Foods to Nourish Your Body During Menopause
Hot flushes, irritability, night sweats…yup, it’s the menopause. But as a hand Mother Nature has dealt and an integral part of womanhood, what can be done to mitigate the often-incapacitating symptoms associated with the menopause? One solution: adapting your diet. A raft of scientific evidence suggests fine-tuning the contents of your meals and snacks can help restore some harmony to your hormones and keep those unpleasant side effects at bay.
Pile in the protein
Protein may conjure up that well-worn cliché of athletes and bodybuilders loading up on protein bars and shakes, but in truth, it’s an essential part of everyone’s diet – particularly during the menopause. In addition to supporting countless biological processes in the female anatomy – hormone function, bone structure, tissue repair, oxygen transportation, and teeth, hair and nail health – protein also aids with satiety i. Indeed, as you hit the menopause, you may notice fluctuations in your appetite and weight. To prevent nagging hunger pangs from getting the better of you, eat protein with every meal. This will enhance feelings of fullness, so those calorie-laden pick-me-ups don’t tempt you. Quick wins include animal protein like grass-fed, organic chicken, beef, lamb and eggs; and plant-based protein such as lentils, beans and tempeh.
Fill up on fibre
Fibre is another food group that can seamlessly support your body during the menopause. As you head towards this hormonal transition, you can find yourself struggling with weight gain. This is where our trusty pal, fibre, comes in. This compound supports satiety, meaning it helps you feel fuller for longer. Added bonus: fibre assists with healthy hormone regulation, too. It keeps the bowels in good working order, which is needed to excrete oestrogen more efficiently iv. You see, excess oestrogen can toy with your natural hormone balance and intensify those irksome menopausal symptoms – something you definitely want to avoid. Indulge in lentils and beans, whole grains like oats, barley and brown rice, and cruciferous veggies, such as cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and cabbage.
Make B vitamins your best buds
Menopause can put your body through a lot of stress: fact. To ease yourself into this hormonal transition, load up on foods rich in B vitamins. This family of nourishing nutrients help to fortify your nervous system v. The result: a reduction in those tempestuous mood swings and an increase in energy levels. Huzzah! Embrace beans, lentils, nuts, green veggies, chicken, sardines, shrimp, scallops and eggs.
Okay, time to bust some myths. Healthy fats won’t make you fat. Promise. To be crystal clear, we’re talking about the nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, Omega-3 kind. These fats work wonders in your body, supporting hormone balance, cardiovascular health, weight management and even emotional wellbeing vi vii. Omega-3s may lubricate certain areas in the body, too, tackling joint discomfort, dry skin, and intimate dryness – other irritating problems often associated with the menopause. Load up on oily fish (we suggest 2-3 portions of salmon, anchovies, sardines per week), avocados, chia, flaxseeds, walnuts and seeds.
Bone up on calcium
Thanks to depleting oestrogen stores – a hormone that keeps bones strong and hardy – women can face the reality of thinning bones during the menopause. Here’s some context for you: women lose roughly 50% of their trabecular bone and 30% of their cortical bone over the course of their lifetime, half of which is lost during the 10 years after the menopause viii. When we think bones, we think calcium. And it’s more important than ever to up your intake of dietary calcium when you hit the menopause. Load up on bone-bolstering, calcium-rich food like dairy products, leafy green vegetables, seeds, sardines and canned salmon.
Get more of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D
Newsflash: you can’t have calcium without an ample supply of the sunshine nutrient, vitamin D. This little wonder helps with the absorption of calcium, and therefore plays an equally important role in protecting your bones. Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D, but as many of us Brits know, living in the UK can mean this is unpredictable at the best of times. To keep your levels topped up, fill up on cheese, egg yolks, and fatty fish like tuna, salmon and sardines. Oh, and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure you opt for food fortified with vitamin D, such as plant-based milk.
Meet the mighty mineral, magnesium
Magnesium is yet another dream partner for calcium. Like vitamin D, this mineral helps with the absorption of calcium, making it delicious food for your bones. Not only that, but magnesium has also earned itself a reputation as being ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ – and it certainly lives up to its name. Yup, this miracle mineral does it all: it assists with sleep trouble, combats irritability, and aids with low mood, providing some support from the wrath of menopause ix. To strengthen your nutrient reserves, aim for 375mg magnesium every day. Quinoa, mackerel and cashews boast the highest amount per serving (118mg, 108mg, and 80mg respectively). Other rich sources to mention include green leafy veggies, dark chocolate, legumes, nuts, seeds and oil fishy (remember: aim for 2-3 portions per week).
Pack a punch with phytoestrogens
Want to go a day without having to change your t-shirt four times? Phytoestrogens might just be the answer to your hot flush woes. Although its health benefits have been debated in recent years, a bulk of data suggests soy products may decrease the incidence of hot flushes ii iii. Consuming soya milk, soy flour, miso, tofu, tempeh, Edamame and flaxseeds in moderation is a stellar option in your arsenal.
Eat more top-notch tryptophan
If you’re battling with bouts of anxiety, low mood and grouchiness, listen up. The amino acid, tryptophan, has got your back (and your mind, for that matter). This compound helps manufacture the neurotransmitter serotonin – the feel-good hormone that affects behaviour, sleep and appetite. Eating a diet rich in tryptophan, then, may help with those unpredictable fluctuations in mood x. You can find this amino acid in abundance in turkey, cottage cheese, oats and legumes. There…that’s better.
Hello hair hero, biotin
Lacklustre hair and brittle nails are a common complaint of many menopausal women. The culprit? Declining oestrogen levels (surprise, surprise). While there’s no magic bullet cure, eating foods rich in biotin could certainly help. Biotin plays a special role in promoting healthy hair and nails in the body xi. For the ultimate hair pick-me-up, add more eggs yolks lean meats, and liver to your diet (did you know eating liver is one the simplest ways to increase your biotin intake?). For veggies and vegans, turn to nuts, seeds, avocados and sweet potato.
Hydrate with H20
Though technically not a ‘food’, water is totally worth a mention anyway. Drinking enough H20 is crucial at every stage of life, but it’s especially important during the menopause. Adequate hydration can ease menopausal symptoms of dryness and bloating. If straight-up water isn’t your thing, add lemon and cucumber to tantalize your taste buds and trick you into guzzling more. Don’t forget to munch on foods that have high water content, too. Watermelon, strawberries and celery are chocker-full of thirst-quenching goodness.
Despite what you read in the media, the menopause isn’t all doom and gloom, promise. By arming yourself with the correct tools, such as the foods we’ve outlined above, you can transition to the next stage of your life with energy, zest and tons of positivity. Remember, while you can’t change the reality of the menopause, you can certainly change the way you deal with it. And revamping your diet is a pretty good place to start.
Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R.D., Wolfe, R.R., Astrup, A., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87, (5) 1558S–1561S.
Baber, R., Templeman, C., Morton, T., Kelly, G. & West, L. (1999). Randomized placebo-controlled trial of an isoflavone supplement and menopausal symptoms in women. Climacteric, 2(2), 85-92.
Howes, L., Howes, J. & Knight, D. (2006). Isoflavone therapy for menopausal flushes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Maturitas, 55(3), 203-211.
Gaskins, A.J, Mumford, S.L., Zhang, C., Wactawski-Wende, J., Hovey, K.M., Whitcomb, B.W., Schisterman, E.F. (2009). Effect of daily fiber intake on reproductive function: the BioCycle Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(4), 1061–1069.
Stough, C., Simpson, T., Lomas, J., McPhee, G., Billings, C., Myers S., Downey, L.A. (2014). Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol. Nutrition Journal, 13, 122.
Swanson, D., Block, R. & Mousa, S. (2012). Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Advances in Nutrition, 3(1), 1-7.
Freeman, M.P., Hibbeln, J.R., Silver, M., Hirschberg, A.M., Wang, B., Yule, A.M., Cohen, L.S. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder associated with the menopausal transition: a preliminary open trial. Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 18(3), 279–284.
Finkelstein, J.S., Brockwell, S.E., Mehta, V., Greendale, G.A., Sowers, M.R., Ettinger, B., Neer, R.M. (2008). Bone Mineral Density Changes during the Menopause Transition in a Multiethnic Cohort of Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 93(3), 861–868.
Phelan, D., Molero, P., Martínez-González, M.A. & Molendijk, M. (2018). Magnesium and mood disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BJPsych Open, 4(4), 167–179.
Leyse-Wallace, R. (2008). Linking nutrition to mental health: a scientific exploration. iUniverse, Inc, New York, 68.
Goluch-Koniuszy, Z.S. (2016). Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause. Menopause Reviewk, 15(1), 56–61.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.