Top foods and dietary changes to help see you through the menopause
During menopause it is important to make health a priority and diet plays a role. What you choose to eat can help you to maintain a healthy body weight while also protecting many key areas of your health that are influenced by the loss of oestrogen.
Eating well during menopause and beyond is about focusing on whole foods in their most natural state. Approaching your diet this way ensures that every mouthful of food you eat is highly nutritious and rich in key nutrients to support your health and this includes reducing symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes.
Eat at least three servings of dairy foods or calcium alternatives
The drop-in oestrogen can lead to bone loss during the menopause, which may put some women more at risk of osteoporosis. You can maintain bone density by eating foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins D and K.
A study of 750 postmenopausal women found that those who ate more dairy had significantly higher bone density than those who ate less. Dairy foods are a rich source of many bone nutrients but those who do not eat dairy foods can glean them from foods such as tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, dried spices, tahini, nuts, seeds and fortified foods.
Sleep is also an issue during the menopause and research has shown how foods rich in the amino acid glycine (found in dairy foods) may help to promote deeper sleep. Glycine is also found in protein foods such as meat and fish as well as legumes.
Take a vitamin D supplement
This nutrient works in partnership with calcium to support bone density. Very few foods contain vitamin D and include oily fish, mushrooms and fortified foods. Supplements are recommended during the winter months when UV light is limited but for some women during the menopause may be recommended all year round.
Eat oily fish twice a week
These healthy fats help to reduce inflammation in the body and may help to decrease the frequency of hot flushes and severity of night sweats. Omega 3 fats can be found in oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel. Aim to eat two servings per week or take a supplement. Vegans can source some omega 3 from nuts and seeds but the conversion of this type of omega 3 in the body is poor so they should consider a supplement sourced from sea algae.
Switch to wholegrain foods
These foods include brown rice, quinoa, wholemeal bread, barley, rye, oats and wholemeal pasta. They are high in fibre, shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, which women are more at risk of post menopause. Fibre also binds with oestrogen to help remove it from the body as well as also helping to reduce cholesterol which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Eat foods rich in phytoestrogens
These compounds found in certain plant foods act as weak oestrogens in the body. Soy foods are the richest source but do come with some controversy. Other sources include chickpeas, peanuts, seeds (flax), nuts, barley, grapes, berries, beans, cabbage, sprouts, garlic, onion, spinach, wholegrains and green tea.
A review of 19 clinical trials on women taking soy isoflavones showed that those who took them for at least 4 weeks had a reduced incidence of hot flushes1.
Eat protein with every meal
Protein is essential to maintain muscle mass which has shown to decline in women during the menopause. This nutrient can also help to promote satiety which may help with weight maintenance. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, tofu, Quorn, beans, pulses and lentils and should be included with every meal.
Fill up on fruits and vegetables
This group of foods are one of the richest sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in the diet. Their protection on the body spans many diseases and a high intake of fruits and vegetables has been shown to help in reduce the occurrence of hot flashes.
Avoid sugary foods and other highly processed carbohydrates
High blood sugar, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been linked to a greater incidence of hot flushes. Excessive intake of these foods can play a role in the risk of these conditions.
Keep alcohol and coffee to a minimum
Both alcohol and coffee are known to exacerbate hot flushes in women during menopause. Aside from this they can also impact on your ability to sleep well which is an issue for many women during menopause. Excessive alcohol consumption can also encourage weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease. Try to keep alcohol to a minimum and consume with meals. If coffee is impacting on your sleep and incidence of hot flushes then consider alternatives such as herbal teas.
What you chose to eat and drink will make a difference to your health during the menopause. Try to adopt these dietary changes before menopause and make them long term to help future-proof your health.