In this article, I’m focussing on the ‘Nourish’ step of my healthy menopause plan. What are the best foods to support you as you go through the hormonal changes of the menopause?
If you’re in your 40s or 50s, this really is the perfect time to re-think your diet and make positive changes that will nourish you and help you to thrive (not just survive!) through your menopausal journey. Obviously, I can’t cover everything here, and so I’ve picked out some of the key areas that can help you, including looking at whether there are benefits to eating a plant-based diet (spoiler alert: there may well be!). What I won’t be covering is nutrition for bone health and heart health, which are 2 very important aspects to consider for midlife women and which I’ll cover in more detail in future posts.
A great place to start is reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugars in your diet. When you eat foods that are high in refined carbs, such as white rice or white pasta, or that are high in sugar, such as cakes, biscuits and sweets, you get a rapid rise in blood sugar levels which triggers a spike in the fat-storing hormone, insulin. This is just what you don’t need, especially in midlife when you already have declining levels of oestrogen causing you to have more fat around your middle as well as a declining metabolic rate, making it harder to lose any extra pounds compared to when you were in your 20s or 30s. Simple switches from white rice and pasta to the brown varieties and from milk chocolate to dark chocolate, with at least 85% cocoa, will all help. I also recommend switching from fruit juices to whole fruit so that you get the added benefit of the fibre, which helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
Plant oestrogens, known as phytoestrogens, are non-steroidal substances that may reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. The main sources of phytoestrogens are in plant foods including soy beans, flax seeds, lentils and chickpeas. A lot of studies have been done with phytoestrogens, especially with soy-based phytoestrogens, and it has to be said that there are conflicting results, with some studies showing beneficial effects on menopausal symptoms, while others do not. However, Japanese women are typically much less prone to menopausal symptoms than Western women and this has been put down to their high consumption of soy. In fact the evidence points to fermented soy being of most benefit. So this means foods such as miso, tempeh and natto. If you’ve not tried miso before, you can get it as a white or red paste, and it’s really good to add in a teaspoon to soups, stews, or you can add it to the cooking water for rice or you can stir it into houmous. Tempeh may be a bit of an acquired taste as it’s quite strong and meaty. You can use it in stir fries in the same way as tofu. Meanwhile natto is made from fermented soybeans and is described as having a powerful smell and slimy texture! Needless to say, I’ve not yet eaten any natto! If you’re brave enough to try this, it’s worth noting that it is also an excellent source of vitamin K, which supports bone health. Finally, one tip you might like to try is to add seaweed to a tofu or tempeh stir fry because the seaweed may help in metabolising the soy phytoestrogens providing you with even greater benefits.
So what about plant-based diets? Do these help during the menopause? Well apart from anything else, having more vegetables in your diet will increase the amount of complex carbs and so balance blood sugars and it’s likely you’ll automatically have more phytoestrogens in your diet. Both of which as we’ve seen can have a positive impact on your menopausal health. There has also been some interesting research that showed that women going through the perimenopause who ate a vegan diet had fewer symptoms compared with those who ate meat and or fish. And overall during the perimenopause, reduced hot flushes and night sweats were linked with eating more veg and more berries, while decreased physical symptoms such as joint pain and weight gain were linked with eating more veg and in particular more leafy greens. Further research is definitely needed, but given the many other health benefits of vegetables it’s worth considering including more and a greater variety in your midlife daily diet.
It’s important to emphasise that there is no one-size-fits all ‘menopausal diet’. Each person is unique and so you need to take into account any additional health issues you may have that are not related to the menopause as well as your own individual lifestyle.
For more tips and information to help you live healthily through the menopause, please check out my Facebook page.
And if you need help in managing your perimenopausal or menopausal symptom, do get in touch and I’d be happy to organise a free call.