Take Charge of Menopause with Dietary Habits

Menopause can bring about many physical changes. And while many women dread this point in their lives because they fear from the common symptoms associated with menopause, menopause can also be viewed as a time of opportunity.

With the right attitude, it is the ideal time to make changes to your lifestyle and diet so as to improve the quality of your life.

Because menopause happens for women later in life, typically in their 50s, they’re usually at risk for certain diseases related with aging. And when menopause hits, the risk for specific health conditions further increases because as the ovaries age, they release fewer FSH and LH hormones, so the regulation of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone declines. These hormonal changes and the natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can significantly affect your health for years to come if the right lifestyle changes are not made in time.

Due to the reduction in hormonal levels, one becomes more susceptible to conditions such as weight gain, incontinence, heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. And according to a study led by Kaiser Permanente researcher Erin LeBlanc, MD, MPH of more than 124,000 women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, women who enter menopause before age 46 or after 55 have also an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Dr. LeBlanc’s study was published in the journal Menopause and concludes that “women who start menopause before or after this window should be aware that they are at higher risk, and should be especially vigilant about achieving optimal weight, eating a healthy, nourishing diet and exercising regularly. These lifestyle changes will help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.” [1], as well as other conditions.

Dietary Guidelines During and After Menopause

While the average age for menopause is 51, you may begin menopause as early as your mid-40s, and some may even experience symptoms in their 30s, particularly if one is overweight. It’s never too early to start preparing for menopause by developing healthy dietary habits and improving your iron and calcium levels, while also controlling your sugar and salt intake.

Here Is A Short Dietary Guide To Help You During The Stages Of Menopause: 

1. Iron-Rich Foods 

Hair loss is one of those symptoms related to menopause that women fear. It is caused by B12 or iron deficiency which can happen during the time leading up to menopause due to increased menstrual blood flow.

To manage your iron levels, eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods a day such as leafy green vegetables, enriched grain products, and nuts. See The Guerrilla Diet book chapter 13 “So, What Should We Eat… and Why?” for more details.

2. Calcium 

Although calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, because menopause causes a decrease in estrogen production, your body will be less able to retain calcium. And without sufficient amounts of calcium intake, your bones will become weaker, increasing your risk for osteoporosis because blood calcium levels are is strongly regulated and do not fluctuate with changes in dietary intakes. When there is not sufficient calcium intake from the diet, the body uses bone tissue as a reservoir to maintain constant concentrations of calcium in the blood, muscles, and intercellular fluids.

While dairy foods may seem an ideal source of calcium, they are actually not.

Although calcium is found at high levels in dairy foods, this calcium is not well absorbed by our body. For the body to absorb calcium efficiently, there has to be a relatively equal amount of magnesium present in the food source. Milk only contains a small amount of magnesium, so the body cannot make use of all of the calcium contained within it. In reality, only about 25% of dairy calcium from milk can be absorbed. The remaining 75% may accumulate in the body leading to kidney stones, plaque build-up in the arteries, gout, and can be a contributing factor for arthritis.

While there are calcium supplements that you can take to ensure sufficient calcium intake, calcium is prevalent in many plant based foods such as dark green leafy vegetables including kale, broccoli, turnip greens and also sesame seeds. Also, choose foods that prevent calcium loss including foods rich in salt which increases calcium loss in the urine, and caffeine which also increases the rate at which calcium is lost through the urine.

Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, and a recent study [3] shows that the overall prevalence rate of vitamin D deficiency was 41.6% in the US.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends 800–1000 IU of vitamin D after age 50; AACE recommends 1800 IU for the elderly. [2] If you don’t get sufficient sunlight, especially during the winter months, I suggest taking vitamin D supplements.

3. Fiber 

It is crucial to keep your weight in check during menopause, therefore, design a diet for yourself that is rich in fiber. A high-fiber diet can also help you with menopause-related issues that include bowel irregularity and bloating. Foods that are rich in fiber include brussel sprouts, bananas, apples, broccoli, pears, whole grains, and beans. Check out our personalized menu option to receive step by step guidance with a meal plan designed for your specific needs here.

When taking charge of menopause with a proper diet, it’s essential to recognize the foods that you should increase intake of in your diet. It’s also crucial for you to avoid unnatural fat-rich foods as this is a time when your body will have a harder time preventing weight gain.

Also, avoid the damaging effects of excess sugar and salt. Remember that menopause increases your risk for diabetes which is why you should avoid added sugar, particularly sugar-rich drinks. And too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure and calcium losses.

 

Menopause can be a difficult time for women as the symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, decreased metabolism that leads to weight gain, and the risk of developing bone fractures.

However, when met with the right attitude and a dietary plan that supports your nutritional requirements and avoids foods that are problematic at this stage, you can bravely face menopause and even thrive while reducing many of the discomforting symptoms.

 

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References: 

[1] Erin LeBlanc, MD, MPH. Early and late menopause can increase risk of type 2 diabetes: Length of lifetime reproductive cycle can affect risk. Kaiser Permanente. Menopause. 2016, July 27

[2] F. Cosman, S. J. de Beur, M. S. LeBoff, E. M. Lewiecki,B. Tanner, S. Randall, and R. Lindsay. Clinician’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis. Osteoporos Int. 2014; 25(10): 2359–2381

[3] Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res. 2011 Jan;31(1):48-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001.

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