The best way to “feed” menopause is with living a balanced life. This means keeping stress low, following a healthy eating pattern such as a Mediterranean diet, and getting regular exercise — including at least 150 minutes per week of moderately intense cardiovascular activities such as brisk walking, 2-3 days per week of resistance training, balance exercises, and stretching or yoga type moves. Consistency is the key factor here. In younger years, women can generally get back on a healthy track quite easily. With hormonal changes taking place as they transition through menopause, staying consistent with healthy choices can help to slow down the aging process and maintain quality of life. These healthy choices become a greater priority with age if one wants to maintain health.
Protecting Bone Density:
Between the ages of 25-30 humans reach their peak bone mass, and from that point, it comes down to maintaining the bone mass we have. Estrogen is the hormone that helps to maintain bone density, along with needing calcium, vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise to keep bones strong. Missing one of these components will lead to weakening bones.
As women progress through perimenopause and into the post menopause phase of life, estrogen levels gradually decline. Consequently, eating calcium-rich food, ensuring there is enough vitamin D from food or sunlight exposure, and regular resistance activity become even more important at later stages of life. Once menopause hits, women can lose bone density rapidly because of the drop in the natural protection provided by estrogen.
This is why eating calcium-rich foods is important to bone health at this stage of life. The body seeks to maintain a consistent level of calcium in the bloodstream. If there is a lack of calcium from one’s diet, the human body will draw calcium from the bones to maintain proper blood levels. Over time, a lack of calcium rich foods can lead to thinning of the bones.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium for women ages 19-50 is 1000 mg per day and for women over 51, 1200 mg per day is suggested for optimal health. Milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, and fortified tofu are some of the highest food sources of calcium. However, calcium is also found in smaller amounts in beans, broccoli, kale, bok choy, oranges, and fortified milk alternatives. A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and dairy products can contribute significantly to meeting the body’s daily calcium needs.
On a given day one can meet calcium needs by eating and drinking calcium foods throughout the day. As a matter of fact, spreading sources out throughout the day is the most effective way to maintain calcium stores in the body
· A smoothie at breakfast made with yogurt, milk, or a milk alternative
· 1 cup of steamed broccoli or a stir fry with bok choy and other veggies at lunch
· An orange, cheese, and/or yogurt as a snack
· A salad at dinner, a side of beans
Calcium is not enough to maintain bone health. Vitamin D from food or sun exposure is also a critical part of the recipe. Adults ages 19-70 need about 600 International units or 15 mg per day and adults over the age of 71 need 800 IU or 20 mg per day.
Pink canned salmon is one of the highest sources of Vitamin D. Three ounces contains 465 IU of 11.6 mg. Other sources are fortified milk, juices, or cereals. Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, and tuna are some of the best sources of vitamin D.
Resistance exercise is also a component needed to maintain strong bones. Exercise can slow bone loss after menopause, which lowers the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. At least 2 days a week of strength training is recommended.
Managing Emotional Eating:
Emotional eating during the phases of menopause may be related to a combination of fluctuations in hormones, life stressor associated with aging, and managing symptoms of menopause such as sleep disruption and increases anxiety and depression that some women may experience. Estrogen, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol are hormones that tend to shift during the aging process for a few reasons. This may lead to some increased food cravings.
During perimenopause, estrogen levels fluctuate and ultimately begin to decline as one heads toward menopause. Estrogen is thought to somewhat moderate appetite. As levels drop, estrogen may no longer inhibit appetite to the same degree that it once did. In addition, some research suggests that as we age leptin, which tells us to stop eating, declines. For women in perimenopause, conversely, ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger, tends to increase.
Heightened stress at this time of life is where cortisol comes into play. There are plenty of non-biological reasons that may increase anxiety which can lead to emotional eating. To name a few, parents are aging, friends and family have illnesses to manage and at the same time many women are still parenting their children and working full and part time jobs.
During times of increased stress or if a woman has ongoing chronic stress, part of the response by the human body is to secret the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol goes up the body’s response is often to crave food.
Prioritizing self-care may combat emotional eating. The goal is to reduce anxiety which is often the source of stress eating.
- Exercise regularly to burn off some stress hormones and boost feel good endorphins
- Developing a regular practice of deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can help keep the body stay out of the “flight or fight” state that is associated with stress. Increasing oxygen intake with deep breaths slows down the heart rate and ultimately signals the body to return to the “rest and digest” state
- Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and calcium rich foods provides the body with optimal fuel to run at its best functioning
- Cut back on alcohol as this often stimulates food cravings and disrupts sleep
- Reduce caffeine intake which increases anxiety in some people and can disrupt sleep
- Connect with loved ones. Social connections and knowing others are there for support can reduce anxiety and is association with a decrease in the likelihood of developing dementia with aging
Coping with Brain Fog:
A foggy forgetful brain as a woman moves through menopause is related to a few different factors. Estrogen plays a role in blood flow to the brain and is related to activity in the hippocampus, a brain region key in memory processing. When estrogen fluctuates, so may concentration. Estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone are all responsible for different processes in the body, including memory and thought processes. These hormones all fluctuate during perimenopause, which can contribute to some brain fog.
As with any time of life, a focus on the basics is the best medicine – regular exercise, a balanced healthy diet, proper hydration, reducing stress, and 8 hours of restful sleep can all help menopausal women with brain fog.
Changing Blood Sugar Levels:
Estrogen and progesterone influence how cells respond to insulin. Changes in hormone levels may trigger fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Eating simple sugars such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, and sugary treats or beverages can cause a spike and then crash in blood sugar levels. The result will be feeling hungry again even though a lot of calories were already consumed.
Eating balanced meals and snacks that include lean protein, fibre, and fat can slow the digestion of food, and therefore help to prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar. Some balanced meal examples include:
- Lean grilled chicken, side of brown rice, and broccoli
- Tortilla, lean turkey breast, avocado or mayo, lettuce and tomatoes or any favourite veggies, water
- 2 scrambled eggs with red onion, broccoli, tomatoes, and slice of Swiss cheese, ½ of whole wheat English muffin
- Low fat or fat free Greek yogurt with blueberries and a sprinkle of slivered almonds
Many women experience hot flushes during menopause. While the research is weak in this area, studies have speculated that avoiding caffeine, spicy food, and alcohol may be effective in reducing the severity and number of hot flushes for some women. Also eating foods that contain phytoestrogens, or plant-based compounds that mimic oestrogen in the body, may be helpful to some women. Soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas have some of the highest levels of phytoestrogens, although it should be noted that plant oestrogens are much weaker than human oestrogens.