DIET AND THE MENOPAUSE
Nobody is saying you can’t have a slice of cake, pizza or a glass of wine because you are menopausal. But what you do eat can make a whole heap of difference to how well you cope with your symptoms – both physically and psychologically.
A healthy diet is, of course, recommended for everyone regardless of life stage but as the British Nutrition Foundation point out ‘a healthy varied diet and a healthy lifestyle including not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, doing physical activity and maintaining a healthy bodyweight, can help to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms and protect against long-term health problems associated with loss of oestrogen, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis’. The point is, you can significantly reduce your risk of menopausal symptoms by eating better plus you help to reduce the risk of heart disease and thinning bones with what is at the end of your fork.
Recent research by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving around 6,000 women between the ages of 50 to 55 found those who followed a typical Mediterranean diet and lifestyle were around 20% less likely to experience menopausal symptoms. Think a typically Greek and Italian-style way of eating including plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, pulses, fish, lean meat, plenty of garlic and herbs, olive oil and moderate amounts of alcohol. Researchers suggest the high fibre in this kind of diet can help stabilise oestrogen levels.
Taking bits of Japanese food
Taking some tips from the Eastern diet, researchers from the Department of Integrated Medicine at Westminster University polled 1,000 British women aged 45 to 55 and compared their answers to women from the US, Canada, China and Japan. They found Japanese and Chinese women suffered the least with menopausal symptoms and British ones the most. This is largely attributed to the Japanese and Chinese diets that are rich in soy foods like tofu, edamame beans and miso. In Japanese culture, soy products are eaten almost daily and what makes this so significant in terms of the menopause it that soy is an isoflavone, an oestrogen like compound. There is evidence that eating isoflavones in foods or taking them as supplements can help to reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and vaginal dryness.
Food to help increase your heart health
Before the menopause, oestrogen helps to protect women from the risk of heart disease so it’s important to eat a range of heart-healthy foods. Omega 3 fatty acids play a key role in protecting the heart so include plenty of omega 3-rich oily fish, nuts, seeds (like chia and flax) and dark green vegetables. These fatty acids have also been shown to help reduce hot flushes.
Nutrients to help keep your bones healthy
To help with bone strength and density and reduce your risk of osteoporosis you need calcium and vitamin D. You’ll find calcium in dairy products like milk, butter and cheese; many green leafy vegetables (although avoid spinach which can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium); fish containing bones (like pilchards or sardines); sesame seeds and dried figs. Getting enough vitamin D can be slightly trickier in that there are few food sources of it. It is found in small amounts in oily fish, eggs, red meat and foods fortified with it including some cereals and dairy products. Vitamin D is made naturally in the body on exposure to sunlight but this can difficult to achieve for us Brits when sunshine is in short supply for half of the year. Plus, our ability to synthesise vitamin D via sunlight from 50 onwards and this is one area where most of us can benefit from a supplement. The advice from Public Health England (PHE) is that we should all take a supplement of this nutrient between October to March.
What to eat more of:
* Vegetables and fruit (aim for 5-10 portions daily)
* Fish (particularly oily fish like salmon and mackerel. Aim for two portions of oily fish weekly)
- Dairy products (choose low fat varieties and keep portion sizes in check)
* Nuts and seeds (sunflower, chia, linseeds, pumpkin etc)
* Pulses (lentils, chickpeas and beans)
* Wholegrains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, wholemeal bread)
* Vegetable oils like olive, sunflower or rapeseed
* Soy products like tofu, soy milk and yogurt, edamame beans and miso.
What to avoid or cut down on:
* Refined sugar
* High fat, sugar and/or salt laden ready meals or fast food
* High fat and sugary or salty snacks including biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies and crisps
* White carbohydrates like white pasta, bread or rice
* Saturated fat like butter or coconut oil
* Caffeine (coffee, tea and cola)
* Alcohol and fizzy sugary drinks
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