Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life as her menstrual cycles come to an end. However, there are times women are prematurely thrown into medical menopause from having a complete hysterectomy. The symptoms are primarily the same, the only difference being the age and activity level.
The transition and symptoms associated with menopause can last for several years. While menopause is linked to many uncomfortable symptoms and increases your risk of certain diseases, your diet may help reduce symptoms and ease the transition. This blog article discusses how what you eat may affect your symptoms.
What Changes Happen During Menopause?
During the transition to menopause and beyond, the hormone estrogen begins to decline, disrupting your normal cyclical patterns of estrogen and progesterone. Declining estrogen levels negatively impact your metabolism, potentially leading to weight gain. These changes may also affect your cholesterol levels and how your body digests carbohydrates.
Many women experience symptoms like hot flashes and difficulty sleeping during this transition period. Additionally, hormone changes lead to declined bone density, which can increase your risk of fractures. Fortunately, making changes in your diet may help relieve menopause symptoms.
Foods for Menopause
There is evidence that certain foods may help relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, poor sleep and low bone density.
Vitamin D & Calcium
The decline in estrogen levels during menopause can increase women’s risk of fractures.
Consuming Dairy products or taking a supplement that contains calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins D and K — all of which are essential for bone health.
In one study, women with the highest intake of vitamin D and calcium had a 17% reduced menopausal symptoms.
Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may benefit women going through menopause.
Foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon and anchovies, and seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds.
Whole grains are high in nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins, such as thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid.
A diet high in whole grains has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and premature death.
In a review, researchers found that people who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day had a 20–30% lower risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, compared to people who ate mostly refined carbohydrates.
Whole-grain foods include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, barley, quinoa, Khorasan wheat and rye. Look for “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient on the label when evaluating which packaged foods contain primarily whole grains.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, fiber and antioxidants. For this reason, American dietary guidelines recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
In a one-year intervention study in over 17,000 menopausal women, those eating more vegetables, fruit, fiber and soy experienced a 19% reduction in hot flashes compared to the control group. The reduction was attributed to the healthier diet and Weight loss.
Cruciferous vegetables may be especially helpful for postmenopausal women. Dark berries may also benefit women going through menopause. In an eight-week study in 60 menopausal women, eating more servings of fruits and vegetables, lowered blood pressure compared to a control group.
In another eight-week study in 91 middle-aged women, those who took 200 mg of grape seed extract supplements daily experienced fewer hot flashes, better sleep and lower rates of depression, compared to a control group.
Phytoestrogens are compounds in foods that act as weak estrogens in your body.
Recent research suggests they benefit health — especially for women going through menopause.
Foods that naturally contain phytoestrogens include soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, flaxseed, barley, grapes, berries, plums, green and Black tea.
The decline in estrogen from menopause is linked to decreased muscle mass and bone strength. For this reason, women going through menopause should eat protein. Guidelines recommend that women over 50 eat 0.45–0.55 grams of protein per pound (1–1.2 grams per kg) of body weight daily — or 20–25 grams of high-quality protein per meal.
In the US, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight for all adults over age 18, which represents the minimum needed for health.
The recommended macronutrient distribution range for protein is 10–35% of total daily calories
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. Foods naturally high in protein include eggs, meat, fish, legumes and dairy products. If you cannot eat the amount of protein, there are many amazing collagen and protein supplements.
Foods to Avoid
Avoiding certain foods may help reduce some of the symptoms linked to menopause, such as hot flashes, weight gain and poor sleep.
Added Sugars and Processed Carbs
High blood sugar, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been linked to higher incidence of hot flashes in menopausal women.
Processed foods and added sugars are known to raise blood sugar rapidly. The more processed a food is, the more pronounced its effect on blood sugar may be.
Therefore, limiting your intake of added sugars and processed foods, such as white bread, crackers and baked goods, may help reduce hot flashes during menopause.
US guidelines recommend keeping your added sugar intake to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake — so if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, less than 200 calories, or 50 grams, should come from added sugars.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Studies have shown that caffeine and alcohol can trigger hot flashes in women going through menopause. It may be worth testing whether eliminating caffeine affects your hot flashes.
Another factor to consider is that caffeine and alcohol are known sleep disruptors and that many women going through menopause have trouble sleeping. So, if this is the case for you, consider avoiding caffeine or alcohol near bedtime.
Avoiding spicy foods is a common recommendation for women going through menopause.
As your reaction to spicy foods may be individual, use your best judgment when it comes to including spicy foods in your diet and avoid them if they seem to worsen your symptoms.
High salt intake has been linked to lower bone density in postmenopausal women.
Additionally, after menopause, the decline in estrogen increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Reducing your sodium intake may help lower this risk.
The Bottom Line Menopause is linked to changes in metabolism, reduced bone density and increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, many women going through menopause experience unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flashes and poor sleep. A whole-foods diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein and dairy products may reduce menopause symptoms. Phytoestrogens and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish, may also help. You may want to limit added sugars, processed carbs, alcohol, caffeine and high-sodium or spicy foods as well. These simple changes to your diet may make this important transition in your life easier.
For Added Resources:
Tammy P Drummond-Rowland, R.N. H.N.
Holistic Nurse & Wellness Advocate
Yoga, Breathwork, Meditation for Menopause: