SWISS MEDICAL EXPERTISE: ZURICH/SWITZERLAND, MALLORCA/SPAIN

11 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by SENSES Team
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From the unexpected hormonal shifts affecting your mood to the constant battle of adjusting the thermostat to relieve night sweats- life with menopause is not easy! The transition can be life-changing, with up to 30 symptoms lurking around every corner. While hormonal support is always available to fight back, deciding what you put on your plate is a lesser-known secret weapon in this life-long battle against menopause.

Good nutrition remains a cornerstone for healthy menopause and must be integral to the management plan to prevent relevant chronic diseases. [1] But does that mean you need to eat differently during menopause? Is the concept of having the best diet for menopause a myth or reality? What is the secret recipe to master menopause?

This article illuminates the relationship between nutrition and menopause and discusses the tweaks needed to make this time more bearable.

Current medical practice recommends many medical solutions, such as HRT, to fight the endless parade of menopause symptoms. Alongside these potions and pills, choosing the right foods for menopause can be a game-changer in keeping these pesky symptoms in control or even bidding them a final farewell.

The following is a breakdown of foods that should and should not be included in an optimal menopause-specific nutrition plan.

What to Eat During Menopause?

Nutrition greatly impacts all parts and processes of your body, particularly during the menopausal transition. How you choose to feed your body can help ease the associated symptoms by promoting healthy digestion, promoting hit health, and ensuring enough levels of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and oxidants.

  • Dairy: Hormonal changes are the hallmark of menopause, with expected dips in estrogen and progesterone. Because progesterone naturally carries sleep-inducing properties, it’s declining levels can make you struggle with falling and staying asleep post menopause. Dairy products can be a go-to solution to combat these sleep issues if you are not lactose intolerant. These products’ high amino acid content has been linked to improved sleeping habits. [2] On top of sleep regulation, dairy products also deliver copious amounts of vitamin D and K to improve bone density and reduce the risk of bone fractures.
  • Fruit and Vegetable: Dozens of research trials support the use of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit to ease menopause symptoms. Fiber-rich fruit and veggies, in particular, have been associated with reduced incidence of hot flashes, so stocking up in your pantry seems like a good idea.
  • Healthy Fat: While fat is widely advertised as a notorious food component, it has many healthy variants that support women going through menopause. Fatty fish, flax seeds, ad chia seeds are some examples of these healthy variants naturally infused with omega-3 fatty acids that potentially alleviate night sweats. [3] Some anecdotal evidence proposes them as a natural remedy to reduce hot flashes, though more research is needed to prove it.
  • Phytoestrogens: Naturally found in barley, berries, green and black tea, plums, and soybeans, phytoestrogens share a similar chemical structure to estrogen, the primary female sexual hormone. Because the majority of menopausal symptoms are related to falling estrogen levels, pumping up the body with a natural alternative, like phytoestrogens, is a sensible option. Hence, many experts routinely recommend phytoestrogen-rich foods for menopause control.

Foods to Avoid During Menopause

When it comes to choosing the best diet for perimenopause or post-menopause, what you cut out carries as much weight as what you add. The rule of thumb, before you decide what to ditch, is to pay attention to your body and single out any triggers that may be worsening the menopausal symptoms. Following are some general foods that experts recommend taking a break from to make menopause more manageable:

  • Spicy Food: For women struggling with night sweats and hot flashes, cutting back on hot sauce and curries should be the way forward. Unsurprisingly, these spiced-up foods can boost the body temperature, triggering or worsening these symptoms. Avoid jalapenos, hot salsa, and cayenne pepper, or consider swapping them with other flavoring herbs, like basil or thyme, to enjoy your meals without the fear of drenching in sweat later on.
  • Coffee and Alcohol: As much as we all love a morning cup of steaming hot coffee, caffeine is one of the major dietary elements triggering menopausal hot flashes and potentially making them worse. [4] The same holds true for alcohol, which is to be equally blamed for night sweats, hot flashes, and sleep-related issues. It even promotes weight gain, which brings in a myriad of complications related to menopause, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Salty Food: Many believe salt is a harmless mineral that perks up daily meals. However, for menopausal women, having too much of it can considerably increase the risk of complications. For instance, it can elevate blood pressure and reduce bone density, making them vulnerable to heart disease and fractures, respectively. Hence, cutting back on salt and restricting its use is highly recommended.
  • Starchy, High-Carb Food: Pasta is the go-to comfort food for many women, but remember that when your body goes through menopause, it starts processing carbohydrates differently. Essentially, menopause can slow down the metabolism, which makes the carbohydrate breakdown slower and weight gain faster. While there is no magic solution to keep weight gain in check, cutting off starchy carbohydrates like white pasta, white bread, biscuits, white rice, and potatoes is the way forward. The same holds true for processed food, which the body struggles to manage and eliminate, leading to weight gain and other complications.

Tweaking your diet to control menopause is easier said than done. It can be particularly tricky for people with dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, that stop them from eating essential foods.

Taking supplements can be a great way to fill in any nutritional gaps your body requires. However, discussing these supplements with a healthcare provider before using them is essential to ensure no harm is done.

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral for postmenopausal women. While dietary supplementation is always favorable, it is not the only way to regulate the daily calcium intake, especially in people with lactose intolerance or vegan lifestyles. Research favors over-the-counter calcium supplements, targeting a dose of 1,200 milligrams per day in divided doses for better gut absorption. [5]

Vitamin D

Do not skip your daily vitamin D dose, especially when trying to achieve optimal calcium levels. Both are dependent on one another as the body cannot absorb calcium without having adequate levels of vitamin D. Additionally, the combination is crucial to improve and maintain bone structure, especially in vulnerable individuals like postmenopausal women.

Interestingly, vitamin D does much more for menopausal women than just maintaining bone health. Research has shown that its supplementation can also play a role in alleviating genitourinary symptoms related to menopause. [6]

While many women prefer making their own vitamin D from daily sun exposure, most require a boost. Consider talking to a doctor about checking your vitamin D levels to evaluate the need for supplementation.

Wild Yam

If you are looking for the best diet for post-menopausal women, you are likely to have come across wild yam as a potential remedy to try. Available in tinctures and extracts, many vouch for its ability to positively affect menopausal symptoms due to the presence of a pro-estrogen component called diosgenin.

While research so far has not shown wild yam to have a significant effect on menopause symptoms, the remedy is seemingly harmless and can be given a try.

Black Cohosh

This North American herb has a long history of use for managing estrogen-related medical issues. In some cases, this natural herb has been shown to boost estrogen levels and control specific menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats.

Available in capsule form, using black cohosh is quite easy. However, discretion is advised as the supplement is not currently FDA-approved and may require prior consultations with a doctor to deem the safety and suitability of its daily use.

In addition to what you choose to put on your plate, how you eat can also contribute to better symptom management. Following are some tips to keep in mind:

Begin with smaller changes

While you may be tempted to add healthy foods to your diet, keep the process slow. Make sure you give your body enough time to adapt to a new food item by eating in smaller amounts. For instance, add a small scoop of lentils to your lunch or have a handful of seeds or nuts for a snack. Smaller changes are easier to begin with and more achievable as they give the body a better chance to get used to them.

Expand your pantry option

Recent research has highlighted the significance of consuming plant-based foods that are good for the gut and trigger a positive ripple effect on overall health. So while you are invested in choosing more from the main food groups, like carbohydrates, dairy, and fruit and vegetables, getting a top-up from plant-based foods like beans, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts is the key.

Keep your body weight in mind

An expanding waistband is a common part of menopause for many women. This weight gain is owing to a metabolic shift combined with lifestyle habits and requires attention to maintain overall health. Hence, experts recommend making tweaks in the menopause diet keeping in mind that you are not eating too much for your needs. At the same time, restricting food is also not recommended as it can make you perceive things negatively.

With tons of complex menopause nutrition guidelines currently available, it can become difficult to follow through and do what’s necessary to keep your health in check. To make things easier in day-to-day life, experts recommend dividing the daily plate of food into four quarters, each with fist-sized portions of the main food groups.

First Quarter

The first quarter of your plate must contain protein-loaded food, such as chicken, fish, beans, and legumes. Because most of these foods also have a good portion of fat, this quarter of your plate can easily cover two important macronutrients. Many of the protein-based foods have high iron levels that support perimenopausal women having a heavy period flow.

Second Quarter

The next quarter of your plate must have a fist-sized portion of food with complex carbs to give the body enough fiber and lots of energy. Women with a sedentary lifestyle can consider having this quarter once for lunch or dinner to support menopause and healthy weight management. However, those with a physically active life or job should include this quarter at lunch and dinner to ensure sustained energy levels.

Third and Fourth Quarter

The third and fourth quarters of your plate must be entirely dedicated to vegetables. Eating vegetables has a dual advantage of getting enough fiber and loading up on menopause-friendly minerals and vitamins that support mental and physical health. Ensure one of these portions includes leafy greens like cabbage, watercress, or spinach, as they are particularly high in calcium and magnesium. Leafy greens are also a great source of vitamin K, which strengthens bones, and vitamin C, which boosts collagen production and reduces the risk of fractures from falls.

By following the method mentioned above, it is possible to achieve optimal health during and after the menopausal transition without worrying about calorie counting. This approach also ensures that you get the appropriate balance of micro- and macronutrients to support the body through the hormonal transition without much effort.

Despite being a natural and anticipated event, menopause is tricky and can easily throw anyone in a loop. However, checking what you eat and maintaining a balanced diet is a good way to fight off the curveballs it throws your way. Arm yourself with the right nutritional choices and use it as a secret weapon to tackle this dreaded change one bite at a time.

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