Protein and Women's Health: The Good and the Bad News

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Men and women may be equals in many ways, but there is no mistaking that they are biologically different and that they have different needs to keep their bodies working at their peak. Women face different health challenges than men and may deal with other diseases in different ways. Some of the most common conditions that can face both men and women include: cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes and obesity. Of these conditions, obesity may have the most impact on overall health as it can cause or worsen the effects of the other conditions.

What Are the Differences in Nutritional Needs for Men and Women?

Everybody needs the three macronutrients, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in their diet, as well as the many micronutrients that they get from healthy and well balanced diets. However, men and women need differing amounts, as do adult women and girls. Every stage in a woman’s life gives her different health challenges and different nutritional needs. For adults:

Calcium:

– Women under 50 need 1000 mg per day

– Over 50 need 1200 mg per day

– Men need 800 mg, the amount in about three servings of dairy (too much calcium can lead to prostate cancer in men)

Iron:

– Women under 50 need 18 mg per day

– Women over 50 need 8 mg per day

– Men need 8 mg per day

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: No established nutritional needs or guidelines for amount however, men should only get Omega 3s from marine based sources because of the threat of prostate cancer from other sources.

Protein: Need based on height, weight and activity level for both men and women.

Fiber:

– Women under 50 need 25 grams per day

– Women over 50 need 21 grams per day

– Men under 50 need 38 grams per day

– Men over 50 need 30 grams per day

(Sources: Tsang, 2007)

Why Women Need Protein

Protein plays a major role in the human body, actually being necessary to every cell and every process that it accomplishes every day. Protein is the hardest of the macronutrients to digest, keeping the body full for longer and is needed for building lean muscle mass. In addition to this process, the body needs protein to heal during injury or illness as well as to keep the immune system strong and healthy. Protein also plays a role in sleep, digestion and ovulation.

There is a debate about protein in relation to osteoporosis. The common misconception is that too much protein in the average diet can leach too much calcium from the system and lead to or exacerbate osteoporosis, especially in those who are susceptible to the condition. The theory states that protein increases the amount of liquid waste created in the kidneys which is then flushed out through the bladder, including the calcium that the body needs. Because many women are not getting enough calcium to begin with, this increased amount will create a harmful deficit.

It is now thought that women who are getting enough calcium in their diet are not adversely affected by protein intake and that they would benefit from a slightly increased protein amount. In addition, these women would also benefit from some weight bearing exercise before their body starts showing the effects of osteoporosis.

Other Benefits of Protein for Women

Protein, especially soy protein, has been shown to have many benefits for women that are related to relieving the symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, bone loss, kidney and gallstone diseases and others. The proteins are also shown to reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and diabetes, increases the control of previously existing diabetes, and improves the overall cholesterol profile.

Miso, a fermented soy bean paste has also been shown to decrease the risk and incidence of breast cancer in Japanese women with those consuming three or more bowls of miso soup daily having a 40% decrease in breast cancer risk. (Source: Menopause Rx.com)

The Right Amount of Protein, Regardless

All women should have several health tests done at the recommended intervals in their life to monitor and watch for certain diseases and conditions. In addition, women should have a consultation with a nutritionist or dietician to define the right number of calories for them and to further define the right diet that they should follow including the right number of carbohydrates, proteins and fat every day.

A woman’s protein needs changes during her lifetime including her youth, pregnancy, and during her senior years. An active, athletic woman will automatically have a higher protein need than a sedentary woman. A pregnant or lactating woman will have a higher protein need than one who is not pregnant. Women who are recovering from illness, surgery or injury will have a higher protein need than a healthy woman in her age group. Protein need is very individual and is determined by life stage, weight and activity level.

The Right Type of Protein for Women

In addition to having the right amount of protein in the diet, it is important to have the right type of protein in the diet as well. Protein can come from either plant or animal sources. Animal proteins, including eggs and dairy are complete proteins because they have all nine essential amino acids (amino acids that the body cannot create on its own and must have supplied) while plant proteins are not complete.

Soy protein is the exception to this rule. In addition to dietary protein sources, there are a number of protein supplements which can be beneficial to a woman’s diet for a wide variety of reasons. Whey protein, for instance can be useful for keeping blood pressure and cholesterol within normal limits. Profect, a protein supplement from Protica is useful as a between meal snack to help keep a woman feeling full for longer and allowing her to remain active no matter what her life stage. It provides 25 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving and comes in a number of fruit based flavors.

Women and Protein: A Case Study

Linda, age 55, is entering menopause. She is a small framed Asian woman, putting her at increased risk for osteoporosis so she is afraid of the information that she is reading about protein and that condition. She is not eating very well because of this fear and becomes very ill. In addition, she is miserable dealing with the menopause. She goes to her doctor and admits that she is not eating and that she is afraid. The doctor sends her to a nutritionist and also sends her to the lab for blood work and a Dexa scan (a test for osteoporosis that will measure her current bone density). Linda is borderline in the testing, meaning she will start medication for osteoporosis. She is prompted to start taking a calcium supplement as well as increasing the amount that she is getting in her diet. She is also told to increase the amount of protein in her diet which will help her stay active and will also help her ease the symptoms of menopause as well.

Profect is perfect for Linda to use, small enough to fit into her purse or new gym bag. She can consume it in seconds and will be satisfied until time for her next meal.

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