Nutrition Tips to Help You Gracefully Navigate Menopause
Menopause. It’s been called the “Change of Life” because it marks a distinct end of one season of a woman’s life and the beginning of another. While the physiological and emotional changes that it brings can be challenging, you can navigate this phase of your life more easily with a few simple nutrition tips.
Menopause “officially” starts 12-months after your last period. That happens on average, around the age of 51. This change doesn’t happen overnight, though. There are usually a few years of the menopausal transition, sometimes called “perimenopause.” Perimenopause often starts in the early- to mid-40s. This is when you may start feeling symptoms like:
- Weight gain—especially around the midsection
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
Once perimenopause finishes and menopause officially begins, your risks for heart disease and osteoporosis rise. This happens as a result of your changing hormones, metabolism, stress levels, and even, lifestyle. Because your body goes through all these changes, your overall nutritional needs also change. Here are some expert nutrition tips to help you more easily navigate menopause.
Drink enough fluids
As you age, you may slowly lose your sense of thirst. This means you can become less hydrated without even noticing it, through no fault of your own. Plus, some key menopausal symptoms may be improved simply by drinking more fluids. If hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, or bladder infections are affecting you, try drinking at least six 8-oz glasses per day to help hydrate you. Ideally, that drink is water or herbal tea.
We all know that alcohol isn’t the healthiest of beverages, especially if when we consume too much. That’s even more true during menopause. Alcohol can worsen hot flashes and make it harder to stay asleep. It can also increase your risk of getting or worsening many health conditions. Alcohol can also increase the forgetfulness that some women experience temporarily as they enter menopause. Moreover, it can even lead to loss of muscle mass, balance problems, falls, and accidents. Finally, it has nutrient-free calories that can contribute to weight gain.
Cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar
If hot flashes bother you, consider avoiding common triggers like spicy foods and caffeine. Similarly, reducing your intake of foods high in sugar will help to reduce not only your hot flashes, but hormonal imbalances and inflammation as well.
When it comes to sugar, the simplest way to cut down is to replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water or herbal tea. If the thought of cutting out all desserts doesn’t sound fair, try eating smaller portions or even half-sized desserts. A recent study showed that menopausal women who ate more sweets, fats, and snacks suffered from menopausal symptoms more than those who ate more fruits and vegetables. In fact, hot flashes, night sweats, muscle and joint problems, and bladder issues were all worse for those who consumed foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
Skip the carbonated beverages
Bone loss becomes a serious issue during menopause. Carbonated beverages can contribute to bone loss, osteoporosis, and dental problems as you age. Try water with a splash of lemon or lime instead.
Eat smaller quantities of food
On average, women in their 50s and 60s gain about 1.5 pounds every year. By the time you are 50 years old, you need about 200 fewer calories per day than you did during your 30s and 40s. By continuing to eat the same amount of food as you did in your 30s and 40s, you’ll start gaining weight.
If you’re at a healthy weight when you reach menopause, being mindful of your overall food intake is important step to avoiding those extra pounds. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to lose weight, try to eat about 500 calories less than what you need to maintain your weight. Eating smaller serving sizes and using mindful eating techniques can help you reach a healthy weight. Avoiding eating large meals close to bedtime carries the added benefit of helping you sleep better.
While eating less food can be hard, you don’t have to suffer or starve. Part of navigating menopause gracefully includes upgrading your food choices. The higher the quality of foods you consume, the easier it will be to lose weight and the less inflammation you’ll experience as you age.
Eat higher quality foods
Eating less food doesn’t mean you need less nutrition, though. That’s why it’s really important to eat quality foods with a lot of nutrients (i.e., nutrient-dense foods). These include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. When it comes to protein for your muscles and bones, eat legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and/or poultry. Your bones love calcium and vitamin D. Some of the richest sources of these are dairy products and fish with bones.
A recent study showed that menopausal women who ate the most greens had the fewest complaints about typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. By eating more nutrient-dense foods like these ones you’ll get more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein—all of which are very important to maintain your health at and beyond menopause.
What about soy and phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen—the hormone that your body slows down the production of during menopause. Soy is the best-known food containing these phytoestrogens and is often recommended for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
Research shows inconsistent results when it comes to phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms. That means some studies show a small reduction in hot flashes, while others don’t. A recent review of 23 studies looked at the effect of phytoestrogen supplements on postmenopausal women. It found that some women (those who had diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol) who took the supplements weighed about 2 pounds more than women who were not taking phytoestrogen supplements. This was the opposite for healthy women taking phytoestrogens, who tended to weigh less about 0.6 pounds less than those not taking phytoestrogens.
Since soy and phytoestrogens are not necessarily healthy for every woman, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare professional first before adding these to your diet.
When it comes to nutrition for menopause a few simple changes can help you navigate menopause more easily. The functional medicine approach to menopause not only helps to alleviate your symptoms, but also addresses and reduces your risk of developing long-term conditions related to the change of life.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2018, December). The Menopause Years. Retrieved from
The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
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