What to eat (and what to avoid) to help you through the menopause
Good nutrition can help with some of the unwelcome symptoms associated with the menopause, writes Orla Walsh. Here she lists her top five dos and don'ts to help you cope through
Adapting your nutrition to your age and time of life is crucial when aiming to optimise your health. Not only can good nutritional practices help reduce the risk of conditions and disease of which each age group is at risk, it can also help minimise any common symptoms within the age group. Here are my top five dos, and don'ts:
1. Eat nuts or seeds daily
Nuts are nutrient-rich and jam-packed with unsaturated fats which are crucial to healthy aging. They help protect the body from heart attacks and stroke as well as safeguard the nervous system through its action on the myelin coating of nerve fibres. Healthy fats are a bit like putting creams or lotions on your body, but from the inside out. All nuts are wonderful for you, so a variety is important. Each nut or seed offers a different benefit so your preference should be dictated by its action.
To lower blood cholesterol, try to eat about 30g of almonds (about 23 nuts) each day.
If your thyroid is a little sluggish, it may be advisable to eat 3-4 Brazil nuts a day to boost your selenium intake.
For bone health, a handful of pumpkin seeds will provide you with your daily requirements of magnesium.
2. Eat more beans, peas and lentils
They provide plant protein, slow-release carbohydrate and a load of different vitamins and minerals. They are also high in a type of fibre called soluble fibre which helps fill you up quicker, keep you fuller for longer, control your blood sugar levels, and lower blood cholesterol levels. As they are also high in resistant starch, they help feed the bacteria in your gut, promoting a healthy digestive system.
WHY NOT TRY ...
Thickening soups and stews with lentils.
Blending butter beans with olive oil and garlic for an alternative to mashed potato.
Having beans instead of bread with your eggs in the morning.
3. Eat more protein with each meal
Muscle mass declines by about 1% per year after the age of 30. Severe muscle loss occurs in 5-13% of 60- to 70-year-olds and 11-50% of those aged 80 years and older.
The two things that prevent this from happening are participating in physical activity to maintain and build muscle, as well as eating adequate protein at each meal. The sooner you start the better. Although younger people need about 10g of protein at each meal to start to stimulate their muscles to regenerate, and 20g of protein at each meal to stimulate them to their maximum, as we get older this number doubles. After menopause, women need 20g to 40g of protein per meal. By hitting this higher mark for protein, bone health will also improve.
4. Consume more vitamin D
Don't underestimate the power of vitamin D. Insufficient levels of vitamin D have been linked to many conditions and diseases including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Although it's often linked to bone health, it's also necessary for a strong immune system.
We tend to fall short on this important micronutrient as vitamin D is found in only a few foods and in Northern Ireland we just don't get enough sunshine.
There's some in mushrooms, liver, eggs and fortified foods.
The best natural source of vitamin D is oily fish.
To put it in perspective an egg will usually provide about 1 microgram of vitamin D.
A portion of salmon or a serving of mackerel could provide about 18-27 micrograms of vitamin D.
As many of us don't don't eat fish, and if we do, not regularly enough, it's advisable to take a supplement of vitamin D, especially during winter. The supplement should contain 5-10 micrograms of vitamin D.
5. Up your soy foods
Soybeans (edamame) and foods made from them like soy milk, soy yoghurt, tofu and tempeh help control certain symptoms of menopause. Although all beans, peas and lentils are rich in protein, soybeans stand out among the crowd due to the quality of protein they offer.
In a method of ranking how good a protein is, the quality of soy protein is equivalent to protein from animal foods and comes out with a better score than other plant proteins. It's not just quality of protein where they excel, they're rather good with regards to quantity too. Approximately 1 cup of soybeans provides about 15g protein, which is nearly twice the amount found in other legumes. The great news is that soy foods also offer some calcium, as well as iron, which are two minerals important to women of all ages.
6. Don't continue to take a folic acid supplement
You no longer need to supplement folic acid. Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps protect babies against neural tube defects in the womb. This is no longer a concern as postmenopausal women can't get pregnant.
7. Don't scrimp on sleep
The importance of sleep is often under-estimated. If sleep is constantly being disrupted, the levels of hunger hormones increase. With poor sleep, energy levels suffer. This can lead to drinking excess caffeine and a reliance on sugar for a quick pick-me-up. This is a self-perpetuating cycle as too much caffeine leads to poor sleep. It's important to allocate enough time to sleep.
Get in the routine of going to bed and waking up at similar times each day.
Opt for black out blinds and stay away from blue-light - eg laptops, phones, tablets - in the two hours before bed. Studies have suggested that eating two kiwis, one hour before bed helps.
8. Don't drink too much alcohol
Often this is a piece of advice that annoys people. Having a glass of wine with a delicious meal is something that is pleasurable for many people.
However, it's important to put the cork back into the bottle after a glass has been poured. Due to the high amount of calories alcohol contains, it can make controlling weight more difficult.
For example, a glass of wine can have the same amount of calories as 2-3 slices of bread and a gin and tonic, especially when poured at home, can contain more calories than a chocolate bar. The other important truth is that alcohol, even small amounts, will increase the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. It's estimated that 3.5% of all cancers are alcohol-related. An analysis of over 50 studies showed that women who drank more than three drinks per day had 1.5 times the risk of developing breast cancer as non-drinkers.
Even one drink each day leads to a 7% increase in the risk of breast cancer. When it comes to alcohol, less is always more.
9. Don't eat red meat as often
Red meat is rich in iron and is often encouraged in meat-eating younger women. However, after menopause, the requirements for iron reduce as menstruation no longer occurs. Red meat tends to have higher calories than other protein sources like chicken, turkey, shellfish, white fish and pulses. Therefore, cutting back will help prevent weight gain.
10. Don't ignore your weight
After the menopause, many women find that their weight starts to creep up. It's important to monitor it, through scales, clothes or with the help of a measuring tape. Aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 20 and 25.
If you do find it creeping up, the top three things you need to do is ensure you're well hydrated by drinking lots of water, increase your vegetable intake to at least four large handfuls a day and keep a close eye onyour intake of 'treat' foods. See chart above.