Women who have followed a healthy diet and exercise regime in the years leading up to the menopause tend to cope better with the menopause than those who have not.
Healthy eating is important at any stage in life but even more so during the menopause. The reason for this is that this is a time when your body will show the effects of your diet. So if you have eaten junk food or your nutrition is poor generally then this will affect your physical appearance.
If you are wondering about the cause of those few extra pounds then have a look at your diet as that is likely to be the culprit.
Importance of a healthy diet during the menopause
Diet is an important part of your lifestyle which will not only improve menopausal symptoms but your overall state of health.
The aim is for a diet which is low in saturated fat, high in carbohydrates and protein and includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Use the ‘traffic light’labelling system on foods. This system uses red for high fat, amber for medium fat and green for low fat which is a useful nutritional guide.
Reduce your consumption of processed foods, convenience or ‘ready meals’and junk foods. Choose fresh food instead and cook meals rather than grabbing a ready meal from your local supermarket.
Choose wholegrains instead of ‘white’ foods. By this we mean foods which are made with wholemeal flour rather than white. These include wholemeal/granary bread instead of white, wholemeal pasta and rice instead of white versions and pulses, nuts and seeds.
Choose low fat versions of any dairy products or foods which you cannot do without. You do not have to give up these forbidden foods altogether but keep them as an occasional treat.
Avoid fad or crash diets as these can result in more weight being gained than originally lost and be aware of portion control. This means having smaller portions of food than previously.
Your metabolism does slow down as you age so you will have to adjust your calorie intake. You will find that you have to reduce your normal calorie intake, for example by 500 calories, to maintain your weight.
As long as you do this and exercise regularly then you won’t gain weight. It is more difficult to lose weight the older you get so it does require a disciplined approach to ensure that you remain at your current weight.
We are told to eat less fat but there are ‘good’fats and ‘bad’fats and the trick is to choose the right ones. Good fats are vital for many functions within the body and must be included in your diet.
Bad fats are ‘saturated fats’ which can raise cholesterol levels in the blood thereby increasing the risk of heart disease and other conditions.
These are found in the following foods:
- Red meat
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
Aim for low fat foods or only have a small portion of a food which is high in saturated fat.
Good fats are unsaturated fats and include those which are high in omega 3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.
Examples of these include:
- Oily fish, e.g. sardines
- Nuts, e.g. brazil nuts
- Olive oil
- Sunflower oil
- Vegetable oil
- Low fat spreads
Include these in your diet: replace saturated fats with these and other types of healthy foods.
These are another essential part of your diet. There are two types of carbohydrates: starches and sugars but choose starches rather than refined sugars.
These are known as complex carbohydrates.
Examples of starches include:
- Wholegrain bread
- Wholegrain rice
- Wholegrain pasta
These should form a third of your diet. Replace refined carbohydrates such as white bread or rice with the wholegrain version.
Sugars or simple carbohydrates are commonly found in many processed foods and as a result of that, should be avoided.
Examples of sugars include:
- White bread
- White rice
- White pasta
- Fruit juice
- Fizzy drinks, e.g. cola
Try to avoid these or if not possible, limit your consumption of these. It can be difficult if you have a sweet tooth but if that is the case then look for an alternative or have them on an occasional basis.
If you have any sugars such as these then only have a small portion.
Most people associate protein with bodybuilders but it is an important part of everyone’s diet. It does help to build muscle mass but generally, it is vital for the everyday functioning of the body.
It is essential for tissue repair and the growth of new cells.
There are two types of protein: animal protein and plant protein. Animal proteins contain essential amino acids which are not produced by the body which means that they must be ingested via food.
Examples of animal protein include:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
Choose lean cuts of red meat and low fat dairy products.
Plant proteins also contain amino acids but all of these acids cannot be found in just the one source. In other words, you need to have a wide selection of these foods to ensure that you get all of these essential amino acids.
Examples of plant protein include:
- Green beans
- Beans, e.g. kidney
- Vegetarian foods such as tofu or Quorn
Include more plant proteins than animal proteins in your diet.
Vitamins, minerals and calcium
These are important for everyone as they perform a wide range of functions which keep our bodies in optimum health. A deficiency in any of these, for example a Vitamin A deficiency means an increased risk of infections.
Your body needs vitamins to function. This equally applies to minerals as they too perform an important role in your overall health. Minerals provide us with energy and help to build strong teeth and bones.
The issue about bones is particularly relevant to menopausal women. Your bone density falls during the menopause so it is important that you take steps to reduce this risk.
Another important factor in bone health is calcium. Calcium not only builds strong bones and teeth but regulates your heartbeat as well. It may help to reduce high blood pressure and protect you against breast cancer although more research is needed to support this.
Bone loss speeds up during the menopause so choose foods which are rich in calcium.
Examples of foods which contain calcium:
- Dark green leafy vegetables, e.g. cabbage
- Bread, e.g. wholemeal
- Oily fish, e.g. sardines and pilchards
In regard to dairy foods, choose low fat versions such as cottage cheese instead of hard cheese, e.g. Cheddar and skimmed milk instead of full fat milk.
Most of us consume too much salt which can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and strokes.
The problem is that salt is present in so many foods that we are not always aware of how much we consume.
The recommended daily limit is 6g (adults)
(Source: Food Standards Agency/eat well)
So check the labels on foods to see how much salt they contain. If they contain high levels of salt then avoid them or have them as a treat only.
Examples of foods which are high in salt:
- Cooked meats e.g. salami, ham
- Smoked fish
- Stock cubes
- Soy sauce
Then there are foods which people are surprised to learn are high in salt. These include soups, tomato ketchup, pasta sauces and sandwiches.
If you use liberal amounts of salt when cooking or use it to season your food then change to healthier alternatives. These include black pepper and/or fresh herbs as a form of seasoning.
Caffeine is a popular substance in the UK which is found in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate. It is a stimulant which increases alertness and concentration and enables you to perform at a high level.
Many people enjoy it for the quick energy boost such as that experienced when drinking a cup of coffee. They argue that they are unable to function without a caffeine boost first thing in the morning.
Arguments continue regarding the benefits and risks of caffeine. Like most things if it consumed in moderate amounts then that is fine but excessive consumption causes health problems.
One problem which is particularly relevant for menopausal women is a loss of bone density.
If you are addicted to your lattes and cappuccinos and consume large amounts of these then be aware that they cause your body to excrete calcium from your body. Calcium is needed to build strong bones so depleting this will impact upon your bone density.
Caffeine also reduces the rate of absorption of calcium and other minerals in your body. This also reduces their effectiveness.
Another problem with caffeine is that it can increase stress levels. It causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure which contributes to feelings of stress and anxiety.
If you are experiencing these emotions as a result of the menopause then caffeine will exacerbate these.
Reduce your intake of caffeine or even better, cut it out altogether. Another option is to switch to a healthier alternative such as herbal tea or green tea.
Aim for a well balanced diet which includes carbohydrates, fats (good fats), protein, vitamins and minerals. Reduce your intake of salt, sugar and caffeine and combine with an exercise routine.
- Guide to Menopause
- What is the menopause?
- Female hormones and menopause
- Premature menopause
- Menopause signs
- Menopause symptoms
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Urinary changes
- Vaginal changes
- Weight gain
- Lack of interest in sex
- Aches and pains
- Skin changes
- Emotional changes
- Health risks of the menopause
- Heart disease
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Menopause treatment
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Benefits of hormone replacement therapy
- Risks of hormone replacement therapy
- Alternatives to hormone replacement therapy
- Vaginal lubricants
- Menopause self help
- Nutritional supplements
- Complimentary therapies
- Botanical products
- How to survive the menopause
- Menopause myths
- Menopause FAQs