Food for Thought: Good Nutrition During Menopause
By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on March 07, 2023
BENEFITS OF PROPER NUTRITION DURING MENOPAUSE AND BEYOND
Looking for a “menopause diet,” a magical mix of foods and supplements that will allow you to sail through your change of life without so much as a hot flash or an extra pound?
Sorry, the cure-all diet doesn’t exist, BUT that doesn’t mean what you eat during mid-life is unimportant. Actually, your diet matters MORE now than it did when you were younger. Your metabolism is slowing and your muscle mass is decreasing. Your body is producing less estrogen, which affects the organs and physical process and your metabolism.
Eat a Healthy, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
How you eat and care for yourself now will help determine how you look and feel for the rest of your life. Eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet may reduce:
WILL YOU GAIN WEIGHT DURING MENOPAUSE?
It’s not a given that women will gain weight during or after menopause, but most do. Lack of sleep caused by hot flashes and night sweats interferes with the hormones that regulate appetite, which can cause you to eat even when you’re not hungry.
There’s only one way to lose weight: burn more calories than you consume and select the right calories. Diets work differently for different women, but I recommend one of the following diets:
- Mediterranean diet
- MIND diet - great for memory, and is the Mediterranean diet plus beans.
Mediterranean and MIND Diets
The Mediterranen and MIND diets call for the following foods:
- Whole grains
- Dairy or soy foods rich in calcium
- Some fish - if you don’t eat fish twice weekly be sure to get another form of omega 3 twice weekly
- Some skinless poultry
- Little red meat
- Olive oil
- Beans (garbanzo, chick peas, navy beans, black beans, pinto beans as egs) for the MIND diet
It’s important to avoid excessive fats like saturated fats, which can be found in animal products and raise cholesterol. The worse fats are trans fats, which are found in commercially packaged foods. Look to ingest healthy fats in moderation like:
- Peanut butter
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
WHAT YOU SHOULD EAT
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has traded its food pyramid for a plate, but the message remains the same. The majority of what you eat should be:
- Fruits, vegetables and grains, with low-fat dairy and lean protein accounting for the rest.
- Portion sizes should be smaller and food choices should be healthier.
I’m sure you have heard about soy and its reputation as the food to eat during menopause. Studies have shown that Asian women who eat a lot of soy tend to have fewer hot flashes and lower rates of breast cancer than American women.
Soy is a rich source of phytoestrogens, compounds that can behave like estrogen in the body. Some women metabolize this substance into equol, a weak estrogen. However, soy is not a cure-all. It does not dissipate all menopausal symptoms and does not work equally for all women.
We don’t recommend any women, particularly breast cancer survivors, take soy supplements, such as pills or powders. Soy foods are fine for women to eat, and soy protein can even lower cholesterol.
I do recommend flaxseed as it contains omega-3s and lignans, which are believed to be anti-cancer agents.
- It's important to eat or drink three to four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day. However, you can eat healthy and still not get the recommended 1,000 mg a day. That’s why we recommend a calcium supplement IF you avoid calcium-rich foods.
- Vitamin D is necessary for the best absorption of calcium and is critical to other aspects of women’s health. Experts recommend 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily to up to 2,000 IU per day.
- Getting enough iron continues to be important even if you are no longer menstruating but you may NOT need an iron fortified cereal. Keeping iron/ferritin levels around 50-70 helps with hair growth and energy.
FOODS TO AVOID DURING MENOPAUSE
- Hot flashes can be triggered by spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine and alcohol. Watch what you eat and see if any of these bring on hot flashes.
- Eat less red meat. It will help keep your cholesterol levels down and lower your risk of heart disease.
- Avoid trans fats, and lots of simple sugars or simple carbohydrates which drive up insulin levels and hunger.
Most mid-life women are concerned about weight gain and changes in their body. Some of this is related to aging and slower metabolism. There are no simple fixes. However by being pro-active, taking charge and being accountable for what and how much you eat and getting regular exercise and adequate sleep you will look and feel better.
Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!
-Holly L. Thacker, MD
Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Thacker is also the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. Her special interests and areas of research including menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health.
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