Diet during menopause - Awarded Dietitian-Nutritionist, Maryann Gallucci recommends adding these healthy foods to your grocery list
By M.Gallucci, MS, RDN, CDN, ACSM-EP-C
During menopause and the years leading up to it (perimenopause), women undergo complex hormonal changes. For some women, this could start as early as the mid-30s. The balance of estrogen and progesterone, which work together during the reproductive years to trigger ovulation and support pregnancy, begins to shift, with levels of both hormones dropping sharply. These changes trigger other hormonal changes that can contribute to weight gain, including:
- More available testosterone. Testosterone is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands in small amounts throughout a woman’s lifetime. When estrogen levels drop in menopause, the amount of available testosterone increases, which can trigger a redistribution of body fat, often causing accumulation in the abdominal region.
- Changes in the production of the hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Less estrogen causes a decrease in leptin (a natural appetite suppressant) and, when sleep patterns are disrupted, an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger and prompts the body to hold onto excess weight.
- With healthy estrogen levels: fats get distributed evenly throughout the body. With estrogen deprivation, fats get directed to the midsection.
Foods That May Help Relieve Some Menopausal Symptoms
While menopause is linked to many uncomfortable symptoms and increases your risk for certain diseases, Lifestyle plays a key role in how your body responds to these changes. Consuming certain foods along with physical activity (most days of the week) may help reduce your symptoms and ease the transition. There is evidence the following foods may help relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, sleep problems, weight maintenance, and low bone density:
Fruits – aim for 1 ½ cups of fruit daily.
Apples - contain a key compound, calcium D Glucarate, which helps detoxify estrogen from the liver and improve overall estrogen metabolism. As well, fiber on the skin of the apple helps remove this estrogen through the colon during elimination. Apples are a great snack. Include an ounce of hard cheese or a handful of almonds or pistachio nuts.
“Research shows that the compounds in cherries can increase melatonin levels, resulting in a better quality of sleep ”
Cherries - are packed with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and melatonin, which is the sleep hormone released by the pineal gland. In the aging process, we produce less and less melatonin. Research shows that the compounds in cherries can increase melatonin levels, resulting in a better quality of sleep and overall sleep time. In addition, Cherries contain magnesium, which helps calm the body’s stress response by preventing the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Cherries are also a good source of Vitamin C, which helps regulate the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Cherries are a great treat on their own, they also pair well as a topping for yogurt. If they are not in season, frozen is an excellent choice to enjoy them year-round.
Pomegranate – Pomegranates have estrogenic properties. However, pomegranate is a natural adaptogen, increasing levels of estrogen when the body is low by blocking stronger, harmful estrogens when levels are too high. Pomegranates are rich in the phytonutrients anthocyanidins and flavonoids, both are important for detoxifying and protecting cells. Pomegranates are good sources of Vitamins A, C, E, and folate. All are important for healthy hormone production.
“Researchers found that women who had a higher consumption of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables had a significant reduction in overall menopausal symptoms and specifically in physical symptoms.”
Vegetables – include 2 cups of vegetables every day. Researchers found that women who had a higher consumption of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables had a significant reduction in overall menopausal symptoms and specifically in physical symptoms.
Cruciferous Vegetables such as Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Eating cruciferous vegetables specifically is linked to a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which positively affects your estrogen levels and may help with symptoms.
Sweet Potatoes and Dark leafy greens such as Spinach and Kale are rich in magnesium. Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and is needed for hundreds of enzymes to do their work, including protein synthesis, blood pressure regulation, and muscle and nerve function. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with higher levels of stress and anxiety and difficulty relaxing, which can all affect menopause symptoms. Sweet potatoes are also rich in phytoestrogens to help reduce hot flashes and dryness.
Whole Grains are high in nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oats provide a steady release of energy and can help stabilize mood swings and combat fatigue often experienced during
menopause. Additionally, these grains are rich in fiber, which supports digestive health and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Probiotic and Prebiotic foods such as Yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut promote a healthy gut. The gut microbiome plays a significant role in overall health, including hormonal balance. Some studies suggest that a balanced gut microbiome may help regulate hormonal fluctuations and support mood stability. These foods are also high in calcium to help with bone health.
“Eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain choline for brain health. Eggs also suppress appetite and contribute to weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer.”
Protein. Select high-quality protein foods such as lean meat, egg, poultry, and fish,
Eggs. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain choline for brain health. Eggs also suppress appetite and contribute to weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer.
Turkey. Turkey contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid precursor in the production of several important mood and appetite neurotransmitters. When these neurotransmitters are balanced, you may have improved sleep and reduced snacking.
“Research has indicated that protein absorption is most efficient when consumed uniformly throughout the day, meaning consuming some protein with every meal.”
Research has indicated that protein absorption is most efficient when consumed uniformly throughout the day, meaning consuming some protein with every meal. Peri- and postmenopausal women should aim to stay at the higher end of the recommended range (2.2 - 2.4g per kg of body weight or ~1g per pound of body weight) Not only is protein a key element in building muscle, but protein is also important in the proper functioning of your body (it is the major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, immune system, brain, blood, skin, and hair, and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen, and fats).
Specific menopause-related factors, such as decreased estrogens, and age-related factors, such as decreased testosterone, can lead to accelerated muscle and bone loss. Due to its role in the muscle-building process, emphasizing adequate protein consumption in combination with resistance training during the menopausal transition becomes extremely important.
Fats – Specifically Omega 3 Fatty acids - Foods highest in Omega 3 include fatty fish (such as mackerel, salmon, and anchovies), and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds). Research shows that omega-3s can decrease the frequency of hot flashes and the intensity of night sweats. As well, Avocados are one of the best sources of healthy fats. Eating half of a small avocado can help decrease symptoms of hormone imbalance like hot flashes.
“Some issues that occur when you are dehydrated include drier, more brittle hair and nails, skin that is flaky dry, and itchy, achy joints, constipation, and bloating.”
Hydration: Estrogen makes it easier for our body tissue to retain moisture. As levels of estrogen drop, so does body moisture. Dehydration affects everything. 80% of the brain’s content is water. This means that every chemical reaction that happens in the brain needs water to occur, including energy production Some other issues that occur when you are dehydrated include drier, more brittle hair and nails, skin that is flaky dry, and itchy, achy joints, constipation, and bloating. Research also indicated an increase in hot flashes among chronically dehydrated women.
A guide to estimating how much water to drink to help with dehydration and menopause symptoms: Drink ½ of your weight - divide your weight (in pounds) by 2. The result is the number of ounces to drink daily. Ex. 150lb women should aim to drink ~75 ounces daily.
Along with water, include Green Tea, which is full of antioxidants and phytonutrients to help boost metabolism, help with weight maintenance, and bone mineral density.
A whole-food diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein, and dairy products, may reduce menopause symptoms. Consuming phytoestrogens and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish, may also help. You may want to limit your consumption of added sugars, processed high-carb foods, alcohol, caffeine, and high-sodium foods as well. These dietary changes can help make this important transition in your life easier. Making changes in your diet may help relieve menopause symptoms, balance hormones, and promote optimal health during this time of life.
These Items Should be on Your Grocery List
Here is the list of foods to include in your diet. Be sure to add them to your grocery list the next time you go food shopping:
About Dietitian Nutritionist, Maryann Gallucci