The role of nutrition when it comes to the menopause

menopause nutrition

Thrive Expert and Nutritionist Lizzy Coles gives some top tips for managing the menopause and how certain foods and good nutrition may help.

Thrive Expert and Nutritionist Lizzy Coles gives some top tips for managing the menopause and how certain foods and good nutrition may help. comes to the menopause The role of nutrition when it The menopause is gaining more recognition, and for good reason; it’s a time of significant physical and emotional change for us women. Whatever life stage we’re currently at, we can benefit from knowing what to expect and how best to prevent some of the symptoms and side-effects. Taking care of ourselves by making healthy lifestyle choices is essential, including eating well.

Due to lowering hormone levels during the menopause, metabolism slows and we are more prone to storing body fat, especially around the midsection.

Menopausal side-effect: weight gain Combat with: protein and calorie control Muscle mass (which is more metabolically active than fat) also decreases with age. If we don’t adjust our exercise and diet accordingly; for example, by eating fewer calories overall; we are likely to gain weight. Use the Schofield Equation (see professor google) to calculate your daily calorie requirements; for sedentary women over 60, this is (9.2 x your weight in kg + 687) x 1.4 (or 1.5 if you’re more active); and stick to this.

Consuming 25-30g protein at each meal is also vital for maintaining a healthy weight. This promotes the maintenance of muscle mass throughout the menopause and keeps our metabolism in the best shape possible. Remember to balance protein intake across the day, as the body can only use around 30g of protein at any one time. The average Brit only consumes about 10g of protein at breakfast, so find creative ways to boost your protein intake in the morning; for example, make yourself a 5-minute egg scramble or omelette, or top your porridge with nuts and seeds. Getting 25-30g of protein within an hour of strength-building exercises is also essential; this is a golden opportunity to build muscle mass. If you’re not due to eat a meal at this point in the day, protein shakes and bars make great snacks.

Menopausal side-effect: weaker bones
Combat with: calcium and vitamin D Alongside slowing metabolism, declining oestrogen levels accelerate the depletion of bone density. During the menopause, consuming adequate calcium, vitamin D and protein, having a healthy BMI (18.5-24.9) and weight-bearing exercise can minimise the amount of bone loss. However, this is easier said than done in some cases. Take, for example, calcium intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium increases to 1,200mg/day for women over the age of 50.

This makes meeting calcium requirements challenging, especially since calcium supplements are now often discouraged because of potential heart disease risks. A food first approach is ideal; two to four daily servings of calcium-rich foods should do it. Low-fat dairy products, leafy greens, almonds, tofu and sardines are all excellent sources.

The menopause can have several uncomfortable side-effects; for example, 75-85% of women experience hot flushes that can lead to insomnia and diminished sleep quality.

Vitamin D is essential for helping the body absorb and use calcium.

It makes sense, therefore, that if we need more calcium, we also need more vitamin D. However, we don’t find it in many foods other than fortified products, salmon, egg yolks, and some mushrooms. The best way of getting enough vitamin D is, in fact, sunlight; when UV rays hit the skin, our bodies naturally start producing it. Around 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on our face and arms or legs every day is usually enough to meet our requirements. That said, supplementation is sometimes necessary, so seek guidance from your GP or a registered nutritionist.

Menopausal symptoms: hot flushes and insomnia

Combat with: fluids and phytoestrogens The menopause can have several uncomfortable side-effects; for example, 75- 85% of women experience hot flushes that can lead to insomnia and diminished sleep quality. However, nutrition can have a vital role in managing these symptoms; for example, refraining from drinking caffeinated beverages four to six hours, and alcohol within three hours, of bedtime and drinking plenty of water during the day (a minimum of 2 litres daily, more when exercising) may mitigate hot flushes.

Foods containing phytoestrogens (plant-derived oestrogens), such as soy milk, soybeans and tofu, are also thought to help relieve menopausal symptoms by functioning as a mild form of oestrogen in the body. While there has been some controversy on including these in our diets, emerging research suggests they may benefit women going through menopause by lowering incidences of hot flushes, with no serious side effects.

Nourish and flourish

The menopause represents a challenging time for many women. Hormonal changes during menopause can lead to weight gain, loss of bone and muscle mass, and symptoms such as hot flushes and insomnia.

Nutrition plays a key role in managing these effects, including evenly distributing protein among meals, consuming fewer calories and getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium. Next time the menopause is getting you down, turn to these healthy diet habits to help you looking and feeling your best once again!

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Article written by Lizzy Coles. Lizzy is part of our THRIVE EXPERTS panel. She holds an MA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge and an MSc in Nutrition from King’s College London.