7 ways your diet can help manage menopause symptoms
As a woman progresses through the stages of menopause, it is very likely that body weight will fluctuate. Nutrition and diet can play a big role in managing menopause symptoms. Eating a healthy diet can help to reduce hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and weight gain. It can also help to improve energy levels and sleep quality and importantly reduce your risk of associated health conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease which can result from low levels of oestrogen.
During menopause, a woman’s body goes through a number of changes, including:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
There are a number of ways to manage the symptoms of menopause, including lifestyle changes and hormone replacement therapy.
4 Lifestyle Tips to Help with Menopause Symptoms
with menopausal symptoms. Some of the lifestyle changes that can help include:
- Exercising regularly: Exercise can help to reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and improve sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. This includes weight training and light cardio activity.
- Getting enough sleep: A lack of sleep is also associated with an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular outcomes and diabetes and can negatively affect our appetite hormones causing cravings for high calorie or sugary foods or causing loss of appetite.
Getting enough sleep can help to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. Try to create a comfortable sleep space with a separate sheet and duvet in case you need to remove one at night, keep your room cool at night, avoid blue light in the hours before bed or get some glasses that have blue light reflectors in them and avoid caffeine after midday.
- Managing stress: Stress can worsen the symptoms of menopause. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, or spending time in nature. Counselling sessions can also help with stress management.
- Reducing unhealthy activities like smoking: Smoking can worsen the symptoms of menopause.
7 Ways Nutrition Can Reduce Menopause Symptoms
Healthy eating and exercise may seem obvious when it comes to managing menopause and perimenopausal symptoms. However, approaches to this may vary depending on your symptoms and how much they are affecting your daily life. Here are some foods you can eat for symptom management:
The Mediterranean style diet is a great place to start, well researched in its positive effects on heart health, in managing menopausal symptoms and in reducing heart disease risk. This way of eating is rich in heart-healthy nutrients such as healthy fats and fibre. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and unsaturated fats such as olive oil and oily fish. It includes smaller amounts of dairy, eggs and lean meat and limits processed and red meats and ultra processed foods.
1. Eat more oily fish. Oily fish like trout, sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel and salmon can help to reduce inflammation that is associated with menopause. The risk of heart disease increases after the menopause due to the decrease in oestrogen which is an important hormone as it works to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are beneficial to heart health and in maintaining normal cholesterol levels. Therefore, taking HRT containing oestrogen and or optimising your diet and lifestyle can lower your increased risk of heart disease that is associated with the menopause and also reduce cholesterol.
Plant-based sources include flax, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, rapeseed and linseed vegetable oils and soya and soya products such as beans, milk and tofu also contain omega-3’s. It should be highlighted that plant-based sources are not as rich as a source and should be consumed in addition to the diet and therefore you may consider supplementing if you do not consume oily fish.
2. Lentils and chickpeas are a great plant-based source of protein, fibre, and iron. They help to maintain energy levels and support healthy weight management. A decrease in oestrogen in menopause impacts where fat is stored and the rate of body fat gain.
Oestrogen increases the storage of fat around our bums and thighs, which is associated with a ‘pear-shaped body’, whereas increased androgens after menopause increase the accumulation of visceral abdominal fat causing weight gain and redistribution of body fat to the middle and around the organs, including our heart.
This is what’s sometimes known as an ‘apple shaped body’ and in turn can have negative effects on our health. Resistance and weight-based training is also beneficial for central adiposity – that’s weight found around your tummy.
3. Soya is a great way of increasing your calcium intake and works well for anyone with diet restrictions. It helps maintain healthy bone density and around 2 to 3 portions of soy per day may reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
There is also some low strength evidence that isoflavones improve symptoms of vaginal dryness. Soya beans are the main dietary source of isoflavones. A large glass of soya milk (250ml) will provide approximately 25 mg isoflavones, but not all soya foods contain isoflavones due to some processing methods removing them. Isoflavones do not behave like the human hormone oestrogen, therefore you could consider adding in some isoflavones into your diet such as tofu, tempeh, soya milk and yoghurt and edamame beans.
4. Dairy or calcium fortified alternatives provide a wide range of benefits including protein, calcium, vitamin D and probiotics, which are important for our bone health, mood and gut health. During menopause, oestrogen, a hormone that protects and maintains our bone density rapidly declines, increasing our chances of osteoporosis.
50% of women or people assigned female at birth over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture due to poor bone health. Changes to your bone health are silent and may go unnoticed so it’s really important to keep your bones healthy.
It’s essential to live an active lifestyle, including implementing weight-bearing and strength-building exercises to strengthen bones so that you limit your risk of falling and breaking your bones, but also it’s so important to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
- Supplement with 10 micrograms a day of vitamin D – particularly from the months of October – March. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to decrease metabolic disease risk in postmenopausal people.
- Oily fish and eggs are the best dietary sources of vitamin D and you can leave your mushrooms, turned gill side up, in direct sunlight to absorb vitamin D.
- It’s recommended that adults have 700mg of calcium each day. However, requirements increase postmenopausally to 1200 mg a day. Calcium helps to build bones and 90% of calcium is stored in the bones.
- Calcium-rich sources include fortified plant milks and yoghurts, soya products, dairy, fish with edible bones such as sardines, whitebait, pilchards or tinned salmon and malted milk drinks made with milk (be mindful of high sugar content).
- You’ll find some calcium in eggs and you can get around 100 mg calcium per slice of fortified white bread which is twice that of wholemeal bread.
- Add calcium-rich or fortified milk to your hot drink such as soya milk or cow’s milk.
- Spinach, dried fruits, beans, seeds and nuts contain calcium however they are not considered reliable sources as they contain oxalates and/or phytates which reduce how much calcium your body can absorb from them. Therefore, it is better to opt for the above sources mentioned.
- Aim for two to three portions of calcium-rich foods each day. A portion looks like;
- A small yoghurt (dairy or fortified soya)
- A third of a pint or 200 ml semi-skimmed milk will provide you with 240 mg of calcium (cow’s milk and fortified soya milk are the richest sources of calcium you’ll find from shop-bought milk)
- A matchbox-sized piece of cheese
- A milk-based pudding such as custard or rice pudding (be mindful of sugar content)
5. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, and antioxidants and fibre are really important for our mood.
Brain fog, anxiety, stress, mood swings, memory problems and concentration issues are all reported symptoms of menopause. Oestrogen is involved in the production and distribution of melatonin, which is involved in mood and brain function. So when there is a drop in oestrogen associated with menopause the interactions with neurotransmitters are affected which can have a knock on effect on your brain.
The drop in progesterone around menopause can also cause anxiety symptoms and restlessness which has been linked to high blood pressure and sleep disturbances. Studies have shown that dietary change can be associated with improvement in mental health symptoms, and in particular through following the Mediterranean style diet.
It’s really important to look after our gut health to support our mood. Fibre is really important in serotonin production and the gut microbiome plays a major role in the production of neurotransmitters, so by looking after our gut health, this can have a positive effect on serotonin production. We should be aiming for 30g a day of fibre to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
When choosing your fruit and veg, go for as much variety as possible to provide you with different antioxidant properties. Opt for fibre rich carbohydrates and add in some probiotic rich foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and bio live yoghurt to promote good gut health.
6. Nuts and seeds are superheroes when it comes to menopause! Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein, antioxidants, fibre, and healthy fats. They are also rich in key micronutrients such as magnesium and zinc, which are minerals that may help to aid good quality sleep.
Disturbed and poor quality sleep is a normal symptom of perimenopause and menopause but can be really disruptive. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter often referred to as the ‘happy hormone’, is involved in the production of melatonin, ‘the sleep hormone’. Due to the relationship between oestrogen and serotonin, the reduction in oestrogen impacts melatonin, disrupting the body’s sleep-wake cycle. The drop in oestrogen can cause night sweats and the drop in progesterone can cause anxiety symptoms and restlessness causing sleep disturbances.
You may also be experiencing needing to go to the toilet more often or restless leg syndrome. A lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of stroke, cardiovascular outcomes and diabetes and can negatively affect our appetite hormones causing cravings for high calorie or sugary foods but it can also cause loss of appetite.
Other foods that may help to aid sleep are those rich in tryptophan such as poultry, beef, dairy, eggs, fish, seafood, soya foods, milk, peanuts, seeds, bananas and oats, good quality protein sources, omega-3’s from oily fish, carbohydrates and reducing caffeine intake.
A daily serving of nuts is also associated with a reduction of coronary artery disease and decreased total and LDL cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol). Opt for 28- 30g a day, this is about a palm-full of tree nuts or unsalted peanuts.
7. Beta-glucan has been shown to reduce cholesterol. Β-glucan sources include oats, oat bran, oatcakes and pearl barley. The effective dose is 3g a day. A (1g) serving looks like;
- A (30g) bowl of porridge
- 3 oatcakes
- 1 oat breakfast biscuit
- 60g (6 spoonfuls) of pearl barley – add to stews and soups, porridge or as the base of a risotto
- 13g (1-2 tbsp) oat bran – add to smoothies, stews or breakfast cereals
Finally, a recent ZOE study, the largest of its kind, looked into metabolic responses between pre and post menopausal women finding that post- menopausal women had worse metabolic responses to food than those who were premenopausal, showing that it was in fact menopause and the fluctuations in hormones, not age, that contributed to less favourable outcomes. For example, a higher blood glucose reading was observed for post menopausal women after a meal than premenopausal women, highlighting the importance of monitoring for type- 2 diabetes and CVD. They also noted differences in body composition, fasting blood measures, postprandial (after eating) metabolites, lifestyle, diet, microbiome, sleep and mood across sex, age and menopausal status between the groups. This highlights the importance of regular check ups, diet and lifestyle factors that can help to keep you metabolically healthy.
There are a number of ways to manage the symptoms of menopause through nutrition. The best way for you will depend on your individual symptoms and preferences. Talk to your Hertility Menopause Nutritionist or dietician to get a tailored approach to managing your menopausal experience.
Finally, here are some additional tips for managing menopause symptoms:
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids can help to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. All fluids count! If you like milk in your cuppa but don’t drink cow’s milk, add a calcium-fortified milk such as soya milk in order to protect your bone health.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can worsen hot flashes and night sweats.
- For women who experience hot flashes, reducing spicy food intake may help to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
- Dress in layers: This will allow you to adjust your clothing as needed to stay comfortable.
- Use a fan or air conditioner: This can help to cool you down during hot flashes.
- Get regular massages: Massages can help to relieve muscle tension and improve sleep.
- Talk to a Hertility Nutritionist or dietician or your doctor: We’re here to help. Our Menopause Nutrition consultations can tailor an individual plan to your needs.
Good, balanced nutrition can greatly improve many aspects of menopause symptoms. Our Registered Nutritionist is a specialist in menopause nutrition. Get personalised support for hormonal conditions, menopause nutrition whether you are perimenopausal or menopausal. Book your menopause nutritionist appointment now. Choose from next day online appointments.