Nutrition in Menopause
Information brought to you on diet and lifestyle in midlife
What you need to know
eat well live well
Menopause, due to a fall in oestrogen levels can bring with it several physical and psychological symptoms, such as weight gain, hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, poor concentration, more frequent headaches, and joint pains. On top of these other changes can occur including higher blood pressure, changes in cholesterol levels (increasing risk of heart disease), and decrease in the density of bones (raising the risk of osteoporosis). Nutrition and lifestyle plays a key role in both the managing symptoms as well as reducing the risk of diseases a such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
keeping you healthy
An increase in weight is a common complaint in midlife. During the menopause, muscle mass reduces which means that fewer calories may be needed. Over time this can lead to weight gain. Being careful about how many calories you consume, your portion sizes and doing more physical activity can help prevent weight gain. Resistance activities, such as using weights, are especially important to both preserve and build muscle mass. Thirty minutes of fast walking a day could lead to around 7kg (15lb) weight loss in a year, and also reduce the risk of heart disease.
Obesity is a growing problem and leads to many lifestyle diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as these conditions are affected by where your body fat is stored, as well as by your weight. Waist circumference (size) can be used to assess your risk of obesity-related diseases. To assess your waist circumference, measure around your middle at a point half-way between your lower rib and top of your hips. Women with a waist circumference of 80cm and over are at an increased risk of obesity related diseases; those with a waist circumference of 88cm and over are at a very high risk.
From the age of about 35, our bone density begins to fall. Losing oestrogen during menopause increases the rate of bone loss, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Taking HRT helps to maintain oestrogen levels and protect bone health. There are also lots of nutrients that help to keep bones healthy, so it’s important to have a balanced diet. Choose a variety of foods and consume plenty of fruit, vegetables and dairy foods as these are a source of calcium. Aim for two to three portions of calcium-rich foods every day. Vitamin D, made by the skin in response to sunlight, is also very important for bone health. In the UK this can only happen between April to September. During this time, it’s recommended you expose your skin to direct sunlight for around 15 minutes, once or twice per day, but avoid burning. All adults should consider taking a daily supplement containing ten micrograms of vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter. Women over the age of 65, those with dark skin, from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds or who have low sunlight exposure should also consider taking a vitamin D supplement of ten mcg per day all year round.
fuel a healthy heart
Menopause can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Top tips for reducing heart disease:
- Eat a Mediterranean style diet to help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. This includes olive oil, and meals based on fish, nuts, beans or pulses.
- Reduce intake of refined sugars like sweets, cakes and soft drinks.
- Reduce salt by avoiding processed foods like ready meals, soups and cooking sauces, and limiting salted snacks.
- Cook from scratch so you can use different ingredients for flavour such as herbs and spices.
- Aim for at least two portions of fish per week, one which should be oily as these are rich in omega-3 fats. Oily fish includes canned sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout and herrings.
- Increase fibre in diet by swapping to wholegrain breads, high fibre breakfast cereals and brown rice. Oats, wholegrain cereals and breads as well as pulses like lentils, chickpeas and beans are all excellent sources of fibre and heart friendly.
Eat to manage symptoms
keep blood sugars stable
Plant oestrogens (also called phytoestrogens) are very similar to human oestrogen. If eaten regularly, and in sufficient quantities, they can start to have mild oestrogen-like effects – which is useful as oestrogen levels decline. For some women these effects could be sufficient to help relieve menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flushes. They seem to work better for some women than others which might be down to differences in gut bacteria. Consuming plant oestrogens several times a day appears to be more effective compared to one larger dose. foods containing plant oestrogens (such as soya and linseeds) are also heart friendly so it’s worth trying to include calcium-enriched soya products like milk, yoghurts, soya and linseed bread or edamame beans two to three times each day before opting for supplements.
Reactions to spicy foods may be individual, so use your best judgment when it comes to including spicy foods in your diet and avoid them if they seem to worsen your symptoms.
One of the keys to managing mood swings and maintaining a healthy weight is to keep blood sugar levels balanced. Swings in blood sugar will exacerbate symptoms. Avoiding sugars and refined carbohydrates will avoid the swings and crashes in blood sugars. Stable blood sugars can be achieved by including protein with all meals, and including complex (slow energy release) carbohydrates, such as veggies and unprocessed grains.
Caffeine and alcohol
find your limit
Both caffeine and alcohol can make hot flushes worse so try to moderate intake of caffeine from drinks like coffee, tea and colas or choose decaffeinated drinks if you are sensitive to its stimulatory effects. Keep to sensible alcohol limits – no more than two to three units per day, avoid altogether if you feel it makes symptoms worse.