Menopause is when your MENstrual cycle PAUSEs—for good. It’s not a disease to be treated, but rather a normal stage of life. 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. The early effects of menopause can include symptoms like:
● Weight gain—especially around the midsection
● Hot flashes and night sweats
● Difficulty sleeping
● Unusually moody behavior
Once perimenopause finishes and menopause officially begins, your risks for heart disease and osteoporosis rise.
Why does this even happen? Some of the reasons behind all these changes include your changing hormones, metabolism, stress levels, and lifestyle.
Because your body goes through all these changes, its nutritional needs also change. Here are some expert nutrition tips to help you overcome the effects of menopause.
Nutrition tips for overcoming the effects of 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. Although it’s a little pricy, my absolute favorite way to hydrate is with a bottle of Hint Water. The delicious fruit flavors make it easy to reach our hydration goals.
You know that alcohol isn’t the best drink for your health—especially too much. 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. Not to mention it can make you forgetful and confused, and can even lead to loss of muscle mass, balance problems, falls, and accidents. Plus, it has nutrient-free calories that can contribute to weight gain. Check out this fantastic mocktail recipe to enjoy happy hour without the alcohol: Pomegranate Ginger Grove Mocktail
Cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar
If hot flashes bother you, consider avoiding common triggers like spicy foods and caffeine. Great alternatives to spicy foods are flavorful herbs like fresh rosemary, basil, and thyme. Add less spicy condiments like mustard, grated ginger, and horseradish in place of hot peppers. A non-caffeinated drink that I love is Golden Milk, made with warming spices like turmeric and clove. Here’s the brand I buy: Teaveli Organic Golden Milk Powder
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. Another option - consider having a square of high-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa or greater) for your sweet-tooth fix. While there is a little caffeine in dark chocolate, it is also full of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that support cellular health. The quantity of dark chocolate intake is important here-limit to 1 ounce for the greatest benefit without excessive sugar.
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. We’re talking hot flashes, night sweats, muscle and joint problems, and bladder issues were all worse for those indulging in sweet and processed foods.
Eat smaller quantities of food
Did you know that at 50 years old you need about 200 fewer calories per day than you did during your 30s and 40s? That’s assuming you were a healthy weight and you want to maintain a healthy weight as you get older.
This means that by continuing to eat the same amount of food as you did in your 30s and 40s, you’ll start gaining weight. On average, women in their 50s and 60s gain about 1.5 pounds every year. This adds up fast if you’re not paying attention! Additionally, the weight gain tends to be around the waist. A growing waist circumference is associated with higher risks of diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and cardiovascular disease.
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. The National Institutes of Health has great internet tools to get you started at their “Aim for a Healthy Weight” website.
Eating less food can be challenging! Try having smaller portions and using mindful eating techniques to help you get used to it. One of the best ways to start is by tracking what you’re eating with a food journal for a couple of days. A free and easy tracker to start with is MyFitnessPal found in your cell phone’s app store. Wondering how many calories a day are right for you? Calculate that with this calculator as a general guide.
Eat higher quality foods
Eating less food doesn’t mean you need less nutrition, though. That’s why it’s 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 pasture raised poultry and eggs.
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.
Pro-Tip: Keep your bones strong with calcium and vitamin D. Some of the richest sources of these are dairy products, fish with bones, and foods fortified with these nutrients (check your labels). However, research suggests supplementing with calcium is best done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
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. In addition to food sources, you can also find dietary supplements with high amounts of phytoestrogen. Some women choose to take these supplements instead of hormones.
I always prefer a food-first approach, and soy is a healthful food high in nutrients, fiber and protein. Eating soy foods such as tofu, edamame and tempeh on a regular basis is associated with reduced risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as improving bone health. If you’re not familiar with soy, give it a try!
Final Thoughts on Nutrition Tips to Combat the Effects of Menopause
When it comes to nutrition for menopause a few simple changes can help you minimize the symptoms of menopause.
Be sure to drink enough fluids, but not alcohol; cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar; eat smaller quantities of higher-quality food; and have soy if you enjoy it, but don’t expect it to miraculously solve any bothersome menopausal symptoms.
For more information about nutrition and menopause and beyond, click HERE to schedule a 15 minute introductory consultation with me. We can discuss your goals and determine if we are a good fit to work together. More information about my services can be found at www.nutritiondecode.com
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