The Grapevine

Emotional Well-Being Requires More Nutrients For Women Than For Men

Food choices and quality of diet could have a bigger impact on the emotional well-being of women than men, according to researchers from Binghamton University, New York.

The paper titled "Principal Component Analysis Identifies Differential Gender-Specific Dietary Patterns that may be Linked to Mental Distress in Human Adults" was recently published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

The study aimed to examine whether gender differences play a role in how food impacts emotional health. An anonymous survey with 563 participants (among whom, 48 percent were men and 52 percent were women) was conducted by the research team on social media.

While male respondents were more likely to experience mental well-being until nutritional deficiencies arose, it was found that female respondents were less likely to experience mental well-being until they followed a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

According to lead researcher Lina Begdache, the most important takeaway from the research is that women may require a larger spectrum of nutrients than men would in order to support their mood.

"These findings may explain the reason why women are twice more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression and suffer from longer episodes, compared to men. Today's diet is high in energy but poor in key nutrients that support brain anatomy and functionality," said Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton.

The diets of our ancestors have had a significant impact on the evolution of the human brain. While they largely followed a high-energy-nutrient-dense diet, it should also be noted that differing responsibilities between men and women could have influenced energy requirements and food preferences over time.

"Thus, gender-based differential food and energy intake may explain the differential brain volumes and connectivity between females and males," Begdache added. "Therefore, a potential mismatch is happening between our contemporary diet and the evolved human brain which is disturbing the normal functionality of certain systems in the brain."

This could also explain why the Mediterranean diet and other "traditional" diets are linked to a reduced risk of depression (by 25 to 35 percent) when compared to the standard Western diet. Experts have linked processed "junk" foods and high levels of sugar to lower moods as they lead to gut inflammation. This eventually affects the rest of the body and could even induce symptoms of poor mental health.

Previously, the same team from Binghamton conducted research to show how the mental well-being of young and matured adults may be linked to dietary choices. In the under-30 crowd, it was found that those who ate fast food three times per week or more were likely to experience mental distress. As for those who were over 30, a diet low on carbs and high on fruits was associated with positive mental well-being.