To celebrate World Menopause Day 2019, I’ve written you a detailed nutrition guide. So let’s jump straight in…
Is it possible to boost your energy, mood and sleep at menopause with good nutrition?
You get up tired, and you go to bed tired, your partner says you are in one of your ‘moods’, insomnia is your new friend, and weight gain is your new enemy. You used to be superwoman and now you’ve lost your mojo? Hello menopause, I was not expecting you!
Menopause is a time of hormonal, physical and psychological change for women…
Current research shows that many women enter midlife and menopause nutritionally deficient, despite eating well, and coupled with busy, stressful lives. Many nutrients are essential to both produce hormones and to enable hormones to do their jobs. Stress temporarily switches off the digestive system, impeding your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients from food. Thrown into the mix is the fact that declining oestrogen levels negatively impact your metabolism, which can potentially lead to weight gain. These changes may also affect your cholesterol levels and how your body digests food. Take stock ladies, you are not falling apart though it may feel like it.
As our bodies change during the menopausal years, proper nutrition becomes critical in helping to manage menopausal symptoms and maintain good bone, heart, brain and gut health. A few changes to eating and lifestyle can make a massive difference.
Here are some top nutrition tips to help you sail through menopause:
1 – Start the day by waking up your metabolism
During midlife and menopause our metabolism can slow down and get sluggish. Wake up your metabolism with a glass of lemon water (quarter lemon) first thing on waking. Add sliced ginger for extra punch. Another option is 1 tbsp of unrefined, unpasteurised and unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar (also known as ACV with the ‘mother’). Can’t stomach either of those? Try a couple segments of grapefruit.
Lemon water, ginger, cider vinegar and grapefruit will kick start your metabolism, digestive system and wake up your liver.
2 – Eat protein with every meal
Protein is essential for building hormones, muscle, healthy skin, strong nails, digestive enzymes and more. As we get older and our metabolism slows down, we start losing muscle. Eating protein with each meal helps to balance blood sugar levels and maintain muscle mass. Protein throughout the day keeps you full and satisfied. Eat a palm-sized portion.
Good protein sources include meat, chicken, seafood, Greek yogurt, quinoa, eggs, nut butter, cottage cheese, beans (e.g. black beans, red beans, lima beans), nuts, seeds (pumpkin, flax, chai etc.), tofu and avocado.
Grains such as quinoa are gluten-free, high in protein (one of few plant foods that contains all 9 essential amino acids), low in calories, high in fibre, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E, anti-oxidants. All of which makes it an excellent vegetarian protein option and nutrient-dense food.
Here are some meal examples:
Scrambled eggs with spinach, avocado, and smoked salmon
Natural yoghurt with fruit and seeds such as flax seeds, pumpkin, sunflower, chia which are rich in phytoestrogens (flax), fibre, essential nutrients and healthy omega 3 fats.
Tuna avocado lettuce wraps; chicken salad; quinoa, broccoli & tofu salad
Grilled fillet of salmon or chicken with chickpeas and sweet potato; chicken and soya bean salad; black bean chilli, Puy lentils with smoked tofu.
Nuts, seeds and protein balls
3 – Don’t ever skip meals, especially breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating a nutritious breakfast sets the tone for the day and promotes weight maintenance and weight loss by maintaining blood glucose levels and your metabolism. Regular eating helps regulate blood sugars, maintain hormone balance and avoids cravings.
4 – Avoid caffeine especially in the afternoon
How many cups of coffee or tea do you drink per day? Did you know caffeine has been shown to exacerbate menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, nights sweats, headaches, anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia? Drinking a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon can be one of the reasons why you may not be sleeping particularly well. Try avoiding caffeine for a week or two and see what difference it makes to your symptoms. Drink herbal teas during the afternoon and calming chamomile tea or peppermint before bed, and avoid stimulating teas such as green tea. This is especially important if you’re having trouble sleeping.
5 – Add phytoestrogen-rich foods to your diet
Phytoestrogens are compounds that occur naturally in a wide range of plant foods. They occupy oestrogen receptors in our body and have oestrogenic-like action and a hormone balancing effect. Some examples of phytoestrogen foods to incorporate into your daily diet are: tofu, tempeh, soy yogurt, edamame beans, miso paste, soya beans, flax seeds (linseeds), sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, lentils, and aduki beans.
A seed mix, such as two-parts flax seeds and one-part each of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds will give you both the phytoestrogen benefits and excellent levels of essential fatty acids. Sprinkle on vegetables, salads, porridge, cereals and soups; add to smoothies and yogurt; use in baking.
6 – Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Hormones need proper nutrients to be produced, stored, transported and appropriately eliminated. It’s essential to eat a nutrient-dense diet because nutrient-dense foods contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Examples of nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, lean meats, eggs, peas, beans, nuts and seeds. We’re talking fresh, wholesome foods and not the processed ready-made stuff.
Magnesium, along with iron, vitamin B, calcium, zinc, vitamin D are often deficient in menopausal women. All of the organs in our body, including the heart and kidneys, need magnesium to function correctly.
Eat these magnesium-rich foods: dark leafy greens, salmon, bananas, nuts (almonds), seeds (pumpkin), and avocado. Eating dairy products and green leafy vegetables provide the right balance of calcium and magnesium for your bones.
Complex, unrefined carbohydrates should be eaten in moderation and include beans and pulses, brown rice, buckwheat, fruit (berries, apples, citrus), maize, millet, nuts, oats and vegetables.
Eating a nutrient-dense diet will provide you with all the necessary protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates and phytonutrients you need. The next time you go grocery shopping think variety and buy a rainbow spectrum of foods.
7 – Eat the right fats
Small amounts of unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and seeds have a protective effect on the heart. Omega 6 is found in leafy green veg, soya, and olive, sunflower and sesame oils. Omega 3 (low in western diets) can be found in: oily fish such a mackerel, herrings, sardines; hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds and nuts (brazil, walnuts, cashew, hazel (go easy now, just handful per day) and avocados.
Flax/linseed contain both omega 6 and omega 3 oils, and are also rich in phytoestrogens. Aim for 2 tbsp flax seeds per day. The best vegetarian sources of omega 3 are flax seeds, walnuts and chia seeds.
Coconut oil, although a saturated fat which does not contain omega oils, is one of the best sources of medium-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids are rapidly broken down and absorbed by the body, and are less likely to be stored as fat.
8 – Eat healthy snacks
We all get the munchies at times. Keep a ready source of nuts, seeds and fruit. Make your own protein balls or seeded bars. Carrots and hummus are a delicious and healthy option.
9 – Reduce alcohol consumption
Notice that I did not say to give up alcohol. Moderation is key, and who does not like a bit of bubbly every once in a while? Beware that B vitamins are often in short supply, particularly if you have been drinking lots of alcohol.
10 – Ditch the processed foods
A good starting point would be to take stock of your current diet and be honest with yourself. Are you eating fresh wholesome foods or is most of it ready-made? Have you read the ingredients on the package? Many processed foods are laden with salt, sugar and lacking in nutrients. Yeah, but they taste so good. Don’t be fooled – your body deserves proper nutrition. Keeping track of what you eat on an app, paper or diary will make you most aware of what you are consuming.
11 – Finds ways to destress
A body under constant stress does not function well. We women are martyrs and think we have shoulders of steel and can manage life no matter what. It gets to a point when your body will tell you otherwise. Listen, and make changes for yourself. Midlife and menopause are your time to take stock of your life, body, mind and soul. Have a bedtime routine that relaxes you, such as gentle stretching or a soak in an Epsom salt bath (great way to absorb magnesium). Go out every day into fresh air. Try a yoga class.
All these tips are a good starting point to get you nutritionally fighting fit, ready to take on the hormonal upheaval which menopause and midlife brings. Remember, even small changes can make a massive difference.
About the Author
The Menopause Chef, Sabrina Zeif, is an innovative chef with over 25 years’ experience working in pharmaceuticals and health education.
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