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Nutrition & Menopause: Fuelling Your Health & Well-being During Transformation

Vanessa Peat

13 February 2024
As you transition through menopause, your body shifts gears, impacting everything from your energy levels to your mood. But fear not! While oestrogen levels may dip, the power to support our well-being remains firmly in your hands. There are many elements of managing each stage of menopause that you can take control of. One of which is understanding your nutritional choices. So, ditch the fad diets and get ready to discover how food can become your ally in embracing this transformative chapter.

Understanding the Hormonal Shift

Menopause isn’t just about saying goodbye to periods; it’s a major hormonal shift. Let’s explore what happens to the three key players:

  • Oestrogen: Oestrogen plunges dramatically during menopause. This decline impacts metabolism, bone health, heart health, and even mood. It’s like the orchestra conductor leaving, causing the rest of the body to scramble for new cues.
  • Progesterone: Oestrogen’s partner in crime, progesterone also dips, but its changes are often less dramatic. While primarily connected to the menstrual cycle, progesterone also plays a role in mood, sleep, and bone health. Its decline contributes to mood swings and may worsen sleep disturbances experienced by some women during menopause.
  • Testosterone: Often overlooked, testosterone levels also decline gradually throughout a woman’s life, including during menopause. While typically associated with men, testosterone in women influences energy levels, libido, and muscle mass. Its decrease can contribute to fatigue, reduced sex drive, and muscle loss.

These hormonal changes create a ripple effect. The lowered oestrogen levels, for example, leave bones exposed to osteoporosis, potentially leading to fractures. Similarly, the decline in all three hormones can impact metabolism, potentially contributing to weight gain. 

But we’ve only highlighted a few symptoms so far. Did you know there are actually 48 symptoms of menopause? This means that menopause is entirely different from person to person. It’s a good idea to keep track of your symptoms so that you can discuss them with your doctor or healthcare provider. And if you are aware of hormonal changes, there are things you can do at home, including nourishing your body with food that will support you through menopause.

Food as Your Ally

Imagine your plate as a battlefield against potential health concerns during menopause. Here’s how filling it with the right foods can empower you. Let’s start with the basics first:

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Packed with antioxidants and fibre, these colourful allies combat inflammation, protect your heart, and support digestion. Aim for a rainbow of vibrant hues to ensure a diverse range of nutrients.
  • Whole Grains: Ditch the refined carbs and opt for whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, and oats. These slow-burning options stabilise blood sugar, keeping you energised and managing weight gain, a common concern during menopause.
  • Lean Protein: From fish and poultry to beans and lentils, lean protein provides essential building blocks for strong muscles and bones. Remember, muscle loss becomes more pronounced during menopause, making protein even more crucial.
  • Healthy Fats: Don’t demonise all fats. Opt for sources like olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish rich in omega-3s. These healthy fats support brain health, reduce inflammation, and may even ease hot flashes.
  • Hydration: It’s not just a fad! Staying hydrated helps regulate body temperature, combat fatigue, and support overall well-being. Aim for water throughout the day, limiting sugary drinks.
Healthy foods

Remember, a balanced diet is just one piece of the puzzle. Consider these additional tips:

  • Limit added sugars and processed foods: These can contribute to inflammation and negatively impact your mood and energy levels.
  • Manage stress: Stress can exacerbate menopausal symptoms. Meditation, exercise, and relaxation techniques can offer relief.
  • Seek support: Consult a healthcare professional or dietitian for personalised guidance tailored to your needs and preferences.

Nutrient Powerhouse: Essential Players

It’s important to clarify that while certain nutrients play a crucial role in managing menopause symptoms and supporting overall health during this transition, relying solely on supplements isn’t always the best approach. It’s recommended to prioritise getting these nutrients from food sources first, as they come with additional beneficial compounds and fibre. 

However, in some cases, supplements can be a valuable complement under professional guidance. Here’s a breakdown of key nutrients and how they can help:

  • Calcium & Vitamin D: These work together to support strong bones, crucial as oestrogen decline increases osteoporosis risk. Focus on calcium-rich foods like dairy, leafy greens, and fortified options. Supplement with vitamin D if sunshine exposure is limited. The NHS currently recommends women should consider taking a supplement of 10mcg (400IU) during the autumn and winter months.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, these fats may help ease inflammation and potentially reduce hot flashes.
  • Magnesium: This mineral contributes to muscle function, nerve transmission, and sleep regulation, often disrupted during menopause. Include magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, and avocado in your diet.
  • Vitamin B6: Supporting neurotransmitter production, vitamin B6 plays a role in mood regulation and may help combat fatigue and irritability. Prioritise B6-rich foods like bananas, chickpeas, and salmon.
  • Fibre: Essential for gut health, which can impact mood and overall well-being, fibre also aids in weight management. Focus on incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Healthy foods

Phytoestrogens

As you explore natural solutions for managing menopause symptoms, you might encounter phytoestrogens, plant-based compounds with a weak structural resemblance to human oestrogen. While often marketed for their potential to combat hot flashes, it’s essential to approach them with informed caution.

Phytoestrogens interact with your body’s oestrogen receptors, albeit with less potency than your natural hormone. Studies offer mixed results on the effectiveness of phytoestrogens for managing hot flashes. Some herbal medicines like black cohosh and genistein show promise, while isoflavones found in soy and red clover offer conflicting evidence.

Before incorporating phytoestrogens into your routine, remember:

  • Red clover should be avoided by women with breast cancer history.
  • Seek your doctor’s guidance before starting any herbal medicine, as they may interact with prescribed medications.
  • The content and potency of herbal supplements can vary significantly. Choose products with a license or registration number from reputable sources.

Food containing phytoestrogens includes soybeans and soy-based products, peanuts, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, chickpeas, berries, barley, apricots, and tea (green and black). While both food and supplements contain phytoestrogens, the amount in food is vastly lower. So, relying solely on dietary sources is unlikely to yield significant symptom relief. 

Remember, supplements should be used as a potential complement to a balanced diet, not a replacement for essential nutrients from food. Always consult your doctor before starting any supplements to discuss their suitability for your individual needs and explore other evidence-based strategies for managing your menopause journey.

Mindful Eating for Menopause

Mindful eating is about bringing awareness to your eating experience, noticing physical hunger cues, and savouring each bite without distractions. This conscious approach helps you differentiate emotional cravings from true hunger, potentially curbing mindless snacking and promoting healthier choices.

Additionally, mindful eating promotes mindful breathing and present-moment awareness, offering natural stress management tools. The next time stress or emotions tempt you to reach for the pantry, try mindful eating techniques like taking deep breaths before eating, focusing on the textures and flavours of your food, and stopping when you feel comfortably full, not stuffed.

Remember, mindful eating is a journey, not a destination. Start small, be patient, and embrace the power of mindful awareness to navigate emotional eating and find calm amidst the menopausal transition.

Empowering Your Journey

Remember, food is not just fuel; it’s your ally. By prioritising a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, you equip your body with the essential nutrients it needs to navigate this transition with vitality. Remember, calcium and vitamin D are your bone-building buddies, omega-3s fight inflammation, and magnesium helps you sleep soundly.

While exploring plant-based oestrogens like phytoestrogens, choose wisely and prioritise food sources over supplements. And when emotions take the reins, turn to mindful eating – it’s a powerful tool to tame emotional hunger and manage stress through conscious awareness. Embrace this opportunity to nurture your body with delicious choices, and remember, you’re not just navigating change. You’re empowering yourself with every informed bite!

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