In the battle to improve menopause symptoms, your easiest starting point is your diet.
When perimenopause hit me like a freight train in my 40’s I struggled. I had always grappled with keeping weight off but never around my middle. It was my thighs or boobs that got my scathing scrutiny. My stomach was always flat. It seemed almost overnight that it popped out and joined the others on an expansion binge.
I was having hot flushes at a frequency the likes of which I have not heard from any of the women I have spoken too and my mood swings were heard two streets down.
This was at a time when HRT was getting some bad press so rather than go down that road I researched like a demon. I really only pricked the tip of the iceberg but my research prompted me to give up all sugar and grains.
Fantastically the hot flushes disappeared within days. My sleep normalised and with the addition of a Vitamin D supplement the mood swings evened out which I am sure the neighbours were rejoicing in.
With further research, I have compiled this list of foods to include and foods to avoid in your diet as you move through perimenopause and into menopause to improve your symptoms. This list is not plucked from the sky, it is what I eat, or not, in my own life and I have enjoyed exceedingly good health while maintaining my weight and keeping my doctor happy.
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It comes as no surprise that cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower make the list. Broccoli, in particular, has a positive impact on estrogen levels increasing the estrogen responsible for reducing the risk of breast cancer.
It contains calcium and vitamin K for strong bones and lots of fibre for improved digestion.
Don’t forget kale, cabbage, cauliflower, rocket and sprouts are also in the cruciferous family and are also full of fabulous nutrients.
Green leafy vegetables are packed full of calcium. The calcium is easily absorbed by the body and is, in fact, more easily absorbed than the calcium in milk. Spinach, however, is high in oxalates which makes it difficult for our bodies to absorb the high levels of calcium it contains. Don’t discount it though as it has other fabulous nutrients.
Nuts and seeds are powerhouses that are loaded with good stuff to help ease our journey through perimenopause and menopause. High in healthy fats, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, these superfoods are a great addition to your diet.
The oils and fats in nuts and seeds can help prevent dry skin, which, for me has been an ever-present factor in menopause.
Three brazil nuts a day will give you enough selenium for your daily needs. Selenium plays a vital role in our metabolism and thyroid function.
Walnuts, Almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds are all great additions to your diet. Pop a small mixed bag into your handbag to get you through a snack attack.
Flaxseeds are the kings of superfoods and are extra high in Omega-3 fatty acids, phytoestrogens and B vitamins. Omega-3 is thought to help with reducing night sweats and lower your risk of breast cancer. Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds which behave like estrogen in the body and as such reduce the severity of menopause symptoms (source).
Water will help combat vaginal dryness and dry skin that women in menopause can suffer from. It will also help to keep your whole digestive system oiled which will improve bloating and the bonus is it will plump out those wrinkles. Make sure you get your eight glasses a day.
Keep cravings away
Healthy fats are essential for keeping hormone production working smoothly. Hormones travel through the blood and control all our metabolic processes. Keeping them balanced is vital for our health.
Fat is great for keeping you feeling fuller longer so helping with cravings. The best fats to add to your diet include coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish such as salmon.
Lower oestrogen levels are the root cause of some of the more annoying menopause symptoms. As mentioned earlier phytoestrogens can play a significant role in reducing menopause symptoms and legumes are a potent source.
They also contain a substance called tryptophan which is instrumental in helping the body produce serotonin which helps boost our mood.
They are also rich in folic acid, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and fibre and super high in protein.
While we are on the subject of protein it is worth mentioning that protein is vital for keeping our bodies strong, and with estrogen on the decline, there can be a reduction in muscle mass and bone strength. Nuts are a healthy way to increase protein intake without consuming saturated fat.
Soy contains isoflavones, which can mimic estrogen in the body. The body is possibly tricked into thinking it has enough estrogen thereby easing menopause symptoms. We can enjoy soy in tofu, miso soup, smoothies made with soy protein powder, soy milk, and soybeans which can be added to stews and soups. Many soy products such as tempeh and miso are fermented so you get the added probiotic boost.
My caveat would be to make sure that the soy you buy is organic. Soy is a controversial ingredient due to thin evidence that it is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and decreased thyroid function.
It is full of antioxidants which improve stress and inflammation. It is also known to boost your metabolism helping you to guard against menopause weight gain. Matcha green tea provides an estimated 10 times as many antioxidants as standard green tea and also contains vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium, to support your hormonal balance.
This list wouldn’t be complete without giving a list of the foods you should avoid. It’s no good to include all the good stuff with one hand while the other is shoving cake into your mouth closely followed by a large gulp of your third coffee of the day.
Lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone can trigger cravings. Processed foods that are high in sugar and carbs will make you feel good while you are eating them but not for long. A diet high in carbs will cause your body to make less of the hormone that tells you you’ve eaten enough and more of the hormone that tells you you're hungry.
Sugar will also disrupt the hormone insulin. Insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and any disruption can put these hormones out of balance exacerbating menopause symptoms.
I could never ask you to give up caffeine if I am unable to do it myself. However, maybe skip the afternoon cup of black gold and stick to just the one in the morning.
The hormone imbalance you can experience in menopause can cause sleep disturbance so let’s not make that any worse.
Remember too that hot drinks will raise your temperature fanning the flames of those hot flushes.
Alcohol may contribute to hot flushes however there is no conclusive evidence to support this. If you find you have more hot flushes after the evening glass of vino, well, it’s bad news. Its the flushes or the vino.
Alcohol has also been shown to decrease melatonin production and as melatonin regulates our sleep-wake cycles and we already struggle to get enough sleep in menopause due to fluctuating hormones it may be best to avoid it (source).
Women in menopause and midlife can be vulnerable to developing anxiety and/or depression. Alcohol will only serve to make these conditions worse.
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Where you can go organic to avoid pesticides and genetically modified foods which can cause hormonal disruption. This includes meat and dairy.
Fasting for 12-16 hours overnight will force your body to use fat stores for energy. If you can’t do this then at least leave 4 hours between meals without snacks so that your body doesn’t have a constant supply of glucose to use as energy.
Intermittent fasting helps your body with fat loss and better processing of carbs and sugar.
Menopause women are more susceptible to anxiety, depression and brain fog. Studies have shown that fasting can improve self-esteem and soothes feelings of stress, depression and anxiety
This helps to keep everything moving through the body while dragging toxins, waste and oestrogen you don’t need with it.
We’re talking, lots of veg, especially leafy greens, as well as fruit, linseed, chia, psyllium husk, whole grains and lentils.
Check the packaged foods you buy are not too high and don’t add salt in cooking or at the table.
The foods outlined in this article are, as it happens, the same foods that I would recommend as part of a normal healthy diet. Along with regular exercise, the foods listed here can help you lose weight, sleep better, lower stress and generally feel better overall. It is an added bonus that these foods can also improve menopause and perimenopause symptoms. Whatever time of your life you are at I urge you to consider what you include in your diet and lifestyle and make choices that will serve your health well.
Hi, I'm Jane. I'm the author of the janelamason.com blog. Hitting midlife and menopause can be challenging. I write these posts to highlight my own experience for other women to read about and to give tips that might help to make their path into this time of their lives a little smoother.