While most of modern medicine focuses on hormone therapy, pills, and creams to alleviate or reduce menopause symptoms, sometimes it’s as simple as focusing on what you eat. Clinical studies and research of menopause experiences around the world show foods affect how you feel. Focusing on healthy eating long before menopause symptoms start, and during the hormonal shift, can reduce and potentially even eliminate common symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and weight gain.
Double down on healthy eating
Hormonal shifts are a natural part of the menopause life cycle, and there are natural ways to manage the challenges this stage of life presents. First, look at your lifestyle, specifically the foods you eat.
PeopleTweaker surveyed women at all stages of menopause. Over a third of women identified hot flashes and a slowing metabolism as their main issues.
Physical activity was the go-to menopause remedy in the survey. Hormone therapy was a close second followed by changes in eating patterns.
Food choices play a big role, and a holistic nurse practitioner we surveyed, stresses that with the women she treats in menopause and peri-menopause.
“Sometimes, women have been told, when it comes to the symptoms they’ve been having, their eating habits don’t have anything to do with it. And, so I’m always flabbergasted by that. Your nutrition has everything to do with everything,” she explained.
Not only did her training show healthy eating makes a difference, but she also experienced the impact firsthand.
“I thought I was doing everything healthy at the time. And realized everything I thought was healthy as far as nutrition went, it wasn’t. Got rid of the frozen dinners for my lunches and the diet soda. Like many people think it helps maintain your weight, but it doesn’t.”
She now eats whole, organic foods. She removed processed foods and sugar during menopause and feels it made a significant difference.
Menopause Eating Habits
First of all, if you haven’t started already, begin on the journey to healthy eating. If you are unsure of the best plan for you given your health history and level of physical activity, consider making the investment in a consultation with a registered dietician. (Some health plans even cover such services if you have certain chronic conditions.)
And check with your healthcare practitioner to check on any changes which would not be appropriate for you.
In general, try incorporating these food strategies to start:
- Avoid quick-fix diet fads.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Eat less saturated fat and eliminate trans fats.
- Add 5 servings of fruit and vegetables to your plate throughout the day.
- Increase whole grains to 6 servings a day.
- Try global diets like the Mediterranean or foods common in countries where menopause symptoms are lower or are so-called Blue Zones, longevity hotspots around the world.
- Try a primarily plant-based eating approach.
- Increase fiber.
Extensive studies show healthy eating is a difference-maker. A trial of more than 17,000 postmenopausal women by the Women’s Health Initiative, found women who ate less fat and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains had fewer hot flashes and night sweats. In some women, this regimen even eliminated menopause symptoms.
In the low-fat plan, the woman ate 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and increased their whole grains to 6 servings. Also, 20 percent of their energy came from fat.
Not everyone lost weight. However, even the women who gained ten pounds, still experienced fewer menopause symptoms after they followed the nutrition plan.
Menopause in other countries
In addition, there’s anecdotal evidence from surveys of women around the world that shows a balanced nutrition plan can affect menopause symptoms. In some parts of the world, women experience far fewer menopause symptoms than in the Western World. Healthy eating is thought to be one of the reasons why.
While the majority of U.S. women experience hot flashes, only 20-percent or fewer report those symptoms in Asian countries. In Asia, meat and dairy are not common foods. It’s often a plant-based diet. American women eat more meat, four times more fat, and one-quarter to half as much fiber compared with Asian women.
It’s not just Asian women who have fewer symptoms. A study by a medical anthropologist from the University of California found a difference between Greek and Mayan women during menopause.
About three-quarters of the Greek women surveyed experienced hot flashes, yet Mayan women didn’t even know about hot flashes. Again, eating habits appear to be one factor that make a difference.
Mayans eat corn, corn tortillas, beans, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, radishes, and other vegetables. The Greek diet is traditionally high in vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, and milk. Meat is not a staple of the Mayan diet, and there’s almost no dairy.
In many countries across the world, social status increases with age, so aging is a more positive experience.
In the United States, the word “old” is often associated with aging. Societal differences make it a less positive experience, and there’s some thought that’s one reason why there are more reported symptoms. Looking at menopause as a time in your life to focus on the whole person and improve in areas you have perhaps neglected may change your perspective and positively impact your symptoms.
Putting cultural norms aside, it’s still believed the way one eats is a significant factor in the menopause symptoms women experience across the world.
If you’re looking to make a small change during menopause, consider what you’re eating. It can help you lose and manage your weight and reduce menopause symptoms.
Is soy good for menopause?
Due to the minimal menopause symptoms reported in Asia, many Americans are following diets high in soy and plant-based foods. They view it as an alternative to hormone therapy, especially since some of these foods contain phytoestrogen or naturally occurring estrogen. Some women believe they can prevent some of the symptoms they feel as estrogen naturally decreases in their body.
Soy and flaxseed contain phytoestrogens and plums, pears, beans, sprouts, red clover, lentils, and chickpeas are estrogen-rich foods.
The Cleveland Clinic says soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils have the most plant estrogens. However, they point out they’re much less effective than human estrogen.
However, the jury is still out on soy, and results have been mixed in various studies. Few studies have been done to research the effects of phytoestrogens on menopausal symptoms. While there’s some evidence from randomized studies of significant drops in severity and frequency of symptoms, there’s also evidence that women given a placebo also experienced fewer symptoms.
The Mediterranean diet has long been thought of as beneficial during the aging process due to its ability to reduce your risk of diseases and even lower the risk of early death. Those looking to slow down the aging process, often look to the Mediterranean diet.
It’s high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in addition to nuts and seeds. You eat less red meat, saturated fat, and dairy than a traditional American diet. Red wine, a popular choice in the Mediterranean, is a regular staple.
Menopausal women are at increased risk of the development of osteoporosis. A Brazilian study found the Mediterranean diet was helpful with regard to bone health. Women who followed the Mediterranean diet had higher bone mineral density and muscle mass.
With half of all adults age 50 and older at risk for breaking a bone, this may be something to consider. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says women are more likely to break a bone than have a heart attack, stroke, or breast cancer combined.
Food for menopause
These global differences in eating patterns should be considered by women long before they reach menopause. You can’t predict how your body will react to the decrease in hormones, but you can set yourself up for success by focusing on the foods you eat long before the symptoms like weight gain occur. Prevention is your key to success.
Sometimes you have to be a healthcare rebel to find the best doctor and nutritionist to help you through your menopause journey. It is important to advocate for yourself and persist in mapping out a plan that will address your concerns. Many women do not need a pill to treat menopause.
Since food is so closely related to how you feel, cutting out foods or reducing certain ones early, may reduce the likelihood and or intensity of symptoms. make menopause a more enjoyable experience. The earlier you start the better!
What foods have you found to help most with menopause symptoms?
As a physician, healthcare executive at a Fortune 100 company, and integrative health practitioner, Z. Colette Edwards, MD, MBA knows the unique value of a holistic, whole-person approach to health and well-being. She also understands the challenges health inequities can present. Known as “The Insight Doctor,” she offers guidance and powerful tools that prepare your body, mind, and spirit for menopause, stress, and inflammatory bowel disease. Lastly, Dr. Edwards coaches individuals in the development of self-advocacy and health system navigation skills.
The foregoing information, resources, links and/or references (collectively, the “Materials”) are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as medical or other professional advice. No representation or warranty of any kind is made in connection with the content of the Materials. The Materials may not be current and no one should take any action based on the Materials without first consulting their healthcare professional.