Before we get to the role of diet in menopause, let’s look at an interesting survey from Murphy Research.  It says that women are more concerned about nutrition than their male counterparts. Around 72% of females are concerned about maintaining a food log, taking supplements, and discussing their diet with their doctors, nutritionists, or acquaintances. In men, the percentage is a little low, with around 68% of them concerned about nutrition.
If you’ve been a diet freak all your life, you wouldn’t have issues in managing the same as you transition into menopause, i.e., during your mid-40s. However, if diet were never your cup of tea, this write-up would definitely help you make the right choice.
I was never into fitness that much until I reached my 40s. The repeated bouts of digestive disorders that I faced were my wake-up call. I knew the time had come to bid goodbye to the cheesy dips and stuffed burgers. I was quick to implement the changes. I adopted a colorful diet of green veggies and plenty of fruits, not to forget the healthy carbs. A nutritionist friend of mine was one of my main support systems.
So, how about you? Are you particular about eating healthy? Or does it seem bothersome when someone advises you to alter your diet plans?
Whichever group you may belong to, this write-up of mine will help anyone who is going through menopause or is post that phase. You’ll get to know about how important diet is in menopause. I’ll also walk you through what you should eat and the foods to avoid. Read on to know more.
What Happens to Your Body During Menopause?
You won’t wake up to menopause one fine morning. It happens over quite some time, a good 7-10 years on average menopause is the perimenopausal phase. Here the body starts getting prepared for menopause. Most women experience perimenopause during their early 40s. While in some, it could occur sooner when they are in their 30s. There can be exceptions, though. Some women can get the symptoms in their early or mid-50s.
The estrogen level begins to decline when a woman enters the perimenopause phase. Once they have transitioned into menopause, there is a drastic fall in the estrogen level. The ovulation will stop, and the progesterone levels will also become low. The outcome is an array of symptoms. These include night sweats, hot flashes, headaches, concentration problems, weight gain, mood swings, sleep problems, etc.
When it comes to bodily changes during menopause, the symptoms will vary from one woman to the other. Some may have difficulty falling asleep at night. While others might not have any sleep disturbance but have problems with digestion.
Did you know that low estrogen levels also make your appetite go for a toss? Estradiol, a variant of estrogen, plays a significant role in regulating our weight and metabolism. So, when estrogen levels fall, your urge to eat will also lessen. I did go through that not wanting to eat phase in my mid-40s. It wasn’t a good feeling, though. I was able to overcome it with proper exercise and by following a healthy diet.
The Role of Diet in Menopause
Most women may not eat the way they did before menopause. Many medical experts believe healthy eating during and after menopause can help alleviate several symptoms. For instance, dairy products take care of overall bone health. Healthy fats, on the other hand, lessen the incidence of hot flashes and night sweats. I was chatting with a dietician the other day, who mentioned how many women of the menopausal age have benefitted by following a healthy diet sans processed carbs and added sugars.
Mediterranean Diet and Menopause
You may be hearing of the Mediterranean diet quite often of late. Right? If this sounds like technical jargon, let me put it in simple terms. It’s a diet where healthy fats and plant-based foods are given immense importance. If you’ve been wondering what all goes into this kind of diet, here’s the list.
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Seasonings (of spices and herbs)
- Healthy fats
A nutritionist once advised me to follow a Mediterranean diet, and before I felt it was some rocket signs, she explained in simple terms.
- Include fruits, whole grains, and veggies in your diet each day.
- Eat a minimum of 2-3 servings of fish every week.
- If you are healthy, 4-6 eggs weekly would be fine; egg whites are preferred, and egg yolks should be limited, lest it could trigger your cholesterol levels.
- Have three servings of nuts and three servings of legumes.
- Cut down on red meat and alcohol.
- Limit your added sugar intake.
Her suggestions helped me big time. In doing my bit of research, I found that the Mediterranean diet significantly helped women cope with obesity and manage other symptoms as well.
A study conducted on 6040 menopausal women assessed that those who followed a Mediterranean-styled diet or consumed more fruits experienced a decreased incidence of Vasomotor Symptoms (VMS) like night sweats or hot flashes. Those who included a lot of sugar and fat in their diet were more prone to hot flashes and night sweats.
Another study conducted in 2019 showed the positive effects of the Mediterranean diet in improving bone health in perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Making a change in your diet is a big thing. So, don’t do that all by yourself. Instead, take a medical expert or dietician’s help who would guide you well.
Important Dietary Guidelines to Follow During Menopause: 6 Food Options That Would Benefit You
We discussed above how important it is to include a combination of fruits, seafood, veggies, dairy products, and so on in your diet during menopause. Next up, we will explain in detail the foods and nutrients you should consider having during menopause.
1. Go for Calcium-Rich Foods
When women transition into menopause, they go through more bone loss than bone formation. It increases their risk of osteoporosis, making them increasingly susceptible to fractures. Studies have validated this piece of information.
That’s why you should include enough calcium in your diet. Dairy products such as yogurt, milk, cheese, etc., are good sources of calcium. They are also high in Vitamin K, Vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium, all of which contribute to maintaining sound bone health.
If you are lactose intolerant like me or have restrictions on dairy products, you may also try other calcium-rich options. These include leafy green vegetables like collard greens, spinach, and kale. You can add broccoli and legumes to the list. Adding broccoli to my soups and salads is my favorite thing.
A bowl of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice would be a great option for a perfect calcium-rich breakfast, minus dairy products. Leafy greens for lunch and seasoned tofu for dinner are good ways to balance your calcium intake. You may even add a platter of fish, another important calcium source.
Most foods rich in calcium are high in Vitamin D as well. Research has shown that women who took food with calcium and Vitamin D were less prone to experience early menopause.
So, make sure your total daily calcium consumption is at least 1200 mg, combining your food and supplements.
2. Eat Plenty of Vegetables
Veggies work wonders in helping women to ease most of the symptoms – hot flashes and night sweats top the list.
Leafy vegetables like collard greens, spinach, kale, mustard greens, and bok choy will help you manage weight. They’ll even take care of your bone health.
Adding broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus to your diet lessens hot flashes. The reason is that it helps to cool down your body.
A study conducted in 2000 on 34 postmenopausal women showed that women who consumed broccoli had decreased levels of estrone, which is the bad estrogen responsible for breast cancer. They even had increased estriol, the good estrogen responsible for decreasing the likelihood of breast cancer.
3. Add Fruits to your Diet
Like veggies, fruits are also rich in antioxidants, fibers, minerals, and vitamins. So, make sure that you add plenty of them to your diet. The list of healthy fruits includes cherries, berries, and mangoes with antioxidant properties.
Citrus fruits like lime, lemon, orange, and grapefruit can also help lessen menopause symptoms. Add berries, particularly blueberries, to your diet. They’re antioxidants that help reduce stress.
One study conducted on 400 postmenopausal women showed the positive impact of antioxidants in reducing sweating, sleep problems, anxiety, concentration difficulties, and hot flashes during menopause. So remember to have a bowl of healthy fruits during breakfast and lunch. I have been doing this for quite some time and have benefitted too.
4. Maintain your Protein Intake
The low estrogen production during menopause is responsible for low bone strength and muscle mass. So, having enough good protein is important for premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Women who have crossed 50 must have between 0.45 and 0.55 g of protein each day per pound of their body weight.
However, you will be at an increased risk of obesity during menopause. So, a lean protein diet will work best to keep a check on your weight. The list of lean proteins includes grilled chicken, turkey, tuna, tofu, lean beef, legumes, and so on.
Collagen, the primary structural protein in the body, is beneficial in many ways. It helps in maintaining bone mineral density. A study on 131 women in the postmenopause phase showed how collagen peptides positively impacted bone health. Some collagen-rich foods are bone broth, fish, egg whites, citrus fruits, garlic, leafy greens, beans, tomatoes, bell pepper, etc.
5. Opt for Soy Products
Foods rich in soy are beneficial for relieving hot flashes and night sweats. However, not all women will benefit the same way from soy products. It’s because soy contains the chemical phytoestrogen, almost the same as estrogen. However, a particular enzyme converts soy to estrogen from phytoestrogen. Those who don’t have enough of this enzyme won’t be able to reap the benefits. Some soy-rich products include soy flour, soybean, tofu, and soy milk.
6. Whole Grains
Whole grains are a rich source of several nutrients, like Vitamin B, copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, and phytochemicals, and are antioxidants. These grains are high in fiber as well. A study on 11040 women in their postmenopause phase showed that those who consumed 4.7 grams of whole-grain fiber each day/ 2000 calories lessened their risk of dying early by about 17%. This was in comparison to those who consumed just 1.3 grams of whole grains /2000 calories.
That must be a lot of data, right? But the fact is that adding brown rice, barley, whole-wheat bread, quinoa, rye, etc, to your diet contributes to sound health.
Can You Take Supplements to Keep Your Diet Under Control During Menopause?
There’s no replacement for a healthy and nutritious diet, especially when you see menopause symptoms. You can add supplements if you can’t meet your daily dietary requirements.
Eating calcium-rich foods could be problematic if you are lactose tolerant, sensitive to dairy products, or a vegan. It’s then that you may think of shifting to calcium supplements. Though calcium supplements are considered safe, an overdose could leave you constipated. You may even be at risk of hypercalcemia if your bloodstream has an excessive calcium buildup.
Vitamin D Supplements
Similarly, you may need Vitamin D supplements if you live in a cold place and aren’t exposed to the sun. But remember that overconsumption of Vitamin D will increase your calcium levels. It can have adverse side effects such as frequent urination, weakness, nausea, and vomiting.
Black Cohosh Supplements
Some women even opt for black cohosh supplements to get relief from night sweats and hot flashes. If you decide to take these supplements, take them for a maximum of 4-6 months. Prolonged usage could harm the liver. Moreover, those who have had liver problems should avoid taking these supplements.
The final take is that supplements cannot be a permanent solution to substitute a particular nutrient. So, before taking any supplement, please consult a doctor. He will advise you if you should go for the supplement or not. He would even suggest the recommended dosage based on your requirements.
However, there are some supplements you should stay away from completely. These include evening primrose oil, which is thought to decrease hot flashes. However, there isn’t any scientific evidence to prove this point. Its side effects include blood clots, nausea, and diarrhea. If you are on blood-thinning medications or have had schizophrenia or seizures, this oil isn’t right for you.
You should also avoid taking fluoride supplements since it increases the risk of fractures. Iron supplements are good during menstruation. But during menopause, it will not help much. Iron-rich food would be a much healthier option.
Over-the-counter progesterone and estrogen creams are a strict no-no as well. They do more harm than good. These creams could cause hormonal imbalance and put you at risk of uterine cancer.
What Foods to Avoid During Menopause?
Now, let’s get to the foods you should strictly give up eating or lessen the intake during menopause. Some foods can affect your health adversely. Besides that, it’s your body, and you understand what suits you best. So if you notice the intake of any particular food is triggering your symptoms, you need to eliminate that from your diet at once, at least for some time, if not completely.
1. Spicy Foods
If night sweats and hot flashes bother you, avoid jalapenos, cayenne pepper, hot salsa, and other spicy foods. It could make your symptoms worse. Telling this from my personal experience. I was a jalapeno fan. But whenever I ate them, it made me hotter. It was a miserable feeling indeed. So I decided to give up jalapeno.
A study was conducted in 2013 on 896 women living in and around Panama, Ecuador, Spain, and Chile. It showed that those who lived in areas of higher temperatures with a lower altitude were more prone to hot flashes. At the same time, other factors also contributed to intensifying hot flashes, including increased spicy food intake, low-quality lifestyle, high-stress levels, and so on.
Coffee and other caffeine-related products are also responsible for triggering hot flashes. It’s not that you would have to completely do away with your morning and evening cup of coffee. I have made a conscious effort to cut down on coffee, from four cups a day to just a single cup. In fact, some days are no-coffee days as well. It was hard, but I’ve yielded positive results.
One or two cups daily is fine, but not more than that. One study conducted in 2015 on 2507 menopausal women showed how much the increased caffeine intake aggravated vasomotor symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes.
Increased alcohol consumption during menopause will worsen symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, and sleep problems. One drink daily is fine, but anything more than that will do more harm than good.
4. Foods High in Salt
Watch the amount of salt you add to your diet each day. If your sodium intake is high, then it could lower your bone density. This fact has also been validated through a study conducted on 9526 women, of which 4793 were premenopausal, and 4733 were postmenopausal.
Also, lower estrogen levels can cause the incidence of high blood pressure. So, when you control your salt intake, your blood pressure levels will also be normalized.
5. Foods High in Sugar, Starch, and Carbs
Cutting down on certain foods high in sugar and carbs during menopause would help in many ways. These include crackers, cookies, baked items, white bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, processed foods, etc. As your metabolism lowers due to the fall in hormone levels, you are at an increased risk of weight gain. Cutting down on sugary, starchy, and high-carb foods would help you to remain fit, as it helped me.
It’s a weight loss regime to help one combat weight gain during menopause. Since the focus is not just on lessening calories, you can go for intermittent fasting and have anti-inflammatory foods such as avocados, broccoli, beets, cherries, etc.
Estrogen helps the tissues in your body to retain moisture. A drop in the estrogen levels during menopause could lead to dehydration.
So it’s important to drink sufficient water and other fluids to remain hydrated. If you have a body weight of 150 pounds, then your daily fluid intake should be 75 ounces per day. While water will make up 2/3rds of your fluid intake, the remaining will come from the tea, coffee, and juices you drink.
Menopause shows many symptoms, such as weight gain, sleep disturbance, mood swings, and night sweats. The best way you can manage them is by maintaining a healthy diet. It isn’t easy to part ways with your favorite foods, most of which aren’t healthy for you. I had a tough time as well. But I learned to do away with them for my health’s sake. I found healthier substitutes and am happy with the delicious smoothies, salads, and stews I prepare from fresh fruits and veggies.
So when you eat healthy and take good care of yourself, you’ll be able to manage many of the menopausal symptoms with ease.