Why We Don't Need Women's Snacks

August 10th 2015

Kathleen Toohill

Snack foods are just one category in a long line of commercial products that have been divided along gender lines — whether snacks are directly advertised towards a specific gender, or if by way of popular media (magazines, etc.) men and women are given specific gendered of what they should be eating and why.

A Google search for the term "women’s snacks" pulls up many listings that include the word "healthy" and one, from Women’s Health Magazine, that promises 21 Snacks for Flat Abs. A Google search for the term "men’s snacks" also returns lists focused on nutrition and health, including 7 Deskside Diet Snacks from Men’s Fitness and 101 Snacks for Your Husband on the Go from the website Keeper of the Home.

Both men and women, it would seem, are focused on finding nutritious snack foods that keep them feeling full longer and provide the energy required to navigate jam-packed schedules and a plethora of craving-inducing situations. A closer evaluation of the lists of healthy snacks for women and men, however, reveals subtle differences in the ways each sex is advised to eat, as does a Google image search: Men should be eating pretzels, popcorn, potato chips, maybe a kiwi now and then, according to a Google image search for "men’s snacks," and women should primarily stick to fruit.

How we talk about women’s snacks

Many of the foods on these lists are not necessarily foods that are marketed specifically to women (more on those later), but the way in which women’s snacks are discussed often varies from the typical language used to discuss men’s snacks.

One of the top results that appears after a search for "women’s snacks" is Top 28 Best Healthy Snacks from Women’s Health. "Nibble guilt-free with these snacks that clock in at 100 calories or less," the article promises. As other writers have pointed out, the marketing of women’s snacks (and articles written about such snacks) tends to assume that women associate eating with guilt and shame. If you’re a woman who happened to eat a chocolate chip cookie, this line of reasoning goes, you’re likely overwhelmed with regret due to said cookie.

Not all lists of women’s snacks play on traditional gender roles and stereotypes—but they do seem to suggest that snacks should be healthy or small portioned. Woman’s Day published a list of 10 Healthy (and Filling!) Snack Ideas, encouraging readers to “beat the afternoon slump with these good-for-you foods,” which seems like a pretty gender-neutral proposition. Another Woman’s Day piece, 50 Best Snacks Under 50 Calories (50 calories! I expected air to be on the list. It wasn’t. One pretzel rod, however, was.) promised that these foods would enable one to "satisfy your cravings without putting on a pound."

How we talk about men’s snacks

An article in Men’s Health, The 20 Best Snacks for Men, opens with the line, “When hunger takes hold, you can fuel your body or grow your gut. Which will it be?” Rather than emphasizing guilt and shame, the emphasis here is on energy and fuel, suggesting that men eat for practical reasons (the corollary being that women eat for emotional ones)—though, granted, the "growing your gut" part comes off as a bit of a threat perhaps intended to induce guilt. Another article focusing on men’s snacks, Healthy Snack Alternatives for Every Craving Type in Men’s Fitness, actually does mention guilt in its introduction, but also includes the more typical gendered language of “post-workout sugar pangs.”

A post on the blog Gender, Food & Culture explores the contrast between marketing a candy bar like Snickers as fuel, ostensibly for men, while another candy bar manufactured by Mars and marketed towards women, Fling, used the slogan “Naughty…but not that naughty.” The inherent dichotomy is clear: Men get hungry and need energy, while women get cravings and need a way to satisfy them without destroying a diet.

Do we really need gendered snacks?

The majority of the aforementioned lists are from men’s and women’s magazines, so it stands to reason that the specific foods would be presented as ideal for one of the sexes. Advertisers often use similar tactics, pushing a product into the hands of either women or men, in an effort to corner the market on a particular demographic. This marketing tactic can be explicit, as it was in the case of Cadbury’s Crispello chocolate bar, introduced in 2012 that a Cadbury spokesman told the Daily Mail was designed to appeal to women. Other times, in the absence of explicit slogans or comments by ad executives, it’s fairly easy to ascertain whether a product is being marketed specifically to one of the sexes through its advertising and packaging.

According to a recent article in Advertising Age, Lean Cuisine, a company that produces frozen meals marketed to dieting women has recently decided to "pivot away from diet marketing." Lean Cuisine will still aim its marketing at women, just with less harping on the dieting thing: With a new campaign called "Feed Your Phenomenal," Lean Cuisine jumps on the bandwagon of brands using feel-good feminism to improve their bottom lines.

Adam Raymond of Thrillist subsisted on nothing but products marketed to women (like Luna bars, Special K, Lean Cuisine, and others) for two weeks.

"After a week of eating like this, I learned a few things about food 'for women.' First of all, it’s sweet," writes Raymond. "The breakfast, the snacks, the ostensibly healthy bars—all loaded with sugar or some form of sugar substitute. This, the packaging taught me, is because women are always thinking about dessert. They always want something decadent—but they mustn't! That would make them fat."

Unnecessarily gendering products like beef jerky (often marketed to men) is more harmful than helpful. It suggests that women’s needs and tastes are so different than that of men (you know, Mars versus Venus) that one product for both genders simply won't do.


Women's snacks often are aimed specifically at people who are trying to lose weight, fitting with the trope that women should fit a certain body type, or that they must continue to work on their looks or weight.

Kellogg's Special K Cereal is and example of this. It is marketed as a "light" cereal, and a past "Special K Challenge," used to mean replacing breakfast and lunch with Special K. Its motto was "What will you gain when you lose?" The official Special K diet plan seems to have evolved somewhat (though you seem to be forced to choose whether you're on the go OR a foodie OR a vegetarian, you can't be more than one). However it is still about losing pounds and (supposedly) eating healthfully. (Special K's Original Cereal has about 12 grams of sugar per 100 grams, which is sweeter than it once was—in 1978, the cereal had 9.6 grams of sugar per 100 grams.) This 2013 ad would seem to suggest empowerment, but only if you ignore the fact that the products being marketed are intended to to help with weight loss.


Advertisers use the "for women" designation to manufacture a need that their product can then fill. At its worst, this type of advertising is blatantly exclusionary and sexist. Remember Dr. Pepper Ten, which in 2011 was explicitly marketed as "not for women?"

This marketing misfire included a commercial, according to reporting from ABC News, in which a man drinking a Dr. Pepper Ten on an ATV says to the camera: "Hey ladies. Enjoying the film? Of course not. Because this is our movie and this is our soda. You can keep the romantic comedies and lady drinks. We’re good."

It’s true that women’s and men’s bodies have different needs, to an extent—for instance, women who are considering having children should be getting enough folic acid in their diets well before they become pregnant. Enriched grains like pastas and breads are good sources of folic acid, foods that, if you’re reading a lot of "snacks under 25 calories each" lists, probably don’t factor prominently into your diet.

According to the website of Steward Health Care System Hospitals, women should ensure that they’re getting enough calcium (present in dairy products as well as in supplement form) to prevent osteoporosis. And of course, there are a whole host of nutrients that are important for both men and women which can be incorporated into one’s diet by eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, lean protein and whole grains—not, as advertisers would have you think, pre-packaged, processed foods.