The following piece about the importance of nutrition during the menopause was written by nutritional therapist Rosemary Ferguson. You can see more of Rosemary on my IGTV or You Tube Channel and find more of her work here.
Menopause, an introduction
Why is the menopause greeted with such fear and dread? Surely it’s just another hormonal change, not dissimilar to that of starting our menses? It cannot be avoided; every woman goes through it, and there is much we can do with regard to nutrition to support our bodies through the transition. These strategies will help you to emerge healthier and stronger in both mind and body than ever before.
The average age for menopause is around 51 years old and there are certain lifestyle and diet changes that we can make prior to this to ensure we are ready for it when it comes!
These are some of the most common symptoms experienced:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Cognitive decline/problems (memory loss)
- Sleep problems/insomnia
- Mood changes
- Weight gain especially around the middle and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin all over
- Loss of breast fullness/ breast pain
The tell tale symptoms of menopause are usually enough to let most women that the menopausal transition has started! Also known as the peri-menopause – this stage can go on for up to 10 years. Typically the absence of menstrual periods for one year accompanied by some or all of the above symptoms will determine the diagnosis of the actual menopause. There are various tests that can be done to further confirm this stage, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and oestrogen (estradiol) levels.
Nutrition management is one of the most important parts of managing symptoms, so here are some key hints and tips to make your transition easier
Try to eat a diet that is anti-inflammatory and rich in anti-oxidants.
Eat fresh wholefood such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains as well as lean proteins. Avoid dietary irritants such as refined sugar, wheat, gluten, dairy and alcohol.
Healthy fats are a vital part of your diet as you go through menopause. They play an important role in keeping your hormonal balance, so make sure to include them as part of your regular diet.
Now more than ever it’s not the time to skip lunch and reach for the ‘low cal’ sugary granola bar.
Turn to avocados, oily fish, olive oil, flax oil, nut butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews etc to ensure a good intake of healthy fats. You can supplement with fish oil capsules if you struggle to consume fish but to obtain the full nutrient spectrum it is best to eat the source.
B vitamins are key to looking after your adrenals. Say no when you need to and rest when your body feels pushed. Ensure you are getting enough B vitamins; good sources of these are dark leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, cavolo Nero, brown rice, oats, sunflower seeds, bananas, avocados, meat, and eggs.
Consume good quality lean protein at each meal and also opt for protein-rich snacks. These include chicken, turkey, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. When opting for fish be mindful of heavy metals.
Phytoestrogens can help alleviate some of your menopausal symptoms, so it is important to include them in your diet in the form of legumes, beans, flaxseed and fermented organic soy like tempeh. These foods can actually mimic the role of oestrogen and have mild oestrogenic effects. I would highly recommend 1-2 tbsp flax daily.
Fibre is important for healthy bowel elimination (of toxins), so up your veggie count. Sneak them in at every meal! It’s easy to increase your intake – a handful of spinach in your smoothie, or with your eggs, a side of steamed broccoli/roasted courgettes, swap your pasta for pea pasta (extra vitamin C AND greens)
Alcohol & Coffee
Minimize alcohol and coffee intake – These are stimulants and will cause inflammation in the body. Whilst I do love a glass of wine, I try to compromise and only drink at the weekends and stick to one coffee a day.
Cut back on refined sugars – It’s important to keep blood sugars stable. Insulin is a hormone that is released when carbohydrates are consumed to mediate blood sugar levels. During the menopause we can become insulin resistant (meaning our bodies ignore the signal for insulin) which causes the body to hold sugar, leading to the dreaded ‘fat around the middle’ and makes weight loss increasingly more difficult.
Herbs for menopause
Include menopause loving and hormone balancing herbs and adaptogens daily. I recommend organic raw maca powder, rhodiola, lemon balm, red clover, ginseng, sage, chaste tree, ashwaghnada, and shatavari. These can be used for a combination of things from irritability and moodiness to managing stress and helping with sleepless nights, hot flushes and night sweats. They can be taken in powder form in your smoothies or brewed as fresh herbal teas and sipped throughout the day.
- Restorative exercise recommended. Yoga or walking. During the menopause, bone density can weaken and as a result, in some cases this leads to osteoporosis, so make sure you include some weight bearing exercises.
- Water. You should be drinking at least 2 litres a day.
- Practice deep stomach breathing. Paced breathing is slow, deep, and diaphragmatic. The goal of paced breathing is to reduce the stress chemicals your brain produces and creates a relaxation response. Research shows this can help with hot flushes.
- 15 minutes a day of sun exposure for Vitamin D. This lowers risk of osteoporosis and supports the ageing process.
- Limit your exposure to toxins in the home. (E.g.- Plug in air fresheners, furniture polish, cleaning liquids, toiletries, hair spray etc.) They contain hormone-disrupting chemicals, which can lead to hormone abnormalities.
- Be wary of Xenoestrogens. These are found in plastics, pesticides and water systems. They act as an oestrogen; disrupting hormones and being false messengers and can influence bodily processes, such as growth, cell repair, foetal development, energy levels and reproduction. Choose glass bottles, food jars as opposed to aluminium cans, always filter your water and opt for organic.
- Try for 8 hours sleep a night in a dark room, with no artificial light.
As you can see, menopause nutrition ‘management’ requires a holistic approach. Mind and body must work together throughout this life change.
Daily Menopause Smoothie
- 1 cup of organic spinach (leafy greens-Iron, calcium).
- ½ cup of organic kale (brassicas).
- 1 banana (potassium).
- ½ cup of frozen berries (antioxidants).
- 2 brazil nuts (selenium).
- 1 tsp of organic almond butter (protein, healthy fats, vitamin E, calcium).
- 2 tbsp. of flaxseeds (fibre, protein, omega 3).
- 1 heaped tsp of organic raw maca powder. (Please start at 1 tsp and then work up to 2 tsp a week later).
- 1 heaped tsp of raw organic cacao powder.
- Blend with 1-2 cups of organic coconut milk in a vitamix/blender and enjoy!
- 1 Tbsp. raw cacao powder.
- 1/2 tsp reishi mushroom powder.
- 1 tsp organic maca powder.
- Pinch of Himalayan pink salt + cinnamon!
- 1 tsp hemp seeds.
- ½ cup of cashews +1 cup of warm water from kettle (your milk).
- 1/2 Tbsp. Manuka honey/Organic raw honey.
- Blend on high in a vitamix/blender until warm.