If you’re looking for ways to manage your menopause symptoms, focus on your eating habits. Being thoughtful about nutrition can help with some of your symptoms, including hot flashes, bloating, mood swings, and weight gain. Here are 10 types of specific foods that can help improve your menopause symptoms as well as osteoporosis.
Great Foods To Eat During Menopause
When you eat the right combination of foods, you can slow down the aging process. What you do today, in terms of physical activity, stress management, and healthy eating, affects how you feel ten years from now.
Focusing on your nutrition as early as possible will help you as you approach menopause. It’s easier for most people to make these types of changes the sooner they get started. Eating the right nutrients and reducing your alcohol consumption will prepare your body for the natural hormonal changes that take place in midlife and help you counteract some of the side effects.
You can’t stop menopause or aging, but you can take control of how you feel rather than having the symptoms control you. Yet, we found women often overlook this or aren’t informed about the healing benefits of food – “food as medicine.” Women in our PeopleTweaker survey told us they wish they knew more about the effect food has on reducing menopause symptoms.
Weight gain is a common problem in midlife, especially during menopause. If you focus on portion size, calories, nutrients, and physical activity before your metabolism slows down, you’ll be in better shape to handle any potential weight gain.
It’s not just weight gain that you can control with food. You can reduce or potentially eliminate hot flashes too.
There are nine food groups packed with the right combination of vitamins, minerals/antioxidants, calories, fat, and fiber to manage your menopause symptoms.
- Lean protein.
- Calcium and Vitamin D.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Plant-based foods.
- Drink more water.
This list of foods to eat during menopause comes from scientific studies, research into the proven benefits of food on aging, and anecdotal evidence from women across the globe. Unlike the United States, in many parts of the world, especially in Asia, menopause-related symptoms are less severe than in the United States.
Although you can take a multivitamin, it’s usually better to get vitamins from food instead of a pill whenever possible.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are staples of almost every healthy lifestyle. It’s because they offer so many benefits like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they’re low in fat and calories.
The sweetness of fruits can help with sweet-tooth cravings, commonly impacted by hormonal changes. They’re a better alternative than candy or other sweets.
Most importantly, research shows eating lots of fruits and vegetables can improve your bone health.
You naturally lose bone mass as you age, and osteoporosis is a concern for postmenopausal women, affecting 1 in 3 women over age 50. Osteoporosis makes your bones weak and increase the risk of falls and fracture. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of all adults age 50 and older are at risk for breaking a bone. In fact, women are more likely to break a bone than the combined risk of getting breast cancer or having a heart attack or stroke.
In addition to the bone benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, they’re also full of antioxidants that help your body lower inflammation and maintain a healthy weight.
Dark green leafy vegetables and brightly-colored fruits are best. You’ve probably heard that you should eat the rainbow.
A dietician at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital recommends a focus on the following fruits and vegetables for the most benefit to your health.
- Bell peppers
In addition to fruits and vegetables, calcium also lowers your risk of osteoporosis. How much you need depends on the expert you consult as recommendations vary worldwide. In the United States, the recommended daily intake is 1200-1500 mg a day for women 50 and over.
The World Health Organization recommends less than half of that, with just 500 mg of calcium per day for post-menopausal women eating a low animal protein diet.
That’s a big difference in recommendations. Before you consider taking “extra” calcium, know that researchers found taking more calcium doesn’t necessarily reduce your risk of breaking a bone if you’re postmenopausal. It can increase your chance of having a kidney stone, so there remains controversy about the extent to which calcium is needed and the possible benefits.
Most calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, and several cheese varieties. While most people think of milk as an excellent calcium source, greens and beans are better sources. Except for spinach, your body absorbs calcium in greens better than milk.
Even a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice is better than milk, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
The highest calcium-rich foods include:
- Parmesan cheese
- Mozzarella cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- Skim and reduced-fat milk
- Ricotta cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Swiss cheese
Fruit and vegetables
- Navel orange
- Mustard spinach
- Chinese cabbage, bok choy
- Turnip greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Butternut squash
- Collard greens
- Sweet potato
- Sweet yellow pepper
- Tortilla, corn
- Whole-grain bread and cereals
- Black beans
- Great northern beans
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Navy beans
- Pinto beans
- Vegetarian baked beans
- Cannellini beans
- Fortified ready-to-eat cereals
- Calcium-fortified orange juice
- Non-dairy milk like almond milk
For more details on the amount of calcium in each food, look at the USDA Dietary Guidelines for calcium.
Vitamin D and menopause
While eating calcium-rich foods will help bone health, you also need vitamin D. It helps your body absorb the calcium.
As you age, your body converts less vitamin D, so menopausal women should add vitamin D rich foods to their diet or take a vitamin.
Doctors recommend 800 to 1000 IU of Vitamin D a day, once you’re over age 71. Below 71, it’s recommended you get 600 IU. However, it is helpful to get your vitamin D levels checked, as 8% of the American population is vitamin D deficient and another 24% are at risk for vitamin D “inadequacy.” African Americans and Mexican Americans have a higher rate of vitamin deficiency than the white population.
Finding the right combination of calcium and vitamin D is important. Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, recommends going lower on calcium and higher on Vitamin D. For example, a good combination for some might be 500-700 mg of calcium and 800 to 1000 IU of Vitamin D.
If you eat a well-balanced diet, you can get most of your calcium from food without the need to supplement it. To reach the recommended daily intake, have a serving or two of dairy every day. Milk is easier to consume, but remember greens provide more calcium than milk.
For vitamin D, Dr. Willett recommends taking a supplement. Very few foods contain enough vitamin D to reach the recommended levels.
Most of the vitamin D you’ll consume comes from fortified foods, according to the National Institutes of Health. For example, manufacturers fortify most milk with 100 IU of Vitamin D per cup. It’s also commonly found in soy, almond, and oat milk, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, and some brands of orange juice and yogurt.
Foods rich in vitamin D:
Meat, poultry, fish & eggs
- Flesh of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Rainbow trout
- Fish liver oils
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Low-fat milk
- Fortified soy, almond, or oat milk
- Fortified orange juice
By far, fish offers more vitamin D than most other foods. You have a variety to choose from according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines. The next best food to eat – mushrooms.
Combined with physical activity, lean protein can help fortify muscle mass and strength, which decrease as you age.
You’ll get some protein from vegetables, especially from foods like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, greens, and cauliflower.
These foods are high in lean protein:
Meat, poultry, fish & eggs
- Most types of fish including salmon
- Egg Whites
- Greek yogurt
Nuts & grains
- Nuts, unsalted
- Seeds, unsalted
- Brussel sprouts
Heart disease is the number one killer for women, and there’s an increase in heart attacks 10 years after menopause, according to the American Heart Association. It’s thought a decrease in estrogen in post-menopausal women may be one factor in this risk. Since it’s not the only reason your heart attack risk increases, a healthy lifestyle is considered one of the best ways to lower the likelihood of developing heart disease.
Whole grains provide a lot of fiber and are considered heart-healthy.
Consider adding these whole-grain foods to your shopping list:
- Brown rice
- Black rice
- Steel-cut oatmeal
- Whole-wheat bread
- Chapatti (Roti)
While you may not be surprised by rice, since it’s an everyday staple of Asian nutrition where menopause symptoms are reportedly less, other whole grains are a part of their diet too. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are common in Japan. Thousands of years before rice, Asians ate millet. Chapatti is another option. It’s unleavened flatbread found in India.
Your body needs more fiber
Fiber helps regulate your blood sugar and lower cholesterol. It also aids in digestion, specifically bowel movements. Fiber also makes you feel full longer, which is a great benefit if you’re dealing with menopausal weight gain.
If you’re increasing your fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you’re also increasing your fiber intake. Several fruits have fiber in the skin, so make sure you don’t peel your apple or pear and spend the dollars if you can on organic.
If there’s one food group to focus on, it’s fiber. It’s thought most Americans don’t get enough fiber. The American Heart Association recommends at least 25 grams a day for the average 2,000 calorie diet. Beans and ready-to-eat cereal offer the highest amounts of fiber, with just over 9 grams.
Consult the U.S.D.A. Dietary Guidelines for the amount of fiber in each food.
Try these fiber-rich foods during menopause:
Fruits & Vegetables
- Pear, with skin
- Apple, with skin
- Brussel sprouts
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread
- Whole-wheat spaghetti
Nuts & Seeds
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- High-fiber ready-to-eat cereal
Fish to eat during menopause
Fish is a staple of the Mediterranean diet which is proven to slow down the aging process. That’s why some menopausal women turn to fish. While any fish will help, cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3’s lower bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Since women are at more risk for heart disease post-menopause, omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of the diet.
You also find Omega-3 fatty acids in olive oil, another commonly used product in the Mediterranean diet.
It’s also thought some fish can delay menopause onset.
Nuts and seeds
Need a healthy menopause snack? Grab nuts or seeds. Nuts can be high-calorie, so don’t eat too many but many can be a source of good fat.
Many varieties are also considered “superfoods” due to their numerous benefits. For example, flaxseeds are loaded with fiber, plus they contain estrogen-like compounds which may help with hormonal fluctuations.
Healthy nuts to eat during menopause:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Soy nuts (roasted soybeans)
In a study of 60 postmenopausal women, women made therapeutic lifestyle changes and ate soy nuts three or four times a day. The women saw up to a 45 decrease in hot flashes.
Women who had more than 4.5 hot flashes a day saw a 45 percent decrease in symptoms, and women with less than 4.5 hot flashes a day saw a 41-percent reduction with the nutrition plan.
However, there’s conflicting evidence on the benefit of soy and isoflavones for menopausal women as well as some concern for those with a personal and/or history of breast cancer.
Many menopausal women focus on plant-based nutrition. Asian women who primarily eat these foods report fewer menopause symptoms than in the Western world. However, there’s conflicting research on the benefits of plant-based estrogen.
In an analysis of 62 studies involving 6653 women, hot flashes and vaginal dryness decreased modestly from soy isoflavones found in foods like tofu, miso, and Natto (fermented soybeans). Isoflavones are a type of plant-based estrogen.
There’s further research that vegans have less bothersome hot flashes, further fueling the plant-based food debate.
Plant-based foods include many of the ones listed above, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. In addition, eat plant-based estrogens like isoflavones. These foods include soy products and tofu.
Water is always a good choice, but especially during menopause when you’re dealing with dry skin and vaginal dryness.
Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
An ice-cold glass of water can also cool you down if you’re experiencing hot flashes.
Think about how you feel when you eat certain foods. That cup of cold water brings about a cooling effect when you’re hot, sweaty, or feeling flushed.
Also, think about what your body craves on a hot or cold day. Do you find yourself grabbing a cup of soup or a hot beverage during the winter and an ice-cold drink during the summer?
Certain foods have a warming and cooling effect on the body, even if they’re not heated or cooled by ice. In Chinese Medicine, these are called “cooling foods.” They can be beneficial for hot flashes.
Apples and bananas are common cooling foods. Celery, melons, and cucumber can also cool the body.
That’s why hot foods like coffee or spicy food are often on the list of foods to avoid during menopause, especially if you experience hot flashes.
Healthy Eating and menopause
Many women silently suffer during menopause. Now is the time to take action and avoid being a member of the silent majority! Even those with extreme symptoms can help mitigate them. Prepare your body early, surround yourself with support from friends and doctors, and find ways to improve your stress. Think of menopause like a marathon and make it a journey of self-empowerment.
The good news – you can naturally improve your life by “simply” adjusting the foods you eat.
This menopause shopping list is a handy guide to hang on your refrigerator or put in your reusable shopping bag, so you can focus on the beneficial foods to purchase when you’re buying groceries.
Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, Vitamin C and D, and fiber. If you’re curious about any food, you can look it up in the USDA’s FoodData Central to get information on the nutrients in each.
Healthy eating during menopause not only helps the number on the scale but impacts how you feel too. Plus, it puts you at less risk for health conditions like high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
What foods are you adding to your healthy lifestyle?
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)