The Dreaded Menopause in a woman’s life as her menstrual cycles come to an end and is usually confirmed 12 months after your last period. However, the transition and symptoms associated with menopause can last for several years, ranging from exhaustion, bloating, weight gain, mood swings and of course hot flashes. Since menopause is largely a hormone related issue, changing your diet and having good nutrition can make a big change in the way you feel and can help reduce symptoms, to help ease the transition. In this blog post I want to share some of the key facts around menopause and outline how what you eat may affect your symptoms.
During the transition to menopause and beyond, the hormone estrogen begins to decline, disrupting your normal cyclical patterns of estrogen and progesterone. Declining estrogen levels negatively impact your metabolism, potentially leading to weight gain. These changes may also affect your cholesterol levels and how your body digests carbs. Additionally, hormone changes lead to declined bone density, which can increase your risk of fractures.
Fortunately, making changes in your diet may help relieve menopause symptoms.
Throughout menopause, include these foods in your diet
There is a significant body of evidence that certain foods help relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, poor sleep and low bone density.
The decline in estrogen levels during menopause can increase women’s risk of fractures. To put things into perspective – women lose roughly 50% of their trabecular bone and 30% of their cortical bone over the course of their lifetime, half of which is lost during the 10 years after the menopause. When we think bones, we think calcium. And it’s more important than ever to up your intake of dietary calcium when you hit the menopause.
Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, contain calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins D and K — all of which are essential for bone health. In a recent study in nearly 750 postmenopausal women, those who ate more dairy and animal protein had significantly higher bone density than those who ate less. Dairy foods may also help improve sleep. A review study found that foods high in the amino acid glycine — found in milk and cheese, for example — promoted deeper sleep in menopausal women.
Furthermore, some evidence links dairy consumption to a decreased risk of premature menopause, which occurs before the age of 45. In one study, women with the highest intake of vitamin D and calcium, which cheese and fortified milk are rich in, had a 17% reduced risk of early menopause. Therefore, load up on bone-bolstering, calcium-rich food like dairy products, leafy green vegetables, seeds, sardines and canned salmon.
Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids are hugely beneficial to women going through menopause for both physical and emotional wellness. A diet rich in omega 3 is proven to
decreased the frequency of hot flashes and the severity of night sweats. Foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon and anchovies, and for a vegetarian diet seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, fibre and antioxidants. For this reason, it is highly recommended to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. In a one-year intervention study in over 17,000 menopausal women, those eating more vegetables, fruit, fibre and soy experienced a 29% reduction in hot flashes compared to the control group. The reduction was attributed to the healthier diet and weight loss. Cruciferous vegetables and Dark berries may be especially helpful for postmenopausal women.
Foods that naturally contain phytoestrogens support the production of include soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, flax/lin seeds, barley, grapes, berries, plums, green and black tea and many more. In a study ranging from 3 to 12 months, phytoestrogens including soy, isoflavone supplements and red clover were found to lower incidences of hot flashes compared to control groups, with no apparent side effects.
Protein is essential to the human body, particularly to women at certain age. In addition to supporting countless biological processes in the female anatomy, hormone function, bone structure, tissue repair, oxygen transportation, and teeth, hair and nail health – protein also aids with satiety i. As you hit the menopause, you may notice fluctuations in your appetite and weight. To prevent nagging hunger pangs from getting the better of you, eat protein with every meal. This will enhance feelings of fullness, so those calorie-laden pick-me-ups don’t tempt you. Quick wins include animal protein like grass-fed, organic chicken, beef, lamb and eggs; and plant-based protein such as lentils, beans and tempeh.
The decline in estrogen from menopause is linked to decreased muscle mass and bone strength. For this reason, women going through menopause should eat more protein. Guidelines recommend that women over 50 eat 0.45–0.55 grams of protein per pound (1–1.2 grams per kg) of body weight daily — or 20–25 grams of high-quality protein per meal. During perimenopause or Menopausal Protein should total around 20–35% of total daily calories. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. In a large study of adults over 50, researchers found that consuming dairy protein reduced the risk of hip fractures by 8%, whereas plant protein intake lowered the risk by 12%. Foods high in protein include eggs, meat, fish, legumes and dairy products. Additionally, you can add protein powders to smoothies or baked goods.
Fill up on fibre
Fibre is another food group that can seamlessly support your body during the menopause. As you head towards this hormonal transition, you can find yourself struggling with weight gain. This is where our trusty pal, fibre, comes in. This compound supports satiety, meaning it helps you feel fuller for longer. Added bonus: fibre assists with healthy hormone regulation, too. It keeps the bowels in good working order, which is needed to excrete oestrogen more efficiently iv. Excess oestrogen disrupts hormone balance and worsens menopausal symptoms. Consume lentils, beans, whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice), cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens, cabbage).”
Menopause can put your body through a lot of stress: fact. To ease yourself into this hormonal transition, load up on foods rich in B vitamins. This family of nourishing nutrients help to fortify your nervous system v. The result: a reduction in those tempestuous mood swings and an increase in energy levels. Embrace beans, lentils, nuts, green veggies, chicken, sardines, shrimp, scallops and eggs.
Get more ‘sunshine’ vitamin D
You can’t have calcium without an ample supply of the sunshine nutrient, vitamin D. This little wonder helps with the absorption of calcium, and therefore plays an equally important role in protecting your bones. Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D, living in the UK can mean this is unpredictable at the best of times. To keep your levels topped up, fill up on cheese, egg yolks, and fatty fish like tuna, salmon and sardines. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure you opt for food fortified with vitamin D, such as plant-based milk.
Magnesium is yet another dream partner for calcium. Like vitamin D, this mineral helps with the absorption of calcium, making it exceptionally good food for your bones. Not only that, but magnesium is also ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ – and it certainly lives up to its name. Magnesium helps with insomnia, combats irritability, and aids with low mood, providing some support from the wrath of menopause. To strengthen your nutrient reserves, aim for 375mg magnesium every day. Quinoa, mackerel and cashews boast the highest amount per serving (118mg, 108mg, and 80mg respectively). Other rich sources to mention include green leafy veggies, dark chocolate, legumes, nuts, seeds and oil fishy, aim for 2-3 portions per week.
Eat more top-notch tryptophan
If you’re facing anxiety and low moods, it’s crucial to enrich your diet with tryptophan, an essential amino acid This compound helps manufacture the neurotransmitter serotonin – the feel-good hormone that affects behaviour, sleep and appetite. Eating a diet rich in tryptophan, then, may help with those unpredictable fluctuations in mood x. You can find this amino acid in abundance in turkey, cottage cheese, oats and legumes.
The hair hero, Biotin
Lacklustre hair and brittle nails are a common complaint of many menopausal women which is again down to the declining oestrogen levels. So, eating foods rich in biotin could certainly help. Biotin plays a special role in promoting healthy hair and nails in the body xi. For the ultimate hair pick-me-up, add more eggs yolks lean meats, and liver to your diet. If you are vegetarian or vegan then eat nuts, seeds, avocados and sweet potato.
Throughout menopause, steer clear of these foods.
Avoiding certain foods may help reduce some of the symptoms linked to menopause, such as hot flashes, weight gain and poor sleep.
Added Sugars and Processed Carbs
High blood sugar, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome are linked to an increased occurrence of hot flashes in menopausal women. Processed foods and added sugars rapidly raise blood sugar. The more processed a food is, the more pronounced its effect on blood sugar may be. Therefore, limiting your intake of added sugars and processed foods, such as white bread, crackers and baked goods, may help reduce hot flashes during menopause.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Studies have shown that caffeine and alcohol can not only trigger hot flashes in women going through menopause but increase the severity of them. Caffeine is also a known sleep disruptors and that many women going through menopause have trouble sleeping. So, if this is the case for you, consider avoiding caffeine or alcohol near bedtime.
The Bottom Line
Menopause is linked to changes in metabolism, reduced bone density and increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, many women going through menopause experience unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flashes and poor sleep. A whole-foods diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein and dairy products may reduce menopause symptoms. Phytoestrogens and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish, may also help.
You may want to limit added sugars, processed carbs, alcohol, caffeine and high-sodium or spicy foods as well. These simple changes to your diet may make this important transition in your life easier.
Author – Kumud Gandhi is a food scientist, lecturer on human nutrition and author of ‘A Cupboard Full of Spices’
Kumud is available for nutritional consultancy and is the lead Chef tutor for all our Nutrition based classes at The Cooking Academy.
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Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.