The best nutrition for menopause is an important issue. At this time of life, it’s more important than ever to eat well, exercise regularly and take responsibility for your health and wellbeing. Are there foods that make menopause worse? Ask most midlife women and they’ll say wine (if that counts as a food!). Alcohol is not your friend in the menopause years.
So what should you eat and how can your diet help your menopause symptoms?
Why is there a spare tyre around my waist?
When trying to understand what to eat during the menopause, this is a good place to start: one of the reasons we put weight on around the middle as we approach the menopause is because abdominal fat is an important source of oestrogen. Bear with me, it’s relevant… During our reproductive years, oestrogen (our sex hormone) is primarily derived from our ovaries. As the ovaries begin to produce less and less of these hormones, our bodies turn to the adrenal glands for a supply of sex hormones. Still with me?
READ MORE 11 ways to lose menopause belly fat.
The trouble is that the constant stress of modern life is thought to reduce the ability of the adrenals to produce an adequate supply of sex hormones, and so the body then turns to – guess where – the abdominal fat as its preferred source.
What this means is that this fat does become hard to shift, but focusing on adrenal support and stress reduction during your reproductive years can make a significant difference. It also makes sense to look after your adrenals during and after menopause, as well as doing your utmost to reduce stress.
Great foods for adrenal support are almonds, avocados, brazil nuts, kale, walnuts, oranges, celery, kidney beans and dried figs. Nutrients to support the adrenals include magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C.
What the hell can I do about hot flushes?
Hot flushes are common perimenopausal symptoms and can be life disrupting. They are caused by decreasing oestrogen levels but you might be making them worse with bad diet and lifestyle choices. The following are all baddies: increased sugar consumption; anxiety or tension; excess weight; caffeine and alcohol; refined carbohydrates and smoking.
Providing oestrogen-like plant chemicals (phytoestrogens) can help to calm temperature fluctuations. These can be derived from fermented soy products (tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce), flax seeds, alfalfa sprouts and sprouted mung beans – try increasing these foods in your diet. Sage has also been found to help with sweating and hot flushes, so use it in cooking or taken as a supplement.
I’m as moody and emotional as a teenager – I feel like sending myself to my room. Help!
Low mood, depression and anxiety are all common symptoms of the peri/menopause but they are not inevitable – and you can do something about them. Avoid alcohol and caffeine for a start (or at least limit them), as they may make symptoms worse.
READ MORE Menopause and anxiety, the lowdown.
Make sure your diet is packed full of essential nutrients. Oily fish, lean meat, plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and pulses will provide you with the minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, protein and fats required for good mental health.
What can I do to clear the brain fog?
Memory loss and brain fog are not uncommon during perimenopause, and can be as difficult to deal with as physical symptoms like hot flushes. So what can be blamed? It’s a long list. Causes are likely to be: Less available oestrogen for the brain; poor sleep due to night sweats; dietary insufficiencies and blood sugar imbalance.
The solution? Ensure that you’re eating enough healthy fats and protein, and include plenty of vegetables, including the dark green leafy stuff and cruciferous veg like cauliflower and broccoli.
Am I going to get osteoporosis?
It’s true that as oestrogen levels decline, our bone health often suffers. This is because one of the functions of the hormone oestrogen is to keep calcium in the bones.
To help prevent bone density loss, do some weight bearing exercise daily – this could be yoga, working out with weights, even lunges or squats whilst brushing your teeth. Also, make sure you are eating a diet that provides you with plenty of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.
For your calcium, as well as dairy products, it can be obtained from sesame seeds, almonds and all dark green vegetables. For magnesium, good sources are dark chocolate (in moderation!), seeds and dark green vegetables. And for Vitamin D, you’ll get in from oily fish and liver, or ask in your health shop for a good quality supplement.
Will I ever have a good night’s sleep again?
As our sex hormones fluctuate during the perimenopause and lower as we enter menopause, sleep can be severely disrupted. The change in hormone levels can cause hot flushes and sweating, which is usually the cause of this insomnia.
READ MORE Menopause and sleep, what you need to know.
However, there are dietary tips that you can try to reduce severity of symptoms. Firstly, avoid alcohol before bed, as it depletes REM sleep and can result in night time waking. Avoid caffeine after lunch, and avoid eating for at least two to three hours before bedtime so that you are not going to bed on a full stomach.
My libido is missing in action
To prevent this happening and to continue having an active sex life, it is important to pay attention to your diet. The thyroid gland plays an important role in how energized we feel, so eating to support it will make a different.
Try including avocado, pulses, seeds, lean meat and fish in your diet. And include food sources of zinc, like shellfish, seeds and green vegetables, as zinc is necessary for the production of testosterone which increases libido.
My face is sprouting rogue hairs
For some women, as oestrogen levels drop, testosterone can become more dominant and it is this that can result in an increase in thick, coarse and dark hairs. For some this might mean a few stray hairs on the chin, for others there is a change in texture and increase in hair on the upper lip.
Losing weight and focusing on blood sugar balance can help, as this can reduce the amount of circulating testosterone. For improved blood sugar balance, cut out added sugar and refined carbs. Instead, focus on increasing vegetables in your diet and ensuring adequate protein and healthy fats from nuts and seeds (and their oils) and oily fish. And avoid drinking too many caffeinated drinks – try and stick to a maximum of two a day.
READ MORE The best foods for your age and stage.
How can I improve my mood?
A good, relaxed mood is all down to the brain chemical serotonin. In order to up your serotonin levels, it’s important to optimize gut health, as this is the site of most of our serotonin production.
For a happier gut, tuck into fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi pickles, natural live yoghurt and apple cider vinegar, as they are thought to improve the balance of bacteria that inhabit our gut (the gut microbiome) and are so important for our health.
Read more from Alli at Feedyourhealth.co.uk