Most women dread the word menopause. In reality it affects women in completely different ways, but the most common symptoms include hot flushes, sweating, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, problems with memory and concentration, and fatigue. Post-menopausal women are also at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis and noticing a decline in libido – all linked to reduced oestrogen levels.
Typically, a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs in the early 50s and the menstrual cycle stops. Some women can sail through with the odd hot flush, but others can struggle with persistent symptoms such as weight gain and fluctuating emotions. The physiological reason why the body starts changing is largely down to a change in hormone levels. During this time it is important to maintain a healthy diet to assist in the pursuit of a balanced lifestyle and all round feelings of wellbeing. There is no particular diet that needs to be followed during the menopause, but the following tips can help you to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Alcohol and spicy foods may increase hot flushes, so consume these in moderation.
Avoid snacking on sugary foods – all too often a sharp rise in your blood glucose level may be followed by a sharp dip which leaves you feeling tired and drained. Choose fresh fruit with a few nuts instead. Avoid stimulants such as coffee late at night as they can disrupt your sleep.
Many people associate the menopause with weight gain but, as we get older, we need fewer calories. Eating a bit less sounds a simplistic solution but it will help. Watch the amount of fat in your diet and cut back on sugar. This includes honey, syrup and agave too. Eat complex carbohydrates combined with protein, such as quinoa, rye, barley granary bread and rice, as they will help balance blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of health problems. Fruit and vegetables are also a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, which helps prevent digestive problems. As most fresh fruit and vegetables are low in calories and fat, the 5-a-day target can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Depression and irritability
Ensure you eat enough protein rich foods containing the amino acid tryptophan. You can find it in turkey, cottage cheese, oats and legumes. Tryptophan helps manufacture the neurotransmitter serotonin. It is thought that serotonin might affect mood. Other useful strategies to help you feel less irritable are to eat regular, balanced meals and not miss meals to balance your blood sugar.
Women going through the menopause should increase their intake of food sources of calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K to maintain a strong skeleton. In addition, high amounts of phosphorous – found in red meat, processed foods and fizzy drinks – should be avoided as it accelerates the loss of minerals such as calcium and magnesium from bone. Reducing sodium, caffeine and protein from animal products can also help the body maintain calcium stores. Calcium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, sardines, fruits, seeds, nuts and natural yoghurt and should be included daily in the diet to prevent calcium reserves being leached from bones. Eat foods high in magnesium and boron too. These are minerals which are important for the bone strength to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Apples, pears, grapes, dates, raisins, legumes and nuts are good sources of boron.
Eat more phyto-oestrogens
Phyto or plant oestrogens found in certain foods are oestrogenic compounds that are thought to bind with oestrogen receptor sites in the body cells, and which may increase the total oestrogenic effect. By acting in a similar way to oestrogen, they may help in keeping hormones a little more in balance. A high intake of phytoestrogens is thought to reduce the frequency of hot flushes in menopausal women, without side effects. Phyto-oestrogens can be found in soya milk and soya beans, linseeds, tofu, tempeh and miso, pumpkins seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, celery, rhubarb and green beans.
As well as considering a calcium supplement, other vitamins and minerals that are vital for bone health are: magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin D and zinc.
Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information only. You should seek advice from a professional before altering your diet, changing your exercise regime or starting any new course of conduct.
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