Irregular periods, weight gain, hot flashes, and sleep problems - all put together, are the symptoms of menopause. Menopause is a natural change in a woman’s life, which marks the end of her menstrual cycle. It begins after a woman has gone 12 months without her period. However, the symptoms associated with menopause come in during the perimenopause phase and go on once menopause hits and years after. Estrogen levels begin to decline during this period, often causing unwanted weight gain, high cholesterol levels, and increased risk of several chronic diseases. Let’s deep dive into the go-to menopausal foods and the positives of each food item. Along with that, we will also explore more about meal planning and creating the right balance.
WHAT IS A GOOD DIET FOR MENOPAUSE?
Studies suggest that the foods listed below can help reduce your menopausal symptoms:
- Dairy Products
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, all contain calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin D and K - all of which are vital for your bone health. It also contains tryptophan, one of the essential amino acid, which helps in production of certain happy hormones, which improves the moods and quality of sleep, specially at night. Furthermore, evidence suggests that dairy consumption leads to a decreased risk of premature menopause, which occurs before the age of 45.
- Whole Grains and Legumes
Whole grains contain Vitamin B, minerals, nutrients, and fiber. They are shown to improve your body’s metabolism and are very effective in regulating energy levels. They are also known to reduce cholesterol levels in your body. Including whole grain foods like brown rice, whole wheat bread, bajra, ragi, and buckwheat can help reduce menopausal symptoms.
- Fruits and Vegetables
There are a million reasons to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, especially if you’re experiencing menopause. Consumption of these foods has been linked to longevity and they’re a great way to obtain nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber. All these nutrients are essential when it comes to maintaining good health during menopause. For example, calcium and potassium help keep your bones strong, fiber and vitamin B help prevent weight gain, and magnesium regulates your mood and energy levels.
- Healthy Fats
Essential healthy fats found in eggs, fish, and chia seeds are beneficial during menopause. It is also found in homemade unsalted butter and pure ghee. Although some pure ghee brands that are available in the market have some amount of adulterate, you can always rely on the brand Amul. These healthy fats can help reduce mood swings, hot flashes, and intensity of night sweats.
Foods highest in Omega 3 fatty acids include fatty fish, such as mackerel and salmon, and seeds like flax seeds and chia seeds.
- Phytoestrogens Food
Plant estrogens like broccoli, cauliflower and dark berries, chickpeas, and soybeans, can help mimic estrogen and reduce some menopausal symptoms. While there has been some controversy on including these in your diet, more recent research suggests that they have healthy benefits. Foods that naturally contain phytoestrogens include barley, grapes, chickpeas, soybeans, berries, plums, and many more. A mediterranean diet is your go to, since it is extremely rich in phytoestrogens. Time to indulge in a nice Mediterranean platter!
FOODS TO AVOID DURING MENOPAUSE
While it’s important to get the necessary nutrients during menopause, limiting foods that can aggravate or worsen the symptoms is also the key. Here are a few culprits to watch out for:
- Spicy Foods
Not surprisingly, spicy foods can make the hot flashes worse. If you tend to feel hot or have high blood pressure, consider avoiding spicy foods like hot peppers, jalapeño, and cayenne. Since your reaction to spicy food may be individual, use your best judgment when it comes to including spicy foods in your diet. On the contrary, it is ideal to include raw spices, like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, starflower, dry zinger [khada masala] in your diet as it has antifungal properties, helps in reduction of cholesterol.
Having 20-30 ml of wine a couple of times a month probably won’t affect your symptoms. But if you consume anything more than that, your menopausal symptoms could get worse. Alcohol has shown to interfere with sleep and may worsen the hot flashes, anxiety, or depression. If reduced inhibitions lead you to the kitchen, it can cause you to gain weight too.
- Processed Foods
Apart from fatty fish and nuts, try to keep your intake of junk food to a minimum. The consumption of these foods can lead to high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, which can worsen your menopausal effects. Try to stay clear of fast foods, fried foods, processed cookies, cakes, and snacks.
LIVING IN BALANCE
When the estrogen levels decrease during your mid-life, many women end up gaining weight despite no changes in their day-to-day habits. During menopause, you have to be a lot more careful of what you’re eating and drinking. Here are a few tips you can adopt to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
- Prioritize sleep
When you’re sleep deprived, your body ends up craving simple carbs to replenish the low energy levels. Lack of sleep can also impact your hormone levels, which can end in weight gain.
- Reduce stress
The more stressed you are, the more difficult it will be to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Stress leads to the rise of the cortisol, which is a hormone linked to heart disease, diabetes, and worsening of other menopausal symptoms.
- Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables
Use portion control and try spacing your food out to at least 4 meals a day. Adding starch and protein to these meals will help reduce your symptoms too.
- Move your body daily
Though frequent workouts haven't been proven as a means of reducing menopausal symptoms, they can ease the transition by helping to relieve stress and enhance your overall quality of life. Regular exercise is also an excellent way to stave off weight gain and loss of muscle mass, which are two frequent symptoms of menopause. No need for fancy gym workouts, you can just do a 30 minute brisk walk every day and that will do the work for you.
Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle can reduce some of the side effects related to your menopause experience.