Menopause is an emotionally and psychologically challenging phase of a woman’s life. This phase marks the end of her reproductive years. The biological process is linked to many uncomfortable symptoms and increased risk of certain diseases. Eating well and being physically active will help in making these midlife transitions easier.
What happens during menopause?
Women usually go through menopause in their 40s or 50s. As women age, the reproductive cycle will begin to slow down and prepare to stop. Eventually, ovaries will decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone, two of the main hormones of reproduction.
As estrogen levels reduce, you will experience many body changes such as irregular periods, weight gain, hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and joint pains. You may also experience high blood pressure, changes in cholesterol levels and loss of calcium from your bones which increases the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Fortunately, making changes in your diet and lifestyle can help relieve these menopause symptoms.
Let us discuss in detail how diet plays a role in managing menopausal symptoms.
Healthy eating guidelines for women with menopause
While you might not be able to avoid these menopause symptoms, you can reduce its symptoms through proper nutrition. Clinical studies and research on menopause experiences around the world showed that certain types of foods can help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Eating the foods high in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients will help you to prevent and relieve some of the symptoms.
Here is what to eat during menopause to manage its symptoms in the healthiest way possible:
- Eat more phytoestrogens: These are plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. These compounds will bind with the estrogen receptor sites in the body cells and increase the total estrogenic effect. The dietary intake of phytoestrogens greatly reduces hot flashes, prevents bone loss and helps in managing mood swings. Soya milk and soya flour, linseeds, tofu, pumpkins seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, celery, and green beans are the popular sources of phytoestrogens.
- Eat calcium-rich foods: Bone loss is a serious problem as the estrogen levels drop after menopause. Adequate amount of calcium builds and maintains bone density and prevents the risk of fracture and osteoporosis. A postmenopausal woman will require about 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent source of calcium. Canned fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), tofu, figs, nuts, seeds are also rich in calcium.
- Consume more omega-3s and vitamin B: Omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins are vital for a healthy brain and nerve cell function. They help to bring hormonal fluctuations under control and can help manage irritability and mood swings during menopause. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 will help to soothe the menstrual pain and cramping. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon are rich in omega-3s. Consume more lentils and lean meats to get adequate amounts of B vitamins.
- Watch your vitamins and minerals: Adequate intake of vitamins and minerals will prevent certain menopausal co-morbid conditions and will also manage the unpleasant experiences that menopause can bring. The essential nutrients for menopausal women are calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin B12. Vitamin D and calcium reduces your risk of osteoporosis, while magnesium and vitamin K helps regulate heart rate and rhythm and supports good cardiovascular health. Vitamin B12 plays an irreplaceable role in energy metabolism and keeps you active during this transition period.
- Choose right amount of dietary fats: Right amount of dietary fat may help reduce the risk of diseases associated with aging and menopause. Good dietary fat intake will promote better sleep, provide more energy, reduce cravings for unhealthy foods, and will help in body weight management. Avocado, cheese, nuts, dark chocolate, extra virgin olive oil are some sources of good dietary fats.
- Include quality protein: Decrease in estrogen level during menopause is linked to decreased muscle mass and bone strength. For this reason, women going through menopause should include more protein in their diet. High protein sources include eggs, meat, fish, legumes and dairy products.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are rich in nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins. They are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer during menopause. Whole-grain foods include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, barley, quinoa and rye.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which help prevent cell damage. Add five servings of fruit and vegetables to your plate throughout the day. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli, as well as bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and carrots and brightly colored fruits such as mango, cherries and berries, are loaded with powerful antioxidants.
Foods that may worsen menopausal symptoms
While it’s important to focus on getting necessary nutrients during menopause, there are certain foods that can exacerbate menopausal symptoms.
Here are a few foods to watch out for:
- Spicy foods: According to the National Institute on Aging, intake of spicy food during menopause can trigger sweating, flushing, and other symptoms of hot flashes. Consider avoiding spicy foods like hot peppers, jalapenos and cayenne in your diet.
- Alcohol: Having a glass of wine few times a week probably will not affect your symptoms. But consumption of excess alcohol is linked with the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Alcohol also interferes with sleep and may exacerbate hot flashes, anxiety or depression.
- Processed Foods: Processed and fast foods are high in sodium and sugar. These foods tend to retain water, make you feel bloated and promote weight gain.
- Caffeine: Studies showed that menopausal women who consumed caffeine were more likely to have hot flashes than women who didn’t consume caffeine.
Eating well during menopause may help to maintain bone density and reduce risk of heart disease and associated symptoms. If you are taking regular medications, consult your dietitian or doctor before making any dietary changes.
- Menopause. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/lifestages/menopause.html?start=2 . Accessed on: 23-09-2020.
- Eating right during menopause. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/eating-right-during-menopause. Accessed on: 23-09-2020.
- A natural approach to menopause. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/a-natural-approach-to-menopause . Accessed on: 23-09-2020.
- Brończyk-Puzoń A, Piecha D, Nowak J, et al. Guidelines for dietary management of menopausal women with simple obesity. Prz Menopauzalny. 2015;14(1):48-52.
- Sapre S, Thakur R. Lifestyle and dietary factors determine age at natural menopause. J Midlife Health. 2014;5(1):3-5.
- 6 tips for eating well during menopause and beyond. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/6-tips-for-eating-well-during-menopause-and-beyond/ . Accessed on: 23-09-2020.