We all know the stereotypes: Men like red meat and hefty portions. Women like salads and eat modestly, picking delicately at their meals. Men like it spicy. Women like it sweet.
Fries or fruit on the side? Men, we imagine, may be more likely to choose the former, women the latter. Ditto when choosing between, say, wine or beer.
Whether or not there is intrinsic truth in these cultural preconceptions about gender and food, societal reinforcement of them may influence the decisions we make about what we eat, the Washington Post suggests. What’s more, the paper recently posited, given the body of research indicating that eating plant, rather than animal, proteins, is better for your health and longevity, that may not be great news for men.
One key issue may be the way different foods are marketed to men and women, the messages sent out via advertising and packaging, says Kerri-Ann Jennings, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who writes about food and health trends.
“For both younger men and women, the messages about food relate to appearance. For women, that usual translates more into ‘how do you eat to be lean and have healthy, glowing skin?’” Jennings tells Healthy Eats. “For guys, it might be ‘how do you bulk up?’”
Take for instance, yogurt. Commercials aiming to reach a female audience often create “this sense that women crave sweets and need to ‘indulge,’” Jennings observes, targeting them with yogurts that sound both decadent and healthy, a la “sugar-free cheesecake yogurt.” Men, meanwhile, may be fed a message about strength and power and eat-it-with-a-fork thickness: Male-targeted yogurt brands may have packaging that is black and squared-off (think: razor-blade ads), bespeaking masculinity.
“Men are ‘supposed to’ have hearty appetites. Women are often expected not to,” Jennings notes. “People think it’s worth commenting on when a woman has a hearty appetite.”
Awareness of how these gender expectations can influence our choices and impact our lives, however, may be the first step in taking control of our diets and our health. For men, especially, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
In other words, scuttle the stereotype and hold the fries, guys. And would a salad kill you? In fact, it may do precisely the opposite.
Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.