“Meat is my vegetable” is not only the literary customer of Heinz Strunk, but also the probably shortest summary of the favored diets of men. Is that really so? Do men eat worse than women? If so, why these differences? Why does meat play such an important role in man’s diet?
Two facts, one context?
On average, men die 5.2 years earlier than women.
Across all age groups, the man eats more red meat.
Basically, however, it can be stated that people are getting older – across all gender differences. But how can the shorter life expectancy of the man be explained? As biological-constitutionally conditioned but only one or two years apply. Sex differences in smoking, diet and risky behavior may be reasons for this shorter life expectancy. So several lifestyle factors play a role in this consideration. This is not about taking the meat off the man’s plate.
The nutritional behavior of men is now ONE reason that the Lebenswertartung can be shortened. Representative nutrition and health studies have shown that the male portion of our population is one – sided and over-energized – ie less vegetables and fruits, over-meat, more processed foods, over-consumption of alcohol. In addition, there is a lack of exercise and increased risk behavior. As a result, 66% of men are overweightand have a high risk of suffering from nutritional (related) diseases in later years. These can be diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and vascular diseases, as well as metabolic diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome or even colon cancer and even Alzheimer’s.
Excessive meat consumption alone does not make a disease, but the overall quality of everyday nutrition. A clear link between excessive meat consumption and health effects is shown by the fact that men are 10 times more likely to be affected by gout than the female population. Already from the age of 40, men are disproportionately affected.
The occurrence of gout is associated with high meat consumption as well as increased alcohol consumption. This is scientifically proven.
Another health effect of an unbalanced diet may be influencing the sex life as a result of a metabolic disorder. Erectile dysfunction mainly affects overweight men, but also a lack of exercise and tobacco use play a role. A functioning and self-determined sex life is apparently a factor of the (male) joy of life. Perhaps men are only now understanding what it means to live healthier – to eat healthier?
But what are the real reasons for this gender difference in eating? A simple question for which three important perspectives should be consulted:
- the scientific-biological
- the sociological
- the psychological perspective
The biology of the man – a nutritional aspect
Obviously, there are physical differences between men and women, but they can also affect the nutritional needs of a man . Physiologically, the percentage of muscle on body weight is 11% higher on average than on women. The muscle average can be up to 20% larger. On the other hand, the body fat percentage is about 10% lower for men. Among other things, this means that a man over the age of 25 needs about 25% more protein, fat and carbohydrates than a woman of the same age. Also, the need for minerals, such as iron, zinc and fluoride and vitamins, such as vitamins A, E, B1 and B2 is about 10% higher.
The social in the man – a nutritional aspect
In addition to the biological constitution, the surrounding culture and environment affect the eating needs. Gender identity and social distinction can be expressed through diet and eating. Experts speak of food as a source of representation for their own identity and their own biography. So to speak, for the man, eating is to be understood as a biographical construct and “touches” thematically above all the areas of life family, work and friends.
In the society cultural symbols and culinary actions can be found, which are awarded to either the man or the woman. In the course of cultural history so-called food taboos originated that were already learned in childhood. The names of foods such as “Strammer Max” and “Jägerschnitzel” are related to man and meat. The consumption of meat is considered by the male part of the population as a symbol of strength, potency and power, which is due to early-historical developments. The possession of meat also functions as a differentiation of one’s own social position to another. Today, we see this development primarily in lower social strata and in developing countries.
The development of the psychology of the man – a nutritional aspect
Typical man! Who does not know this saying? Straight men see “nutrition” as an instrument to perfect the self-presentation. Thus, eating is seen by many young people and men also or rather as a process of body shaping. Meat always tastes and gives more muscle and more strength. The functional approach predominates here: food and nutrients take on the roles of performance-enhancing and body-defining components. One aspect of the emancipation of our time is that increasingly young women also represent these behaviors and opinions. However, more men than women feel a muscular body as healthy and attractive.
Another aspect should not be missing here: the importance of prevention for health. For women, nutrition is central to their health. They are better informed about the topic of nutrition, and therefore have a higher nutritional knowledge. Men, on the other hand, attach more importance to sports and exercise for their own health.
Especially with regard to medical care, men are not only more careless than women, but also less well informed. Exercise, nutrition and stress management are regularly topics in prevention courses of the health insurance companies. Only one-fifth of participants in such courses are men.
This also has to do with the psychology of the risk behavior of the man. Psychologists speak of a “spare part mentality” in terms of illness, due to the external view of their body. As a result, congestion signals would be delayed, as overarching goals play a bigger role. The result of a study with 450 students symbolizes the whole thing: The part of the men who compared themselves with the “Marlboro” man, reported fewer complaints. The part that did not do that stated as many complaints as the proportion of women in this study.
But the image of the man is shaken with the relaxation of social values. The power of man no longer has a cultural reality today. The increased risk behavior and the unhealthier way of life see psychologists as coping skills and the protection of a new identity. Psychologically, they explain this behavior with an insult to the destruction of the first identity, of being a man. Oha – would you have thought that depth psychology and nutrition have so much in common?
The chance of the man – a reason for hope
The men themselves demand more and more health education and information. The background of this development is the establishment of gender equality in our society, the disappearance of the classical image of men and the increasing individualization.
It creates a new body and health awareness of the man, a new men’s self-image that can be seen as a great opportunity.
Now I’m supposed to eat healthy food – what else?
A balanced diet is the most immediate tool to take responsibility for your own health, yourself. If I manage that, it will not be difficult for my children to take me as an example and at some point I will be able to transfer this self-responsibility to them.
A balanced and varied diet is fun, enriches life, connects people and enhances happiness. Because a healthy body and a healthy mind are the prerequisite for a happy life.
Maybe it takes more courageous male role models to live it off – and not eat that much meat.
Nicolas Ting is a food and nutrition scientist and lives in Cologne with his wife and two children. He is a freelance consultant and coach in nutritional communication.