Diet through the menopause

Changing your diet, is one way many individuals try and help their symptoms.  There is not one size fits all and different foods and supplements affect different women in different ways. Always remember that you should contact a professional for advice if you are taking prescription medicine and wish to take supplements, due to interactions.

Carbohydrates

Did you know that as you move through menopause you become more sensitive to carbohydrates? Your body simply can’t process them as well anymore so you need to eat less of them. Gaining fat on your belly is a key sign that your body is not using carbs as it used to.

Whilst you still need carbs since it’s one of the main sources of fuel for the brain and during exercise, you should choose quality carbohydrates concentrating on those in fruit, vegetable and wholemeal products rather than white bread, pasta and rice, since these will also provide your daily requirements of nutrients and fibre. Not only do you need to choose more carefully which carbs to eat, you need to think about WHEN you will eat them too, generally your body will burn more carbs in the morning than is can later in the day, so it’s better to them at breakfast and lunch than in the evening. 

Fibre

Another reason to consume more fibre, is that fibre absorbs the oestrogen, which relieves hot flashes by reducing the amount of oestrogen reabsorbed from bile salts released into the intestine to be mixed with stool. It is recommended that women should be consuming 25-30 grams of fibre daily. Enjoy fibre-rich foods throughout the day such as whole grain breads and cereals, apples, pears, broccoli and cauliflower.

Protein

As you enter peri-menopause, your estrogen levels start to fluctuate and they drop, remaining low as you move through menopause. As a direct result, your body uses the protein that you eat less effectively than it used to. Increasing the amount of protein you eat in your diet can really help especially if you exercise – as long as you also do some high-intensity/resistance training too.

It’s not just about eating any old protein though – the quality of it, and also when you eat it, are important.

Some key changes you can make are:

  • Eat good quality protein, particularly foods that are rich in leucine, such as beef, tuna, kidney beans, salmon, plain Greek yogurt, seeds (squash and pumpkin), eggs, haddock, lentils, peanuts and cheese (especially cottage cheese and parmesan)
  • Mix up the types of protein you eat for best results

The good news is that if you increase the amount of protein in your diet and match it with some high-impact / resistance training, you should see changes to your body composition too (it will help burn fat) and any sugar- spikes in your blood will be levelled out.

There’s also some research to show that it can help reduce brain fog too. It’s winner all round!

Foods  where research has shown may have some benefit 

Soy

In Asia, where the diet contains high amounts of tofu, miso, lentils and soy sauce, only 14% of menopausal women experience hot flushes. In the western world, hot flushes affect over 80% of menopausal women. Some research has shown that soy throughout life is beneficial not just at the time of menopause, the quality of the soy is also important, fermented products such as soy, miso, tofu are superior products and avoid processed alternative soy meats.  By taking a plant oestrogen which is found in soy, it competes in the body for the stronger body oestrogen for absorption, reducing the overall uptake in the body of these stronger oestrogen.

Omega 3

Ensure you are eating adequate amounts of Omega 3 in your diet from oily fish and flaxseed (highest amounts), avocados, free range eggs. An imbalance in essential fatty acids contributes to disease risk and menopausal symptoms.

Calcium

The National Institutes of Health recommends that  post menopausal women get 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Calcium cleanses excess oestrogen from the liver, making this nutrient vital in reducing hot flashes. Calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurts and cheeses. In addition post menopause due to the reduction of oestrogen in the body women, women are less able to absorb calcium and therefore require greater amounts. Foods rich in calcium include, diary products, broccoli, and kale.  Some people may think taking a strong one a day supplement may solve this problem however with calcium it has been found that the higher the dose the less you will absorb so two doses of 500mg will be far more effective than one dose of 1000mg. In addition there has been no evidence to show that calcium supplements reduce the risk of fractures as you age, and are currently not recommended, unless you have a diet that is low in calcium.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, vitamin D is now frequently seen as a common deficiency in the Northern Hemisphere, both due to lack of sun, covering up with sun tan lotion as soon as we do have any sun and reducing our fat intake, vitamin D is fat soluble and this fat helps the body absorb the vitamin.

Herbs

There are also a number of herbs that may help reduce menopausal symptoms, such as black cohosh and soy isoflavones, but each herbs helps with different symptoms, so please seek nutritional advice according to your symptoms and seek the advice of a trained herbalist to make sure you are taking the correct dose,  in addition many herbs and supplements interact with both prescribed and over the counter medications so its essential to check that there are no contraindications.

Copyright: Susan Monk 2020

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