I recently had a client ask me if weight gain, diabetes, and other health conditions are inevitable when it comes to menopause. It’s important to know that these things are not inevitable at all! Yes, we often see an increase in body fat distribution around our abdomen and as a result increased risk of health conditions but this can be avoided through appropriate diet and exercise intervention. I also realize that considering the role that nutrition plays in relation to perimenopause and menopause, we don’t often hear about why nutrition matters and what we can be doing to improve our symptoms.
When we think about menopausal symptoms, we often think of hot flushes. Hot flushes are something that a lot of women experience and a lot of supplements claim to help. However the evidence in this space is mixed and although many medicines claim to help- whether or not they do is unclear. One area that has been proven to help many women with hot flushes is to focus on a reduction in caffeine, hot and spicy food, and also alcohol. We know that sadly alcohol doesn’t have any health benefits - but a reduction in alcohol intake is proven to support the reduction in risk of liver disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. We also see a lift in mood and improvement in self-esteem and energy levels with a reduction in alcohol which in turn, can influence how we eat and exercise. So before you go forking out for expensive supplements that may or may not have any effect on your symptoms, make sure that the basics such as reducing alcohol and checking caffeine intake.
One thing that is absolutely essential in the management of menopausal symptoms is to consider the health of your whole body- in particular, your gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome refers to the microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses) that live in our gut and play a really important role in our health. What we eat determines our gut microbiota and microbiome. There is also a two-way connection between our gut and brain, meaning that the bugs in our gut can actually influence our mood and therefore what we eat in response to this. There is also a collection of gut microbiota that are involved in the metabolism of estrogen, meaning that our gut bacteria can impact the estrogen levels in our body. To support a healthy colony of gut bacteria- we can focus on reducing processed foods with artificial flavors and colors, and focus on increasing whole, real foods. So we want to be having fruit and vegetables, whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates, including fermented foods, avoiding sweeteners. We can also include nuts and seeds, lean protein and healthy unsaturated fat, olive oil, and avocado.
At any stage of our lives, the basics of whole-body health are still so important. Stress levels, gut health, sleep, water intake, and exercise, all need to be considered. If our stress hormones are high then our body does not want to burn body fat, and our production of free radicals will increase. Focus on restorative sleep, low-intensity exercise for stress reduction, resistance training for muscle retention, and of course drinking enough water.
One last factor that I wanted to touch on is the relationship between nutrition and bone health. This becomes especially important around the time of menopause. A premenopausal 50-year-old woman only has a 2% risk of osteoporosis, while a lady who’s 80 has a 25% risk of osteoporosis- primarily due to lower levels of estrogen. Osteoporosis means that our bones become brittle and more likely to break, which we can imagine would become more debilitating as we age.
Focus on having protein at every meal and snack such as meat, chicken, fish, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy foods. Calcium is incredibly important and our requirements increase hugely after menopause. Ensuring that we include dairy or milk alternatives every day is a great starting point. If choosing plant-based options- then just double-check that these are fortified with calcium. You can also boost calcium intake through tinned fish (including bones), tofu, nuts and seeds, dark green veg, and dried figs.
Simply including some milk and yogurt at breakfast, tinned oily fish and seeds in a salad or omelet at lunch, green leafy veggies, and an additional serving of dairy at dinner / in the evening is a great starting point for calcium intake.
So overall, focus on variety, whole unprocessed foods, and a reduction in processed foods and alcohol. Exercise is important- not just for muscle retention but also for the reduction of stress hormones. If we can reduce our stress hormones through restorative sleep, low-intensity exercise, and general stress-reducing practices, then our health and wellbeing will see huge improvements.
Enjoy food! Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring, and it really can reduce your long-term risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and bowel cancer. It’s really important to look after ourselves today for the long term.
If you would like some support in figuring out how to eat for your health and weight loss goals then please get in touch. We work 1:1 with people and support you every week so that you don’t have to figure out what to do on your own. You can book your first appointment on our website now or book a free 15 min chat with me to talk more about how we can help. We look forward to working with you and supporting you with better hormone balance and happiness!