How Does Gender Affect Nutritional Health?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 5/31/2022
Because men's hormones are more stable, researchers build studies around them. There is a need for more study of nutritional health by gender.
Because men's hormones are more stable, researchers build studies around them. There is a need for more study of nutritional health by gender.

The basics of good nutrition are the same for men and women, but they have different needs for some nutrients. Also, women's nutritional needs change as they move through their reproductive lives. Ironically, the factor that makes women's needs different also keeps researchers from studying them. Because men's hormones are more stable, researchers build studies around them. There is a need for more study of nutritional health by gender.

Do genders differ in their caloric needs?

Your caloric needs vary according to your gender. A male needs more calories than a female, even if the two are the same size and weight. Men have greater muscle mass and may burn up to 400 calories a day more than women their size. Since most men are taller and heavier than women, their caloric needs go up even more.

Gender and basic nutritional needs

Foods contain macronutrients and micronutrients. The macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. For best health, you should consume macronutrients in the proper ratios. These ratios do not vary according to gender. Adult men and women should get:

  • 10 to 35% of their calories from protein
  • 45 to 65% from carbohydrates
  • 20 to 35% from fats

Of course, nutritional needs can vary within genders. Factors affecting these needs include:

  • Genetic makeup
  • Body composition
  • Hormones
  • Chronic disease
  • Medications taken

Such factors can affect an individual's needs for both macronutrients and micronutrients.

Gender and micronutrients

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that are needed in very small amounts for good health. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set daily nutritional goals for micronutrients. Since men must take in more calories than women to meet their basic needs, some of their micronutrient needs are higher. They need more:

Some daily nutritional goals are the same for males and females, including their need for:


Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think See Slideshow

Micronutrients and female reproductive cycles

Sometimes women need more of a micronutrient because of their reproductive function. Women need more:

  • Iron. Women need more than twice as much iron as men during their reproductive years. After age 50, their iron need is the same as men's.
  • Calcium. Women's daily nutritional goal for calcium increases at age 51. They need a higher intake of calcium to maintain their bone health after menopause. Men's need increases later, at age 71. 

Daily nutritional goals for some micronutrients are different for women who are pregnant or lactating. They need more folate, iodine, and choline. Pregnant women need extra iron as well.  

Medical experts recommend that women who can become pregnant take a folic acid supplement even if they are not planning a pregnancy. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Adequate folate is necessary to prevent a type of birth defect called neural tube defects. Women need adequate folate during the month before becoming pregnant and during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Do food choices differ with gender?

Studies show that men and women differ in their food preferences, which can affect their nutrition.

Food choices. A study of young adults found women ate more whole grains and cereals and more cooked vegetables. They ate fewer eggs and less meat and processed meat.

Meat consumption. Another study found that men ate more meat than women and regarded meat more positively. These results support previous studies showing that many cultures link meat with masculinity. Statistics also show that women are more likely than men to be vegan or vegetarian.

Plant-based diets. A Yale study found that women were more open than men to adopting a plant-based diet. Meatless diets have health benefits, but women were also open to eating plants to improve the environment and protect animals.

Are women healthier eaters?

Other studies show that women know more about nutrition and often eat healthier diets.

Healthy habits. Researchers surveyed young adults in 23 countries and found that women were more likely to engage in four kinds of healthy eating behavior. Women were more likely than men to:

  • Avoid high-fat foods
  • Eat fruit
  • Add fiber-rich foods
  • Limit salt

Food avoidance. A Swedish study found that women may avoid foods they feel are unhealthy. Women in the study reduced their use of:

  • Gluten
  • Red meat
  • White flour
  • Preservatives
  • Food coloring

Researchers in the Swedish study found that women were more likely to be dieting than men, which could explain some food choices. Making healthy choices explained more of the women's decisions than dieting did.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 5/31/2022
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Annals of Behavioral Medicine: "Gender differences in food choice: The contribution of health beliefs and dieting."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016."

Frontiers in Psychology: "Of Meat and Men: Sex Differences in Implicit and Explicit Attitudes Toward Meat."

Help Guide: "Healthy Eating and Diet Tips for Women."

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Nutrition Journal: "Gender differences in perceived food healthiness and food avoidance in a Swedish population-based survey: a cross sectional study."

U. S. Department of Agriculture: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025."

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication: "Exploring Gender Differences in the American Diet."