Menopause. The change. Whatever you call it, it’s important to remember that it’s not a disease to be treated, but rather a normal stage of life. Menopause “officially” starts 12-months after your last period. That happens, on average, around the age of 51.
This change doesn’t happen overnight, though. There are usually a few years of the menopausal transition, known as perimenopause. Perimenopause often starts in the early- to mid-40s. This is when some may start feeling symptoms like:
- Weight gain—especially around the midsection
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
Why does this even happen? Some of the reasons behind all these changes include your changing hormones, metabolism, stress levels, and lifestyle.
Because your body goes through all these changes, its nutritional needs also change. Here are some expert nutrition tips to help you navigate the onset of menopause.
Nutrition tips for the Onset of Menopause
1. Hydration is Helpful
Some key menopausal symptoms may be improved simply by drinking more fluids. If hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, or bladder infections are affecting you, try drinking at least six 8-oz glasses of water per day to help hydrate you. If water is challenging to drink, try herbal teas or jazz up your water with a lemon or lime. It’s important to remember that with age, we all slowly lose our sense of thirst. This means you can become less hydrated without even noticing it, through no fault of your own. So find ways to make it easy and appealing to sip on a hydrating beverage all day long. Start early in the morning so you get your fluids in well before it wakes you up in the middle of the night.
2. Rethink that Night Time Drink
Although that glass of wine feels like a great way to unwind at the end of the day, think about whether it is truly helpful or harmful. Alcohol can worsen hot flashes and make it harder to stay asleep. It can also increase your risk of getting or worsening many health conditions. Not to mention it can make you forgetful and confused, and can even lead to loss of muscle mass, balance problems, falls, and accidents. A nightly glass of wine may also be contributing unnecessary calories, especially with a heavy pour.
3. Cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar
If hot flashes bother you, consider avoiding common triggers like spicy foods and caffeine.
When it comes to sugar, the simplest way to cut down is to replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water or herbal tea. Also, excess sugar can be coming from things like chocolate, doughnuts, pastries, desserts, and snacks. If the thought of cutting out all sweets doesn’t sound fair (we agree), try eating smaller portions or even half-sized desserts. A recent study showed that menopausal women who ate more sweets, fats, and snacks suffered from menopausal symptoms more than those who ate more fruits and vegetables. We’re talking hot flashes, night sweats, muscle, and joint problems, and bladder issues were all worse for the dessert-lovers. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself completely! Find creative ways to enjoy sweets in a new, healthier way.
4. Be mindful of your energy needs.
For most, metabolism slows down gradually as we age. It happens for many reasons including the fact that we tend to move around less throughout the day, exercise less, and we lose muscle mass that doesn’t get used regularly. This means that by continuing to eat the same amount of food as you did in your 30s and 40s, you’ll start gaining weight. On average, women in their 50s and 60s gain about 1.5 pounds every year. Mindful eating can help. Try starting with smaller portions and paying attention to how much you need to feel full and satisfied.
PRO TIP: Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime, particularly if you have trouble sleeping.
5. Eat higher quality foods
Focus on quality foods with a lot of nutrients (i.e., nutrient-dense foods). These include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. When it comes to protein for your muscles and bones, eat legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and/or poultry. A recent study showed that menopausal women who ate the most greens had the fewest complaints about typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. By eating more nutrient-dense foods like these ones you’ll get more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein—all of which are very important to maintain your health at and beyond menopause.
PRO TIP: Your bones love calcium and vitamin D. Some of the richest sources of these are dairy products, fish with bones, and foods fortified with these nutrients (check your labels).
What about soy and phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen—the hormone that your body slows down the production of during menopause. Soy is the best-known food containing these phytoestrogens and is often recommended for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. In addition to food sources, you can also find dietary supplements with high amounts of phytoestrogens. Some women choose to take these supplements instead of hormones.
Research shows inconsistent results when it comes to phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms. That means some studies show a small reduction in hot flashes, while others don’t.
A recent review of 23 studies looked at the effect of phytoestrogen supplements on postmenopausal women. It found that some women (those who had diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol) who took the supplements weighed about 2 pounds more than women who were not taking phytoestrogen supplements. This was the opposite for healthy women taking phytoestrogens, who tended to weigh less about 0.6 pounds less than those not taking phytoestrogens.
If you’re interested in taking these phytoestrogens, speak with your healthcare professional first.
A few simple diet and lifestyle changes can help you navigate the onset of menopause.
Be sure to drink enough fluids, but minimize alcohol; cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar; eat mindfully and focus on higher-quality food. Lastly, include soy foods in your diet if you enjoy them, but don’t expect it to miraculously solve any bothersome menopausal symptoms.
If you’d like personalized nutrition recommendations and coaching to help you feel your best during perimenopause and menopause, let’s start with a phone conversation to see how we can help! Set up a call today.
The Truth About Hormones and Nutrition – Free Workshop Recording. Nutrtition can help support your hormone health. We share nutrition tips for help with sleep, your menstrual cycle, stress and appetite.
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