.
Beefy men, sweet women
Food preferences also differ on a gender basis. Most women express craving for carbohydrates and candies, up to the point of eating whole chocolate bars, wafers, cookies, large pasta portions and so on. Men, on the other hand, especially at a younger age, would rather eat meat dishes prepared in various forms and styles.
The reason for such craving and appetite control problems in women is associated with several factors, one of which being lower serotonin level than men. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter secreted in the brain. You might call it the “calm and satiety potion”. Relatively low levels of serotonin in the female brain may also be responsible for the high incidence of eating disorders among women (anorexia and bulimia).
Brain activity associated with appetite control is different among men and women as well. A recent study examined this eating theory and the effect of the brain on appetite control in a group of healthy women and men. Participants were asked to eat a rich selection of dishes. The food they ate was examined, and a CT scan of their brain was conducted. The next day, participants took part in a workshop that taught them how to reduce their food intake. That evening, they were invited to eat again.
It turned out that most participants actually ate less, but the brain scans showed that while the hunger centers in the male brains decreased, the hunger centers in the female brains did not change significantly. The researchers’ hypothesis was that due to the physiological role of women – bearing children for the continuous existence of the human race- they eat to survive, because their brains signal eating whenever they can.
The cultural/social aspect of things plays out as well. Women in our society are typically responsible for most family nutrition practices: Buying products, cooking, baking, hosting and serving. They are always available, despite the fact that an increasing number of men prepare gourmet dishes for the family nowadays.
Clearly, gender-based diet does exist, and should be addressed both physiologically and behaviorally when dealing with weight problems of women and men. Women, for instance, find it more difficult to lose weight.
Findings of a comprehensive survey conducted by Foodborne from May 2006 to April 2007, pertained to more than 14,000 American adults who revealed their eating habits. Overall, this survey showed that men are more likely to report consumption of meat and poultry, whereas women eat more fruits and vegetables. More specifically, men reported eating meat products such as duck, veal, beef and poultry, whereas women reported eating vegetables, mostly carrots and tomatoes. Moreover, eggs and yogurt were given a higher priority among women.
Researchers in this study also looked for behavioral patterns associated with the consumption of six hazardous foods: Raw hamburger, soft or slightly cooked eggs, oysters, unpasteurized milk, cheese made of unpasteurized milk and alfalfa sprouts. Results found that men had significantly more dangerous eating habits and were likely to eat uncooked eggs and raw hamburger, whereas women were more likely to eat alfalfa sprouts.
Tips for female nutrition
I am often asked about what we, women, should eat in order to maintain our health, so I put together several tips for you:
Everybody knows that eating fruits and vegetables can prevent disease, but some vegetables have unique properties, like breast cancer prevention. A new study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and red peppers help prevent breast cancer. The carotenoids in these vegetables are known for their ability to inhibit the aging process, protect the eyes, improve brain function and even reduce solar radiation damage and boost skin rejuvenation.
Consumption of Omega 3, for example, which is found primarily in cooked fish (tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines), can reduce symptoms of depression and contain mood swings, particularly within the context of hormonal changes such as PMS, postnatal depression and the menopause.
And on the subject of PMS, you should increase your intake of vitamin B complex, including B6. Vitamin B can be found in whole grains such as brown rice, oats, wheat, barley, rye and corn. Grains are rich in vitamin B. They also contain minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber.
Legumes are a good source of vitamin B and minerals. They also provide protein with a better phosphorus-calcium ratio than in meat, and excellent fiber content that helps regulate bowel movement, detoxify the body and balance blood sugar.
Recommended daily intake of calcium during menopause is 1000-1500mg. Calcium concentration is clearly high in dairy products, so it’s easy to obtain the required level by simply consuming them. A glass of milk contains 100mg of calcium, and yoghurt contains 240mg calcium per 200ml. But calcium is not the only nutrient involved in building our bones.
Magnesium and vitamin D are needed in sufficient amounts to allow calcium to “perform its job” in bones. If any of these substances is lacking, calcium utilization decreases. The more calcium we consume, the more supplemental nutrients such as magnesium we need. Despite the fact that magnesium level in the bone is smaller than calcium, it improves calcium absorption there. Magnesium sources: Dark green vegetables, whole grains and almonds.
Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, and you can also drink fruit and vegetable juices. They are primary a source of zinc, magnesium and antioxidants, and are high in fiber. Vegetables and fruits, and particularly walnuts and almonds, are rich in phytosterols that have a positive effect on the lipid profile, and mostly the LDL cholesterol.
Probiotics foods help regulate bowel movement affected by hormonal changes, reduce lactose intolerance, strengthen the immune system and intestinal protection tissue, and increase the absorption of nutrients. Probiotics bacteria are found in foods like yogurt.
Reduce the amounts of refined sugar you consume in candies, pastries, cakes and white flour products. There is no need to avoid these foods altogether, but try to eat them in moderation. Consumption of fried foods and foods high in saturated fat should also be reduced.
Drink water regularly – not from a tap, unless it is fitted with a filter – because water is one of the most effective detoxifiers we can give ourselves on a daily basis. I recommend drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day. Daily exercise is also advisable, to control weight and metabolism, increase insulin sensitivity and improve bone maintenance.