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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. This is why it's especially important to pay attention to nutrition and fitness.
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? This happens for a couple of reasons. One reason is that we start losing muscle mass around age 40 and because muscle burns more calories than fat, our daily caloric needs are less. Most people don't reduce their caloric intake to match the lower requirement so weight gain occurs.
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, rather than go on a diet, 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). For more on how to do this, read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
5) Eat a plant-based diet
Plant-based diets focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It does NOT mean becoming vegetarian or vegan. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.
A recent study showed that menopausal women who ate a plant-based diet had the fewest complaints about typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
By eating more plant-based 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). If you don't eat those foods often, you can take a supplement, like this one or buy one at your local drugstore.
What about soy and phytoestrogens?
Contrary to what many people think, soy foods do not increase the risk of breast cancer. In fact, eating a moderate amount of soy foods may actually decrease the risk of breast, prostate, and gastic cancer. A moderate amount is one to two servings a day of whole-soy foods, such as tofu, soy milk and edamame.
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.
6) Exercise on a regular basis
Regular physical activity can help control (or lessen the severity of) most of the problems associated with menopause and mid-life, such as depression, loss of muscle mass and bone density, risk for heart disease and diabetes, and weight gain. The key is to find something you enjoy and integrate it into your daily routine. Find a friend or family member to be active with you and you're more likely to stick with it.
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? Schedule a Discovery Call with me today and let's talk!
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