Gender differences in diet: I've been... - Healthy Eating

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Gender differences in diet

Cooper27 profile image

I've been listening to a few items recently that specifically focus on women's health, and there are apparently quite a lot of differences in how diets work for men and women, beyond the calorie allowances we're all aware of, so I though I should pass some information along.

Calorie controlled diets/fasting supposedly raises ghrelin levels in both men and women (this is the hunger signal), which makes women more "hangry" than men. Higher levels of Ghrelin result in lower levels of thyroid hormones, specifically something called T3, which is mostly what drives your metabolism.

A study put women on 1200 calories/day, and found their T3 levels dropped by 40%, while a sub group were restricted further to 400 calories/day, and their levels dropped by 66%:

The other diet mentioned was keto, which they said can be an issue for pre-menopausal women (not necessarily every woman), because women can often benefit from higher levels of carbs in the early half of their cycle. I am mostly taking their word for this one, but did find this article (not read closely from beginning to end):

I'd be curious what other's experiences are with this, or if anyone has any information to counteract?

10 Replies
Penel profile image

Hi Cooper

Interesting post . My husband has followed a low carb diet for some time, so to keep him company, and as I usually produce the meals I went on a low carb diet. It suits him very well, but I started having fluctuations in my thyroid levels.

I don’t know if the low carb caused the fluctuation or not, I’m post menopausal, so theoretically shouldn’t be affected (?) My GP suggested fluctuations could have been been down to illness / inflammation of some kind.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to Penel

It's hard to know, but very possible based on this study.

I read my post back, and missed the bit where I was supposed to say ghrelin increases much more in women than in men 🙄 that was an important line! But that's why husband's thrive and women struggle.

When I looked for more info, I found many keto "fact busting" pages trying to say that low T3 is a good thing, or at a minimum it's not a bad thing (because doctors don't think it's important enough to test, which must mean it's insignificant).

Zest profile image

Hi Cooper27

I hope to read this over the weekend, and I am interested to see the differences. Thanks for sharing this information.

Hope you have a great weekend.

Zest :-)

I'll let someone else defend keto on this. To my mind, there is an ideal amount of carbohydrate, but carbohydrate has been over-emphasised by similar fat-phobic arguments in the past.

In terms of energy provision, I don't think menstruation prevents oxygen being available, and therefore fat can be used for any energy deficit.

It is glucose that raises the demand for insulin, and it doesn't make any sense to eat more of a food that raises insulin than is optimal; excess insulin/hyperinsulinaemia is known to cause insulin-resistance, not just as an adaptation to a short-term study. It is this that causes the harmful increase in visceral fat and dyslipidaemia.

In summary, I think these people approach from a certain point of view with an agenda (and I readily accept I have my own biases). IMHO, half the RDA for carbohydrate would be optimal for most people. Keto is the result of consuming too little carbohydrate, and lipogenesis is the result of eating too much carbohydrate, with the latter being a bigger problem societally/culturally.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to StillConcerned

I agree with you that I think most people have an ideal carb level, and that current dietary guidelines go way above what most people need.

I guess this is the first time I've heard it mentioned that the sweet spot isn't going to be e.g. 50g/day, every day. It might be that the sweet spot is 80g/day for 2 weeks a month and 40g for the other 2.

The information has generally been from people who have had a paleo-ish background, so people who aren't afraid of fat but who also aren't too pro-carb, which is interesting.

Do you think the difference would be that big? The point about 'needing' carbs is that they're only necessary for intense activities. Mostly we use them for making functional compounds in the body such as enzymes, and for the central nervous system/brain. Intense activities such as weight training or sprinting demand glycogen, but they can only be sustained for short periods of time. If you were to extend the period of training at high intensities you would end up over-training, which defeats the object. So, even intense activities will not cause a massive increase in demand for carbohydrate consumption as we've been led to believe.

What the Perfect Health Diet proposes is that the micro-nutrient deficiencies in what we eat can cumulatively cause cravings. If you follow an Atkins' induction style keto diet, it is quite easy to become deficient in water soluble vitamins and minerals that need to be replenished on an almost daily basis for example. After a couple of months of low-fat dieting, the cravings and temptation to 'come off' the diet increase because fat soluble vitamins and minerals last longer, but eventually reach exhaustion. Menstruation is known to demand higher levels of magnesium and iron.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to StillConcerned

I really don't know what the difference would be, it's just an example. But I suppose if you think of it that cycles are about the body trying to get pregnant, and that in early stages of pregnancy, women tend to require more carbs, it could make sense that the body wants them to prepare.

The higher carb intake here isn't necessarily requiring lower fat intake, it's more saying that the "one size fits all" approach tends to cater more for men, whose bodies don't fluctuate in the same way as women's.

Might I suggest the hormonal changes affect other hormones, including insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)? That would account for the carb craving; blood glucose would drop below normal because of this excess of insulin.

This would tie in with high-glycaemic foods being responsible for premature menopause

The solution is not to provide the quick-fix refined carbs, but to ensure glycogen isn't exhausted, again by eating up to 120g of carbohydrate (low Gi) per day.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to StillConcerned

That could be a good part of the reason :) thanks for digging that out for me, I hadn't noticed that at the time!

Fran182716 profile image

I can’t comment on the monthly cycle as I’ve been perimenopausal for over two years now and hormones no longer follow any kind of pattern! But the ghrelin levels rising with a low calorie intake reinforces my N=1 experience that losing weight slowly minimises the effects on hormones and hunger. I started out with 40 lb to lose, the first 20 lb came off at about 1lb a week, then over the summer it has naturally slowed down and I had “diet breaks” for holidays and birthdays. The next 11 lbs came off slowly over the summer and I’m currently working on the last 9lb. Would be nice if it’s all gone by 21st jan 2020 which would be a year from when I started, but even if not I’ll be most of the way there! I’ve been eating at 1500-1600 calories a day which is quite generous for a very short woman in her 50s and I do believe this has helped me sustain what I’m doing without ever getting over hungry or losing energy.

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