The Perfect Diet For Menopause
Menopause is a natural transition and is a normal part of ageing. One thing important to note is that menopause is neither a disease nor a disorder. Menopause is signaled by 12 months since last menstruation. Menopause affects women differently. Some women don’t face any physical or psychological trouble. For others, it can lead to physical symptoms like dry skin, hot flushes, weight gain, bloating, bone loss, high cholesterol levels and psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, etc. The symptoms occur as ovaries no longer make estrogen and progesterone. Since weight gain is a concern for most during this change of life, a nutritionist for women can help plan a healthy weight loss program to not only lose the excess weight but also deal with the symptoms of menopause. If high cholesterol levels are a concern a clinical nutritionist can help bring the levels under control.
Does diet play a role in managing menopause?
A fascinating study that linked diet with menopause between Americans and Japanese people was done by a medical anthropologist from the University of California. When American and Japanese diets were compared, it was seen that American women suffered from symptoms like hot flashes to a greater extent in comparison to the Japanese women. The difference between these two diets was that the Japanese diet was low in fat and animal meat products as compared to the American diet which was rich in animal meat products. So, diet plays a very important role in managing menopausal symptoms to a great extent.
What foods should be eaten to manage symptoms?
It is important to include a few foods as staples in your diet as they would make it easier to deal with menopause and the years beyond.
The reduction of estrogen levels might increase the incidence of bone fractures in women. This can be prevented by consuming a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Low fat milk, low fat yoghurt, low fat paneer, buttermilk can be consumed. A study by Durosier et al, 2017 on 750 postmenopausal women showed that those who ate more dairy products had significantly higher bone density than those who ate less. Dairy products also contain an amino acid, glycine which promotes better sleep in menopausal women. Sunlight is a good source of vitamin D which helps in absorbing calcium from foods.
Menopausal women are at risk of weight gain due to slowing down of metabolism and reduction of estrogen. They tend to store excess fat in the visceral section and hence prone to developing diabetes and cardio vascular diseases. So, it is imperative to avoid foods rich in saturated fats and trans fats. Consuming healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids might improve symptoms like hot flushes and prevent cardio vascular diseases. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acid are fatty fish (eg. salmon), flax seeds,chia seeds, and walnuts.
Whole grains are a good source of complex carbohydrate, B-complex vitamins and dietary fibre. A diet high in whole grains has been linked to reduced risk of diabetes and cardio vascular diseases.Sources of whole grains are jowar, bajra, ragi, whole wheat, rajgira, and amaranth.
Phytoestrogens present in plant products such as soy products, flax seeds, grapes, plums, tea (green, black) contribute to estrogen production to a small extent.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are low in calories and hence prevent weight gain. They are a good source of dietary fibre, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates and micronutrients which help in staying healthy. A one-year interventional study in over 17,000 menopausal women showed that eating more vegetables, fruit, fiber and soy experienced a 19% reduction in hot flashes. Menopausal women are at risk of developing infections. Guava is a good source of soluble fibre. Vitamin C present in lemon, guava, amla, moringa leaves can help prevent infections.
Dry skin, vaginal dryness, bloating are the common problems faced by menopausal women. This can be prevented by drinking at least 2-3 liters of potable water. Adding lemon juice, lemon zest, ginger and mint leaves can be a flavorful and healthier alternative to plain water.
Decline in estrogen is linked to reduced muscle mass. For this reason, menopausal women should consume more protein. Animal products like milk and milk products like low fat curd and low fat paneer, chicken, fish, meat, eggs are sources of complete protein and hence should be consumed in a higher amount. Vegetable sources like dals, pulses, legumes, nuts and oil seeds are also a good source ofprotein.
Foods to avoid to manage symptoms:
High blood sugar, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance which are associated with a diet rich in simple carbohydrate sources like refined flour and products, sugar, jaggery and processed carbohydrate are to be avoided
Alcohol and spicy food might trigger hot flushes in menopausal women hence are to be avoided
Caffeine might lead to a sleeping problem which makes it imperative to avoid it
High salt intake might lead to increased bone loss and high blood pressure. Processed foods, package foods, pickles, papad, etc are all rich in salt so to be avoided.
Avoid tobacco as its consumption might lead to increased bone loss and incidence of fractures
The best diet for pcos weight loss is a diet rich in whole grains, healthy fats, low fat dairy and products, proteins, phytoestrogen, fresh fruits and vegetable. Limit the intake of foods rich in sodium, alcohol, tobacco and processed carbohydrates. Try to readfood labels which provide information about sugar, fat, trans fat, sodium, preservatives and help in making proper choices for a healthy lifestyle.
Physical exercise prevents weight gain, strengthens bone, boosts mood and hence manages depression, anxiety, and helps prevents cardio vascular diseases. Exercise should be performed for at least 150 to 300 minutes every week.
What kind of exercises should be performed?
Aerobic activities: A minimum of 3 days a week of aerobic activity helps in shedding excess weight, burn calories and build stamina. Examples of aerobic activities are swimming, cycling, walking, jogging, water aerobics, etc. A beginner should start with 10 minutes daily and gradually increase the duration and intensity.
Strength training: Strength training helps to strengthen muscles and shed excess weight. At least 2 days / week is what is recommended. Some examples are hand weights, barbells, resistance training, etc
Stretching: It improves flexibility and avoids injuries. A warm up and cool down of 10 minutes each should be practiced.
Yoga: Helps in relieving stress, improves flexibility, weight loss and manages symptoms like depression, anxiety, hot flushes.
With changes in metabolism, reduced bone density and an increased risk of insulin resistance and heart disease, a good diet serves to be an anchor during menopause. Including the healthy foods and restricting or avoiding the processed and other foods to be avoided will help manage symptoms better. Weight loss programs can be undertaken with an expert nutritionist for women for maintaining good health and achieving weight loss. A clinical nutritionist can help in case of insulin resistance or cardiovascular disorders during this phase.