You don’t have to be a feminist to support the notion that men and women across the world should have equal rights, that they should earn the same wage for the same job and that they should be presented with equal opportunities across the board.
This is pretty much where the utopic idea of equality stops and reality begins. Any woman or man who has ever come within ten feet of the opposite sex can vouch for the fact that both genders are not the same, not even close.
Some would even say we are polar opposites, not just in the way we look but also in the way we think, deal with our emotions and interact with our environment. These monumental differences are down to two quirks in the human body. One would be the ominous Y chromosome which is the determining factor if you can spot a little appendage between baby’s legs on your 20 week scan. The other reason why HIS and HERS bathrooms will never look (or smell) the same is that men convert 10 times more oestrogen into testosterone than women do. It is this precise difference in hormone levels that helps shape not just our characters but also our nutritional needs.
Testosterone is a so-called anabolic hormone. It stimulates muscle and bone growth, changes the voice of an angel into a deep baritone and it keeps men mentally alert, focused and sharp. Oestrogen on the other hand has only one thing on its mind and all its actions are geared towards one goal: supporting pregnancy. This characteristically female hormone stimulates the storage of fat, enlargement of hips and thighs, but it also supports lung and heart function.
Governed by our hormones, nutrient requirements can differ vastly between the sexes and when it comes to our diet it is time to accept that what is healthy for one, can be toxic for the other!
One nutrient to be watchful of is iron. Anaemia (iron deficiency) is quite a common occurrence in women of child-bearing age. This mineral is mainly bound up in red blood cells and even moderate monthly blood loss in menstruation can lead to low levels quite quickly. High oestrogen levels might be the cause of abnormally heavy blood flow and it is these women and girls who are particularly at risk. The most common symptom is typically a significant drop in energy levels and GPs should be quite quick in testing iron status. Should your levels fall below optimum, it is not only time to address hormonal balance but also to get stuck into a nicely barbequed steak! Even though red meat is an excellent source of readily absorbed haem iron, eating a shriveled piece of blackened flesh is probably more carcinogenic than anything else. Incorporate some red meat into soups and stews where it is cooked gently for long periods of time. Slow roasting or gently simmering is a far safer way to obtain your iron than pan, or even deep, frying. Just be aware that non organic meat is most likely saturated with growth hormones and antibiotics and could have a negative effect on your hormone balance!
Vegetarians should obtain their iron from sources such as dark leafy vegetables, pulses, wholegrains, dried fruit and even dark chocolate. Some vegetables are also rich in so-called non-haem iron, which is slightly harder to absorb and needs the help of vitamin C to reach your bloodstream. A meal of iron-rich beetroots with a sprinkle of vitamin C-infused parsley is an ideal blood nourishing meal when you are feeling the strain of your monthly cycle.
While women and iron are BFFs, men get adequate iron from the diet and shouldn’t take extra iron in supplement form! First of all, men do not have to endure regular, monthly blood loss and therefore deficiency is extremely unlikely! Iron is nature’s natural rusting agent and any excess is the most potent way of oxidising, and therefore prematurely ageing, your body. It can easily be stored in various organs and lead to damage of the heart, liver and pancreas. This mineral is the perfect anti-antioxidant, having the exact opposite effect of highly protective antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Alcohol is the most common reason why men suffer from high iron levels and therefore increase their risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. It dramatically accelerates iron absorption so having a pint alongside your Sunday roast will almost always result in excess iron absorption. Traditionally, leaches have been used to draw out blood and therefore lower iron levels. Thankfully, there is a much more selfless way of staying in control of one’s iron levels. Donating blood at regular intervals, at least every six months, is a highly beneficial treatment which will stimulate the release of stored iron in organs, revitalising rusty insides! In any case, iron should never be found in the male supplement cupboard.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another prime example. Alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) found in flax and chia seeds, needs to be converted by the body into active EPA and DHA through complex biochemical reactions which are largely dependent on enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Performing these highly sophisticated reactions is no walk in the park and not all of us do it with the same efficiency. Men, in particular, seem to struggle to convert enough tasty seeds into valuable EPA and sometimes no DHA at all. By contrast, women are relatively expert biochemists and much better equipped to handle such conversion work. Research suggests that this different skill set is due to concentrations in oestrogen (which is naturally higher in women) with the view of having to build a human baby from scratch within nine short months. Interestingly, most research that has focused on increasing DHA levels in pregnant ladies by supplementing flax seed oil, even at ridiculously high doses, has failed to raise blood levels effectively. Eating fish and ingesting EPA and DHA directly circumvents this dilemma entirely. While women might get away with soaking their food in cold-pressed seed oil, men will always have to rely on our fishy friends and ideally making a fish oil supplement part of their routine.
Dinner for two will probably never look the same after realising how different our needs really are. A man’s plate should be filled with sperm-boosting oysters and seafood, a fantastic source of zinc. A large helping of roasted tomatoes and squash, a few slices of avocado and a large glass of pomegranate juice should supply enough essential carotenoids and lycopene to keep the prostate gland in optimum condition. Her dinner should contain far less protein and a generous helping of phyto-oestrogen-rich beans and lentils to help control oestrogen levels. Cruciferous vegetables are central to female health and a super-sized serving can contribute to the fight against breast cancer. Alongside, sip a cup of green tea to promote hormonal balance and healthy insulin levels.