The word “menopause” creates a sense of anxiety or discomfort in many women. Whether you’re approaching menopause, experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause or weathering your own transition right now, you know how much this transitional period can affect you.
The fluctuations and ultimate decline in estrogen production by your ovaries affect much more than your reproductive capabilities. Everything from your mood and focus to your bone density and heart health can be altered by these changes. For many women, the side effects of menopause are tough to bear. Not only that, but perimenopause and menopause are different for everyone and can last for almost a decade. Common symptoms of these changes, like hot flashes and brain fog, can be difficult to deal with for just a week, let alone years on end!
Fortunately, there may be a simple solution that can help women navigate this transitional period while feeling healthier and more like themselves: an appropriate diet. Experts believe that eating a healthy diet filled with a few key nutrients might help relieve some of the symptoms of menopause and reduce menopausal women’s risk for major health problems later in life.
How can diet influence menopause?
Menopause can cause a wide range of symptoms during the transitional period. These symptoms are largely caused by the shifting levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body and may include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Lowered libido
- Weight redistribution
Additionally, some more significant changes might occur during and after menopause, including an increased risk for osteoporosis, heart disease and obesity. It may be possible to alleviate some or all of these symptoms by eating well and providing your body with specific nutrients that counteract these symptoms.
It’s important to note that every woman’s body can react differently to specific foods and the nutrients and compounds they contain. Eating these foods is not guaranteed to make your menopause symptoms disappear entirely. However, although dietary changes may not alter the severity of your symptoms in every case, they are more likely to make you feel better, stronger and healthier overall. Symptoms may feel more severe or debilitating to someone who does not feel energized or fueled by healthy foods.
Additionally, this type of “menopause diet” may not only have an impact on regulating symptoms specific to menopause, but it may also be instrumental in reducing your risk for the more serious health problems that commonly afflict menopausal women.
Foods for the “menopause diet”
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable menopause symptoms and are searching for a natural solution, turning to your diet is a great first step. Certain nutrients are very important for women going through menopause to help you regulate your hormones and nutrition for greater comfort and better health.
Aim to incorporate these key nutrients and foods into your menopause diet:
- Protein: Perimenopause and menopause can cause changes in muscle mass. In order to stay fit and strong—and to maintain optimal metabolism regulation—you’ll want to increase protein intake through foods like poultry, fish and eggs.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, which can contribute to numerous health problems, including joint pain and depression. Some studies also suggest that increased levels of healthy fats might reduce uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes. Omega-3s can be found in abundance in fatty fish and nuts and seeds like flaxseeds and almonds.
- Calcium: Calcium is an essential nutrient for menopausal women to have because of their increased risk for developing osteoporosis. It’s important to get more calcium through foods, such as dairy products and dark leafy greens like kale, to maintain healthy bone density.
- Fiber: Fiber is instrumental in reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as assisting in weight loss. You can find fiber in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.
- Fruits and vegetables: Myriad fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that each contribute to menopause symptoms in their own way. Numerous studies have shown a reduction in symptoms like night sweats and depression in menopausal women after increasing their consumption of dark berries and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.
- Foods rich in phytoestrogens: Foods like soy contain phytoestrogens, or pseudo-estrogen compounds derived from plants. Some preliminary studies have suggested that foods rich in phytoestrogens may help alleviate menopause symptoms—particularly those like vaginal dryness—by standing in for estrogen as your natural estrogen levels decline.
- Probiotic-rich foods: Foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut are naturally rich in probiotics—beneficial bacteria that help improve digestion and can even keep your vaginal flora balanced. Probiotics have their own benefits during menopause, including stabilizing your mood and reducing your risk for vaginal infections.
Foods to steer clear of
Another large portion of menopause symptom regulation comes down to not what you do eat, but what you do not eat. Many women will experience worsened symptoms if they eat an unhealthy, processed diet filled with fats and sugars. Avoid these three main menopause symptom triggers:
- Unhealthy fats: After menopause, women are at a higher risk for heart disease. Saturated and trans fats can raise your cholesterol, potentially making you even more susceptible to coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
- Excess sugars: Sugary foods and drinks—including refined carbs—can contribute to a range of menopause symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog and depression. They can also cause blood sugar spikes, which have been linked to hot flashes, as well as imbalances in the gut, which can further worsen symptoms.
- Caffeine: Caffeine may be a “trigger food” that increases the frequency or severity of your hot flashes. It can also worsen insomnia—a problem many menopausal women go through.
The main takeaway when it comes to nutrition and menopause is that eating healthily can contribute to your overall health in many ways. Women should not only eat well during menopause to alleviate their temporary symptoms. You should focus on eating well-balanced meals for the long-term health benefits. Combined with an exercise plan and other healthy habits, you may be able to minimize menopause symptoms and feel comfortable and more like yourself as you work through your transition.