The #1 concern that most women have during menopause is the dreaded weight gain, especially around the middle. With aging comes lower metabolism, and then all the hormones kick in and make it harder to keep the weight off. Of course, there is no one diet for everyone, but one thing is usually true – whatever eating style you had before menopause, your body will likely have different needs during menopause to reduce symptoms and help maintain your ideal weight. As a bonus, most of the recommendations for eating differently during menopause can also positively impact your long-term health!
The Mediterranean Diet and Menopause
The most highly recommended food lifestyle is overwhelmingly the Mediterranean diet, which not only helps during menopause but is associated with a reduction in overall death rates and a lower risk of other diseases and health conditions. The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of lean meats and dairy products, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. These are foods that are low in carbohydrates, low in saturated fats, high in fiber and protein, and have a low glycemic index. Similarly, you want to limit processed foods with high sugar or refined carbs. Women who follow the basic recommendations can not only reduce menopause symptoms, especially hot flashes, but can also help reduce cognitive decline, depression, heart disease, stroke, and cancer risk. Generally, eating “Mediterranean” means emphasizing foods rich in estrogens, in the form of phytoestrogens or estrogens in plants; these can help counteract the natural estrogen declines during menopause.
Other specific branded diets that many support during menopause include The Galveston Diet by Dr. Mary Claire Haver, and the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) – these have many of the same principles as the Mediterranean Diet.
Foods & Beverages to Avoid or Limit During Menopause
Again, every individual is different, but below are some foods that you may want to either avoid or monitor during menopause. It’s always helpful to journal and try to correlate which foods trigger your menopause symptoms so that you know what your body craves vs. does not agree with your system.
- Processed & Fatty Foods: In general if it is contained in a wrapper, it is probably not the best option. Likewise, foods with trans-fats can be a symptom trigger and also can increase your risk of heart disease and reduce serotonin (our mood hormone). This can lead to increased moodiness, depression, and memory issues – we can experience these enough without the help of extra fats! Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins are the best choices.
- Sugary beverages and desserts: Many of us love those comforting treats laden with processed sugar. Unfortunately, our bodies often don’t process sugar the same way they used to. Load up on sweet fruits and veggies but try to cut back or avoid refined sugar. If you want a sweetener, opt for Stevia, agave, honey, monk fruit sweeteners, or maple syrup.
- Caffeine: For some, caffeine poses no issue. But for others, the cuppa joe in the morning just doesn’t settle well with their stomach and worsens menopause symptoms. In a Health & Her study, 44% of women noticed more sensitivity to caffeine during menopause. Plus, caffeine can be dehydrating. Try delaying your caffeine fix in the morning and see if that helps or allows you to eliminate it. Stay away from caffeine after about 3 p.m., so it doesn’t interfere with your precious sleep!
- Alcohol: You may find that during menopause, you can’t drink like a fish – the consequences the next morning just aren’t worth it! In the same Health & Her study, 40% of women became increasingly intolerant to alcohol’s effects during perimenopause or menopause. Alcohol can not only give you a hangover, but can increase brain fog the next day, disrupt sleep, exacerbate hot flashes, and increase belly fat. You may not have to eliminate it entirely but try to limit alcohol to a few days per week and no more than five ounces daily. This will likely help with weight management and sleep.
- Spicy Food: This one makes logical sense – spicy foods can be a major trigger for menopause symptoms including stomach issues, palpitations, and bladder sensitivity. So, try to stay away from foods with chili and black pepper, and anything else that makes your mouth burn!
Foods & Beverages to Consume More of During Menopause
- Drinks tons of Water: Another reminder to hydrate! Water is important for digestion, and to transport oxygen, fat, and glucose to your muscles, regulate body temperature, deliver nutrients to your body, and flush out waste and toxins. Everyone is different in terms of how much water they need to drink, and this is also impacted by consuming foods that have water, as well as environmental and activity differences. A general rule of thumb is to target at least 80 ounces a day.
- Eat more complex grains: Try swapping bread and pasta for complex carbs and grains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and oats. These are good for the heart, provide sustainable energy to power the brain and body, help you feel full, and keep you regular.
- Enjoy fish: Fish can help lower inflammation by providing omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats!). Aim to eat fish 2-3 times a week and/or consume walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and other plant-based sources of healthy fats.
- Keep Sodium Low: High sodium intake can raise the risk of heart disease and hypertension. During menopause, the recommended sodium limits go down (at age 50), from 2,300 mg to 1,500 mg per day. You can also try to use herbs and rinse canned foods to lower sodium intake.
- Eat High-Protein Foods: Protein requirements are higher for older adults to help maintain muscle mass and assist in repair after activity. Protein-rich foods can also help you stay full so you’re less tempted to snack; plus, these can increase bone density and metabolism and assist in controlling blood sugars. It’s great to mix animal and plant proteins with options such as lean steak, fish, chicken breast, and turkey, and plant-based options like tofu, lentils, and quinoa. It is also best to try consuming protein throughout the day.
- Eat more soluble fiber: Soluble fiber is satiating and helps reduce belly fat. Soluble fiber is found in cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, broccoli, and brussel sprouts), beans, avocados, oats, nuts, and seeds.
- Eat Healthy Unsaturated Fats: These are anti-inflammatory and can improve blood cholesterol levels, stabilize heart rhythms, and play several other beneficial roles. Focus on unsaturated fat foods such as fish, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
- Eat High-Calcium Foods: As you age, bone density lowers, so you need calcium-rich foods to build to lower the risk of osteoporosis, prevent fractures and injury, and keep bones strong and stable. For women, calcium needs jump at age 50 from 1,000 mg/day to 1,200. Great calcium sources are milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, fortified non-dairy milks, eggs, and leafy greens.
- Eat the Rainbow: Look for bright colorful vegetables and fruits – especially ones with greens, oranges, reds, purples, and yellows, as these have antioxidants to fight aging. Berries, sweet potato, leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers, melon, eggplant, beets, and squash are all good options.
- Stick to Whole Foods: In general, aim to eat whole foods, which are fresh or frozen, such as fruit and veggies, lean proteins, fish, and whole grains, to stay in optimal health. Whole foods also provide fiber, are anti-inflammatory, and can have antioxidant qualities.
Eat When You Are Hungry and Consider Intermittent Fasting
It is also important to notice how and when you eat. Eat when you are hungry, instead of doing so for comfort or as a mindless activity when you’re on your screens, to nourish your body and keep your metabolism up. Our metabolism slows naturally with aging and menopause, so you burn fewer calories as you get older.
When you eat is just as important as what you eat on this diet. Intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss because of calorie restriction. And, it may have neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory effects. The 16:8 method is recommended – fasting for 16 hours and eating in an 8-hour window. Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, including individuals with diabetes, those taking certain medications, or people with a history of eating disorders. However, Dr. Haver, the founder of the Galveston Diet, recommends intermittent fasting for the neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory effects.
Menopause is A Great Time to Improve Your Overall Diet
Menopause is a great excuse to clean up your diet for your symptom relief and increased lifespan. It’s great to cook at home as often as possible to ensure the meals are healthy and nutrient-dense, and you can avoid any excessive sugars, salt, and oils that often go into restaurant meals. Add in good sleep hygiene and strength training, and you’ll hopefully feel a whole lot better!
If you have any questions or want to work with Menowar on a customized menopause plan for you, schedule a session here!
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.