Menopause is a natural transition that every woman goes through. This phase of life begins twelve months after a woman’s last menstrual cycle and typically occurs at the age of 51, on average, and this can vary from person to person.
Menopause yields many changes throughout the body due, in part, to the decreased production of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. You may know many of the classic menopause symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood and energy changes, and trouble sleeping. But did you know that quite a few metabolic changes can occur as well? Thankfully, through food choices we can help combat some of these shifts. Read on to learn all about these changes, how food can positively affect them, and some delicious options to prioritize during menopause.
Diet-Related Changes That Can Happen During Menopause
When the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone, there can be notable shifts in how the body metabolizes food and absorbs nutrients. Here are some of the effects this can have throughout the body:
- Slowed metabolism, which can result in unwanted weight gain
- Less effective blood sugar management that can increase the odds for metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes
- Higher risk for elevated cholesterol levels which can negatively impact heart health
- Decreased bone mineral density, posing greater risk for osteopenia, osteoporosis, or bone fractures
- Decreased muscle mass potentially leading to frailty
“Eating the ‘same way you always have’ may not have the same effect as it ‘always did,’ because your physiology is actually different than it was,” explains Stasi Kasianchuk MS, RDN, CSSD, CSCS, EP-C, registered dietitian, director of lifestyle Care at Gennev, and exercise physiologist with training and practice in menopause. “This is an opportunity to explore new and perhaps different ways of eating that support your changing physiology and help you to feel your best in your body.”
While these symptoms are of greatest concern once menopause starts, they can also be important to keep in mind during the years-long menopausal transition that can happen between the ages of ages 45 and 55.
However, through intentional food choices, we can manage potential side effects and support a strong and healthy body.
Nutrients to Focus on During Menopause
When looking to address these metabolic concerns, there are some nutrients that we can prioritize to positively influence outcomes. Here are the primary ones:
There is research demonstrating that the change in hormones during the menopause transition alters the bacterial make-up of the gut microbiome,” Kasianchuk says. This alteration can impact so much throughout the body including gut, metabolic, heart, and even brain health. Fiber is incredibly important to support a healthy gut, and it also helps to reduce cholesterol levels while regulating blood sugars and improving satiety. Certain kinds of fiber can even act as prebiotics, or food for our healthy gut bacteria found in the biome.
Protein serves many of the same roles as fiber in terms of blood sugar regulation and satiety but also uniquely helps women maintain functionality. “Protein supports maintaining and increasing muscle mass at a time when muscle naturally decreases and doesn’t have the same level of support from estrogen for building new muscle,” Kasianchuk explains.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When it comes to managing heart health risks associated with menopause, omega-3 fatty acids are a great diet addition. This is largely due to their ability to positively influence cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Foods high in these healthy fats also help to boost satiety, supporting healthy weight maintenance. Plus, though more evidence is needed, omega-3s may support healthy sleep patterns.
Phytoestrogen-rich foods are one avenue we can use to supplement the estrogen losses that occur with menopause. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that act very similarly to natural estrogen in the body. This can help to reduce the severity and frequency of some menopause symptoms, especially hot flashes.
Estrogen also helps the body to retain water (in a good way), so when levels decrease with menopause, hydration becomes even more important. Optimal hydration throughout menopause can support gut, skin, brain, and joint health— helping to prevent brain fog, constipation, and achy joints.
Bone-Boosting Vitamins and Minerals
Finally, we have a whole host of vitamins and minerals that help to support bone health as bone mineral density becomes a greater concern. These include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, and vitamin K and vitamin D.
Foods That Can Worsen Menopause Symptoms
On the other side of the coin, there are also nutrients, ingredients, and food groups that can make menopause symptoms harder to deal with. Some of these include alcohol, added sugar, and highly processed foods, as all of these are pro-inflammatory agents, which can make symptoms worse. Foods high in sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, putting additional strain on the heart and research has found them to be associated with low bone mass in postmenopausal women. Some women report spicy foods also exacerbate hot flash symptoms.
That said, Kasianchuk really emphasizing addition rather than subtraction when it comes to nutrition for menopause: “Instead of looking at what should be removed from the diet, think about what additions can be made to work with and support your changing physiology, rather than fight against it.”
Here are some of the most nourishing foods (and drinks) to eat regularly for a more manageable menopause transition.
Healthy Foods to Eat During Menopause
Yogurt is a great option for people going through menopause—it’s loaded with muscle-building protein and probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help to boost the good bacteria population of the gut microbiome. It’s also packed with bone-health-boosting calcium. In fact, one study found dairy intake to be positively associated with bone strength in postmenopausal women. If you don’t do dairy for one reason or another, alternative yogurts can also be beneficial (though may not provide quite as much protein, calcium, and probiotics, depending on the brand).
There are so many reasons to love salmon if you’re going through menopause. This is thanks to the protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D it contains. Plus, salmon is high in tryptophan, an amino acid that can assist in better sleep. Whether artfully laid over capers, red onion, cream cheese, and a whole wheat bagel or simply sauteed with lemon and garlic, there are lots of delicious ways to enjoy this popular pink fish.
Regardless of whether you opt for raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, or cranberries, all are incredible additions to a menopausal management routine. These berries are great sources of phytoestrogens and loaded with heart-healthy fiber and hydrating water. Plus, they’ll also offer plenty of potassium, vitamin K, and magnesium for strong bones.
Grapes are another great source of phytoestrogens, as well as water, fiber, copper, vitamin K, and resveratrol, a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Grape seed extract has also been associated with improved muscle mass and reduced blood pressure in women experiencing menopause symptoms, according to a small randomized control trial.
In terms of plant-based protein options, it’s hard to beat legumes. Whether it’s chickpeas, lentils, soy beans, black beans, or any other legume you can think of, all of these options will be excellent sources of muscle-building protein and fiber. Chickpeas and soy products like tofu and edamame are particularly awesome additions as they are full of phytoestrogens.
Kale is a fantastic leafy green to turn to when dealing with menopause symptoms. This is thanks to its high fiber, water, calcium, vitamin K, and manganese content. These nutrients combine to support hydration as well as gut and bone health.
When it comes to seeds, chia and hemp are excellent for menopausal women—but flaxseeds might take the cake. This is due to its impressive amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and phytoestrogens. Grind your flaxseeds prior to enjoying, however, as this helps to unlock their nutrients and important benefits.
A nourishing beverage to enjoy during the phases of menopause is green tea. It’s a wonderful source of anti-inflammatory plant compounds like phytoestrogen. It’s relatively low in caffeine compared to coffee and black teas, which can encourage better sleep, optimal hydration, and stable energy levels throughout the day.
All whole grains are beneficial for a healthy menopause diet, but oats are especially fantastic, primarily due to their high amount of soluble fiber. This is the kind of fiber that binds to cholesterol in the small intestine, helping to rid it from the body. It also serves as a prebiotic for our gut bacteria while stabilizing blood sugars and increasing satiety.
“Bone broth contains the amino acids glycine and proline,” explains Kellyann Petrucci, MS, ND, naturopathic doctor, nutrition expert, and author. “Glycine helps support healthy serotonin levels, which encourages deeper and more restful sleep—something that can take a hit during menopause.” This savory broth also usually contains impressive amounts of potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus that help to support bone density. Plus, we can’t forget the healthy dose of hydration this liquid gold provides.
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Courtesy: Real Simple
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance