Nutritional and Supplement Needs Differ with Gender and Age

By Tina Beaudoin , ND

Nutritional and Supplement Needs Differ with Gender and Age

By Tina Beaudoin , ND

Life is significantly more complicated than it was just a few decades ago and knowing what to eat and what to supplement can be confusing. According to the National Health and Nutrient Examination Survey (NHANES), more than half of Americans report taking one or more supplements. In terms of nutrition and supplementation, there are some universal guidelines, as well as some variations in recommendations based on gender and age. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are the three basic macronutrients of our diet that should be enjoyed in balanced proportions during meals and snacks. Balance in most endeavors is beneficial and the right balance of certain macro- and micronutrients can change with age, gender and activity level.

Most people think about protein being essential to build strong muscles, but adequate protein intake also influences the production of antibodies, hormones, enzymes, clotting factors and brain chemistry. Protein needs, in terms of grams/kilogram/day, are highest in infants and gradually decrease as age increases. Pregnant and lactating women, as well as athletes, have increased metabolic needs that require additional protein intake.

Protein Dietary Reference Intake:

  • 0-12m = 1.5 g/kg/day
  • 1-13 yrs = .95 g/kg/day
  • 14-18 yrs = .85 g/kg/day
  • Adults = .8 g/kg/day
  • Preg/lact = 1.1 g/kg/day

In private practice, I have many patients that either skip breakfast altogether or opt for just a bagel or muffin. If you aren't able to consume more than a quick carb at breakfast, a protein shake or protein bar is a great way to get what you need to start the day right. Eating a simple carbohydrate at breakfast will give you a brief bump in energy as glucose is quickly released into the bloodstream. The adage, "all that goes up must come down" holds true in this situation. After the initial bump in energy, you then feel a sharp drop in blood sugar, which leaves you feeling tired and lethargic. Having a balanced meal that includes some protein and fats ensures a more gradual release of glucose and nutrients that gives you more consistent energy.

I wouldn't want anyone calling me a "meat head" on the playground, but I would be just fine with receiving the title "fat head." Fats and cholesterol are the essential building blocks of neurons, the individual cells of the nervous system. The recommendations around fat intake vary with age. Children between the ages of 1 and 3 have the highest AMDR (Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range) at 30% to 40% of calories per day of total fat. The AMDR is established based on reducing the risk of developing chronic disease while providing adequate intake of essential nutrients. Infants and toddlers have especially high needs for adequate fat intake to support healthy development of their brain and nervous system.

Omega-3's are polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been found to be an especially beneficial fat to both the young and old. Adequate DHA has been shown to offer cognitive benefits during pregnancy and early childhood development. Brain and retinal maturation are optimized with adequate DHA availability during fetal development and infancy. DHA has also been found to be of benefit to elders by providing resistance to the deleterious effects of aging and stress on the brain. Unfortunately, the typical American diet does not provide adequate intake of omega-3's and therefore does not offer an optimal supply of DHA for brain health. Eating a diet rich in walnuts, ground flax, wild-caught fatty marine fish and soybeans will help you enjoy the benefits of this healthy fat. Adding a daily omega-3 supplement is a great option to maintain adequate levels and help ensure that you keep your quick wit and cognitive abilities as you age.

Folate and zinc are great examples of how micronutrient requirements can differ between the sexes. It is not surprising that pregnant women have increased intake needs across the board of most macro and micronutrients. Folate is especially important during fetal development to ensure complete development of the nervous system and decrease the risk of neural tube defects.

The recommendations around zinc increase as you age with slight variations between the sexes. Teenage boys and adult men should consume 11mg daily of zinc daily, which is slightly more than teenage girls at 9mg daily and adult women at 8mg daily. Zinc is not only essential to immune function and our sense of taste and smell, it is vital to the sexual development and fertility of males. Research studies have shown that zinc supplementation produced positive changes in sperm quality and function. Supplementing or a targeted increase of zinc-rich foods (e.g., oysters, pumpkin seeds, and lamb) should also be a consideration for anyone taking thiazide diuretics or ACE-inhibitors, as these medications increase the amount of zinc lost in the urine. If you opt to supplement with zinc for an extended amount of time, you need to add 1-2 mg/day of copper for every 15-30 mg/day of zinc to avoid zinc-induced copper deficiency.

Whether discussing macro or micronutrients, our nutrient needs vary somewhat with age and gender. Eating a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet is a great way to ensure you have what your body needs to stay healthy and vital. Working with a licensed nutritionist or your family doctor can offer additional guidance on which nutrients should not be overlooked to ensure optimal health. When diet is not optimal, there is a growing body of research that has shown how specific supplementation can offer a variety of benefits. Remember that when you look down at your plate, be sure to enjoy a balanced meal with a colorful assortment of vegetables, proteins and healthy fats.