Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –
We can all agree that in general, men and women are physically different. So, it makes sense that nutritional needs are different between men and women as well. For example, men have higher requirements for certain micronutrients (such as vitamin C, niacin, and vitamin K) in relation to their body weight. Even though an average man’s caloric need may be greater than a woman’s, the extra intake of calories needed should consist of nutrient-dense food*.
An average man’s ability to handle alcohol is also greater — a moderate intake is two alcoholic beverages per day for men, but only one for women1. Surprisingly, this is not based on body size or mass, but on differences in enzymes2 and body composition3that exist between the two sexes. That doesn’t mean men should drink more alcohol though, as alcohol lacks any nutrients, is a toxin to the body and is high in calories!
A stomach tissue enzyme that breaks down alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream “is four times more active in males than in females. Moreover, women have proportionately more fat and less body water than men. Because alcohol is more soluble in water than in fat, a given dose becomes more highly concentrated in a female’s body water than in a male’s.” — National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, April 1992.
Here’s one unique to men: prostate cancer, the second most common cancer among men4, is related to chronic inflammation which is impacted by diet. High consumption of plant proteins may decrease multiple pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and T regulatory cells. Increasing intake of legumes (as well as vegetables and grains) is the key to protection.
You may have heard about soy containing phytoestrogens. Don’t be alarmed — they do not pose a health risk or affect male sex hormones5,6, especially in normal food quantities which provide far below the research levels of 40-70 mg/day of soy isoflavones. Men: it’s not only safe to include soy foods, such as soymilk, tofu, soybeans/edamame, soy meat replacements and soy yogurt in your diet, but in fact, these foods are beneficial for your heart when they replace other high-fat proteins that you might eat instead.
For you “wanna-be” fathers out there, nutrition can also impact your reproductive health! Dietary intake of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, as well as folate and zinc7, are important for a man’s reproductive function. A daily multivitamin/mineral at levels no higher than the RDAs may increase sperm quality and pregnancy rates8. Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids9 (found in salmon, herring, mackerel, and tuna) may help keep sperm healthy. Furthermore, increased fruit and cereal grain consumption may help sperm concentration and motility for couples undergoing fertility treatment.
*Below are some excellent sources of micronutrients:
Beta-carotene: dark green leafy vegetables, orange-colored fruits and vegetables
Vitamin C: citrus fruit, bell peppers, broccoli, tomato, strawberries, kiwi, kale
Folate: beans/legumes, citrus fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified cereal
Niacin: meat, fish, poultry, peanut butter, oatmeal, brown rice, beets, baked potato
Vitamin E: wheat germ, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, fish
Vitamin K: dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussel sprouts
Zinc: meat, fish, shellfish, pork, poultry, whole grains, milk products, beans/ legumes
- US Dept Health Human Services
- High blood alcohol levels in women: The role of decreased gastric alcohol dehydrogenase activity and first-pass metabolism. Frezza, M, et al. C.S New England Journal of Medicine 322(2):95-99, 1990.
- Acute alcohol intoxication and body composition in women and men. Goist, K.C., and Sutker, P.B. Biochemistry & Behavior 22:811-814, 1985.
- The American Cancer Society
- Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males. Mitchell JH, Cawood E, Kinniburgh D, Provan A, Collins AR, Irvine DS. Clin Sci (Lond). 2001 Jun;100(6):613-618.
- Hormonal effects of soy in premenopausal women and men. Kurzer MS. J Nutr. 2002 Mar;132(3):570S-573S.
- Effects of folic acid and zinc sulfate on male factor subfertility: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Wong WY, Merkus HM, Thomas CM, Menkveld R, Zielhuis GA, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Fertil Steril. 2002 Mar;77(3):491-498. Netherlands
- Male subfertility and the role of micronutrient supplementation: clinical and economic issues. Salma U, et al. J Exp Clin Assist Reprod. 2011;8:1. Ireland
- Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: a comparison between fertile and infertile men. Safarinejad MR, et al. Clin Nutr. 2010 Feb;29(1):100-105. Iran