Menopause is one of those inevitable life-changing events. There’s so much information all around about it, yet nothing quite prepares you for it. When menopause does kick in during your early 50s or so, staying fit becomes more important than ever, as your body begins this new phase of life. Most medical practitioners and experts will tell you there’s no such thing as a “menopause diet.” But you can eat right and eat smart so your body is plied with all the nutrition it needs to stay strong and fit.
Here’s a look at foods to steer clear of, and some to tuck into, during menopause.
Skip White And Refined
Refined and processed foods, including products made from them like white bread, regular pasta made from refined flour, and white rice, are avoidable. While they will give you carbohydrates to fuel your body, they offer limited nutrition otherwise and are less healthy than fiber-rich whole grain alternatives. The National Health Services suggests that women going through menopause tank up on their carbs in a nutritious form. Wholemeal and wholegrain starchy foods can give you the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need, along with an energy boost from the carbs – and without the added baggage of extra weight gained from refined carbs. Try your hand at cooking up brown rice, switch to whole wheat pasta and trade in that white bread for high fiber wholemeal bread if you haven’t already.1
Cut Down On Caffeine
Endless cups of coffee, energy drinks, or colas may have powered up your days at work or hectic years juggling life’s many responsibilities. But now may be a good time to cut down on your caffeine intake, especially if you find your latte seems to be always be followed by a chaser of hot flashes.2
Eat Less Spice
If spice triggers hot flashes and they’re getting especially unbearable, you may need to pass on that Mexican chilli or hot sauce at the next meal. Spicy food can boost your metabolism, making you even hotter under the collar. Be warned that certain vegetables like spicy peppers (like cayenne) contain their fair share of capsaicin, the compound responsible for that “heat” both on your palate and on your body.3
Skip The Tipple, Ban The Booze
Drinking alcohol can be disastrous for a menopausal woman, and without even realizing it. That’s because alcohol is actually a common trigger for those unwelcome hot flashes.4It can also cause osteoporosis and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease if consumed in excess. And that means under seven drinks a week, with a maximum of three on any single day.
What you also need to be careful about is interactions between alcohol and medication for problems like indigestion, arthritis, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.5 According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women as well as older people are more at risk because of the slower pace at which the body breaks down alcohol. By extension, you expose yourself to the risk of harmful side effects for longer when you’re an older woman at the menopausal phase and might be taking one or more of these medications already.6
Consuming soy and soy products have helped some menopausal women cope with hot flashes. In one study of 75 postmenopausal women who had a minimum of seven hot flashes every day, soy isoflavone extract intake for a 16 week period resulted in a 61 percent reduction in their incidence of hot flashes. You can get your soy from tofu, soy meal or grits, or even soy flour. Researchers suggest taking in about 10 to 15 gm of soy protein every day. 7 Soy works for your body at this time because it contains phytoestrogens or plant estrogens. These mimic estrogen in your body, compensating a little for the lower levels that your own body is now producing. And that’s why sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, green beans, celery, and rhubarb are all a welcome addition to your menopause diet.8
Tank Up On Calcium-Rich Food
Ensure your calcium intake is sufficient to prevent fractures. Get your calcium through broccoli, kale, Chinese cabbage, or from dairy products like yogurt and skimmed milk. Fortified foods are another way to up calcium intake.
Why calcium? Menopause can cause bone loss as a result of declining estrogen levels in the body which reduces the amount of calcium your body absorbs while also causing bone resorption where calcium from your bones is broken down and enters the bloodstream. Estimates put the decline in bone mass to between 3 and 5 percent for every year in the time immediately after you go through menopause. After you turn 65 this decline slows to under 1 percent each year.
While hormone replacement therapy remains the primary line of defense to increase calcium levels by increasing progesterone and estrogen levels, you can do your bit by ensuring you have the recommended amount of calcium through your diet as well. Ensure you get to about 1,200 mg/day when you’re postmenopausal.9
Feast On Fatty Fish, Fortified Milk, And Farm-Fresh Eggs
You’ll also need to get enough vitamin D (30 ng/mL that translates to 400 to 600 IU), to ensure your body is able to make the most of its calcium intake.10 That means you can indulge your love of seafood – especially fatty fish like sardines, herring, mackerel, or salmon. Enjoy your breakfast of Vitamin D fortified milk or cereal, or have an egg now and then.11
According to the American Heart Association, heart attacks in women tend to go up about a decade after they hit menopause.12 Fat soluble vitamin D has a vital role to play in cardiovascular health, as studies have found that people with lower levels of the vitamin tend to be at greater risk of having high blood pressure and seeing more calcium buildup in their arteries. People with inadequate vitamin D may also be more susceptible to experiencing heart failure or having a heart attack or a stroke.13
Have Lots Of Fresh Vegetables And Fruits
Healthy eating is something that’s important at any phase of your life. If you’ve always eaten lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, just keep up the good work to ensure you stay healthy. If you haven’t, it’s never too late to change your ways. As the American Heart Association mentions, this is the stage of life when high-risk behavior from your younger days (like smoking or eating high-fat food) will take its toll. One way to counter it is to get the formula right now.14
Add color to your diet with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. Studies have found that the rich antioxidant content they offer, combined with the fiber content, are great for your health. You might even cut your risk of heart attack by ensuring you get your daily recommended intake of nutrients through fresh produce.15
|↑1||Diet and the menopause, NHS.|
|↑2||Rector-Page, Linda G. Linda Page’s Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-healing for Everyone. Healthy Healing, Inc., 2000.|
|↑3, ↑4||A meno-menu: 6 simple instructions for a healthy diet, The North American Menopause Society.|
|↑5||Drink to Your Health at Menopause, or Not? The North American Menopause Society.|
|↑6||Harmful Interactions, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.|
|↑7||Philp, Hazel A. “Hot flashes-a review of the literature on alternative and complementary treatment approaches.” Alternative Medicine Review 8, no. 3 (2003): 284-302.|
|↑8||Eat to ease the menopause, BBC Good Food.|
|↑10||North American Menopause Society. “The role of calcium in peri-and postmenopausal women: 2006 position statement of the North American Menopause Society.” Menopause (New York, NY) 13, no. 6 (2006): 862.|
|↑11, ↑13||Vitamin D, University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑12||Menopause and Heart Disease, American Heart Association.|
|↑14||Menopause and Heart Disease, American Heart Association.|
|↑15||Diet rich in antioxidants can cut heart attack risk, NHS.|