Curb menopausal symptoms — with your diet
How and what to eat and drink to keep insomnia at bay and keep your libido healthy!
For many of us women, hitting menopause is not exactly the highlight of our lives. We dread the possible onset of common symptoms such as insomnia, hot flashes, sweating, anxiety, memory impairment (#menopausebrain), and feeling burnt-out. Some of the longer term consequences sound worse — a decline in libido, osteoporosis, heart disease, even dementia — all linked to hormonal changes and a natural decline in our estrogen levels. However, it's not curtains yet. One of the best ways to fight back is to adapt our diet, which can help to alleviate some of these challenging menopausal symptoms.
Bring in the fibre-rich foods
An adequate amount of daily fibre is essential in any diet, but as we head into menopause, we can find ourselves battling weight gain. This is where our good friend fibre lends an extra hand: it's one of the ultimate ways to control our weight, as fibre keep us feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer. A diet high in fibre keeps the bowels moving helping to eliminate excess estrogen from building up. Why is this important? Because excess estrogen can interfere with our natural hormonal balance, exacerbating our menopausal symptoms.
Embrace ground flax and chia seeds, effective fibre foods that are easy to add to a smoothie or a smoothie bowl. Indulge in hearty beans and lentils (great in soups, salads) whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice, millet) and cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
Tip: When increasing fibre in your diet, it's best to start off slowly and also increase your water intake to allow time for your body to adjust. Fibre can be damaging when there is a compromised digestive tract, so adjust accordingly or speak with your doctor or a holistic nutritionist.
Get intimate with foods high in B vitamins
Any change in our lives can bring added stress and for many, going through menopause ranks right up at the top. To make this transition easier on ourselves, we need to eat foods rich in B vitamins that help fortify our nervous systems, keeping unwanted stress at bay. Embrace eggs, beans and lentils, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, nuts (almonds and pecans) romaine lettuce, bell peppers, asparagus, cremini mushrooms, chicken, sardines, shrimp and scallops.
Indulge in fats… just the healthy ones!
I know — it sounds counter-intuitive to indulge in foods rich in fat when we're trying to prevent gaining weight. However, to be clear, we need to focus on the healthy, anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats and stay clear of the inflammatory Omega-6 fats (such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, peanut and cottonseed oils). Omega-3 fats help maintain hormonal balance, improve cardiovascular function and keep our weight under control. Embrace wild salmon, walnuts, sea vegetables/algae, chia and flax seeds, sardines and herrings.
You're no longer my sugar, sugar!
Sugar is my no.1 recommended food to avoid or drastically reduce during menopause since it intensifies every menopausal symptom out there, from weight gain to fatigue, night sweats to hot flashes, low libido to memory fog… need I go on? To add insult to injury, sugar and sugary foods provide us with zero nutrients and in order to break them down, we have re-deploy valuable nutrients intended for vital menopausal tasks.
That means cutting out simple carbs (the white stuff) such as bagels, bread, baked goods, white rice, enriched pasta, juice, candy, chips, syrups and alcohol (more on that later).
When you're out shopping, start checking the sugar amounts on food labels so you can figure out how much added sugar is contained in each serving. What you need to know is that 1 teaspoon = 4 grams of sugar and the World Health Organization recommends a daily free sugar intake of 6 teaspoons/24 grams. Don't be shocked if you find that many of your grocery favourites fall well outside of the 6/24 rule. The good news is that knowledge is power and there's no time like today to start making healthier choices.
Keep alcohol on the back burner
Ladies… lean in, as this is important. Alcohol is a diuretic leaving our tissues and cells (like vaginal walls) drier and more likely to feel irritated — a definite thumbs down when it comes to our sex lives. If you need a further incentive to put the cork back in the bottle, researchers found that alcohol consumption is associated with a modest increase in breast cancer risk and recommend limiting alcohol intake to no more than a glass per day (4-6 ounces of wine / 12-16 ounces of beer / one ounce of liquor).
So long, spicy food??
Who doesn't like some spice in their lives! Sadly, when it comes to the menopause, spicy foods aren't your BFF. They can stimulate nerve endings, dilate blood vessels, and hey, presto — a hot flash. In an international menopause study on middle-aged women in India, spicy food intake was found to the most common causative factor for hot flushes. So, if undressing in public doesn't sound appealing to you, it's probably best to enjoy spicy foods in the privacy of home while hot flashes are plaguing you.
Reduce or eliminate your caffeine — wait, what?!
I know, you love your coffee but as a stimulant, caffeine can hype-up our already depleted nervous system and if taken less than 6 hours before bed can significantly disrupt our much-needed sleep. Caffeine, like alcohol is also a diuretic, drying out our skin, leaving it dull and flat looking. What our skin (and our whole body) really thirsts for is water, so hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more! Keep this in mind when reaching for coffee, tea, caffeinated drinks, tea, chocolate bars, cacao...
If you're craving a warm drink, try a chicory root 'coffee' substitute, an herbal tea such as ginger, mint, lavender or chamomile tea, which are all caffeine-free and will make you feel just wonderfully calm and at ease. Another smart option is to switch to green tea that contains caffeine but thanks to the amino acid l-theanine, it will give you a 'zen-like' buzz, not the jitters. Green tea also contains polyphenols that may have protective effects against cancer. And, if you absolutely can't give up your morning Joe, try adopting the European lifestyle of drinking a glass of water with your coffee, to keep hydration up.
Joanna Colville-Reeves is a passionate Holistic Nutritionist, classically trained chef and founder of the BRIT BEET. She loves giving creative plant-based cooking classes and workshops in the intimate setting of her home, sharing her own deliciously, nourishing recipes and lifestyle recommendations. As a health care advocate, Joanna serves as Co-Chair of the Nutrition Committee of Upper Canada College providing nutritional guidance to improve the academic and athletic performance of over 750 students.