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. 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.
Why does this 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 manage the common symptoms of menopause.
Nutrition tips for Menopause
1) 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.
2) Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation
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. Plus, it is generally high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain. Try some of the new m
3) Cut down on processed foods, caffeine, and sugar
If hot flashes bother you, consider avoiding common triggers like spicy foods and too much caffeine. Coffee and tea in moderate amounts are fine but large amounts of caffeine, especially from sugar-sweetened drinks, can make hot flashes worse.
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.
4) Be aware of mindless eating
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.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to lose weight, be mindful of when and why you are eating. Mindless eating is the quickest way to consume excess calories without realizing it and this almost always leads to weight gain.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to internal cues for hunger and fullness and heed those cues. Don't try to avoid hunger; instead, EAT when you're physically hungry and stop when you're full and satisfied (you're much less likely to overeat later on).
5) Eat higher quality foods
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, eggs, 76fish, and/or poultry.
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, 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: Your bones love 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).
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 phytoestrogens. Some women choose to take these supplements instead of hormones.
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.
If you’re interested in taking these phytoestrogens, speak with your healthcare professional first.
When it comes to nutrition for menopause, a few simple changes can help you navigate this time in life. Combine them with regular physical activity and you'll have the best chance for lessening the symptoms and staying healthy.
Want a customized fitness and nutrition plan? Ask me about Women in Motion!
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