Menopause is caused by a fall in the amount of oestrogen produced by the ovaries. It’s a time of transition, the end of the fertile years and an individual experience for every woman. The decline or absence of oestrogen can mean changes to energy levels, memory, bone health, hormones, urinary and heart health.
Various treatments, such as HRT can be used to combat some of these issues but more research is being done into the effects of optimal nutrition. Studies increasingly show that good nutrition and optimising the intake of specific nutrients, together with small lifestyle changes can offer significant help in maintaining a healthy menopause and make a real difference to how women feel.
When choosing diet as a possible solution to combating menopause symptoms, it’s important to meet the demands made on the body by menopause. Some women may find it useful to safeguard their diet, through supplementation of essential nutrients at a sensible level.
What foods should you be eating?
In general, foods that are low in fat and high in fibre and iron can help reduce and manage symptoms of menopause. One of the most distressing symptoms of menopause is weight gain. A good way to lose this weight is to slowly reduce your calorie intake every day, eventually taking in less calories than you burn. Don’t do it rapidly, as this will only serve to deplete your energy.
The most important thing to think of when dieting for menopause is to know how food affects your hormone balance and the way you feel. The key is to change your eating habits just enough to balance your hormones and keep you functioning at your best.
Foods to include in your menopause diet include:
Soy is known for being rich in isoflavones, phytoestrogens that have long been thought to reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Phytoestrogens are plant-based foods that can have an estrogen-like effect on the body. Essentially, studies have shown that a high intake of soy, from sources such as soya beans, tofu, soya milk and soya flour, can help balance hormones.
Numerous observational studies and uncontrolled trials have suggested the benefits of fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic (DHA) and EPA can be used to reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and depression. The anti-inflammatory properties in omega-3 fatty acids have shown to have a positive effect for women going through menopause by impacting on the preservation of the heart, breast, and bone health, while balancing moods.
Fruits, Vegetables and Whole Grains
The fibre in vegetables is a hormone saviour, protecting us from ageing by reducing blood sugar peaks and troughs that send insulin levels crazy. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and give you all the nutrients you need. Whole grains are a great source of fibre also, and can be found in bread, pasta, brown rice and cereal. Fibre is important because it keeps your digestive system functioning and can help prevent cardiovascular disease, which increases at menopause. Aim for two to four servings of fruit and at least three to five servings of vegetables each day.
It’s critical to the production of hormones and to the maintenance of a happy hormone balance that women pack plenty of protein into their menopause diet. Protein helps to build muscle and stay strong, and will keep that ‘spring in your step’. Chicken, fish, beans, nuts, seeds and tofu are all good sources of protein, but keep meat to once or twice a week.
Osteoporosis slows the regrowth of bones, causing them to become more brittle. Your risk of osteoporosis and your need for calcium increase at menopause, therefore it is recommended that women get 1,200 mg of calcium per day during and after this stage. Low fat dairy products, broccoli and legumes can help fulfill your higher calcium needs.
Iron is found in lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, nuts and enriched grain products. The recommended dietary allowance for women during menopause is 8 milligrams a day. Iron is essential for oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and energy production.
- Aim to eat small amounts of food every three to four hours. This helps balance your sugar levels and prevents your insulin spiking – a stress that will quickly throw your hormones out of place.
- Eat your evening meal before 8:30pm and keep it small for a good night’s rest.
- Reduce processed food and junk food – basically anything that’s difficult to digest.
- Stay away from refined sugars which cause migraines, hot flashes, aching joints and an ever-expanding middle.
- Stick to one cup of coffee a day, or switch to decaffeinated or tea. Apart from its stimulatory effects on the nervous system and hormones, caffeine can increase breast tenderness and has been linked to osteoporosis.
- Avoid adding salt, as excessive salt intake can trigger flushes, sweats, dehydration and palpitations
- Stick to one glass of red wine, which has been shown to be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. Any more and alcohol opens you up to hot flashes and increased risk of breast cancer.
- Avoid spicy foods which may raise your body temperature, triggering a hot flash.
- Consider herb supplements to better manage your menopause symptoms, such as: black cohosh, flaxseed, wild yam, dong quai, red clover and St. John’s Wort.
When dining out with friends, the last thing you want is to suffer a hot flush or start developing a migraine. If you want to avoid menopause symptoms, it’s important to make smart choices at the restaurant dinner table. When dining out, look for:
Italian: Hormone friendly choices include minestrone or seafood soup, mussels marinara, veal piccata, seafood dishes and steamed veg. Try to avoid antipasto, alfredo sauces, parmigiana, lasagne and sweet desserts.
Indian: Hormone friendly choices include dahl, sweet and sour cabbage, vegetable curries, naan bread, tandoori chicken, biryani and rice with vegetables.Try to avoid curries that use coconut milk, samosas, Mughlai and fried bread.
Mexican: Hormone friendly choices include black bean soup, gazpacho, grilled chicken or prawns, stewed seafood dishes, fajitas (without the sour cream), tortillas and guacamole. Try to avoid nachos, tacos, tortilla chips, refried beans, chimichangas, sour cream and enchiladas.
Japanese: Hormone friendly choices include miso soup, sushi, sashimi, teriyaki, yakimono, maki rolls and shabu shabu. Try to avoid tempura or fried pork, tofu and chicken.