Menopause nutrition: what to eat to help support your transition

shutterstock_157003715 middle aged woman smiling Nov15

As with most health issues, they can be multifactorial and sometimes take a while to get to grips with.  This is certainly true when talking about menopause.

With over 30 possible symptoms associated with menopause, finding hormonal harmony in this often-difficult life stage, can sometimes be tough.  However, a change of diet can be very powerful and effective.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five foods than might help to bring hormonal harmony into your life.

Lentils

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then hopefully lentils will already feature in your diet.  They are an amazing source of plant protein and can easily be incorporated into many dishes.

Importantly, lentils are a rich source of phytoestrogens, plant foods that naturally contain properties that help balance oestrogen levels.  Phytoestrogens are chemically similar to the hormone oestrogen, hence their effectiveness.  Oestrogen levels naturally fall as women approach menopause and beyond, and it’s this issue that takes most of the responsibility for many of the associated symptoms.

Red,Lentils,Dal,In,Black,Bowl,On,Dark,Slate,Table

If you’ve not used lentils before, then why not make some delicious and filling lentil soup, which is great for colder days. Importantly the protein content of lentils will keep you feeling satiated for much longer than a purely carbohydrate-based meal.

Flaxseeds

Also referred to as linseeds, flaxseeds tend to be the ground version which are great to eat during menopause. Why? Flaxseeds are especially rich in lignans which also have phytoestrogenic properties.

A spoon full of flax seeds

Additionally, flaxseeds are rich in the essential omega-3 fats which become even more essential during this life phase. Therefore, flaxseeds are great for hormone balance, can help reduce hot flushes and are very supportive of brain health; brain fog can be especially troublesome for women during this time.  Sprinkle some flaxseeds on your cereal, natural yoghurts or put into a smoothie every day, for best effect.

Oily fish

Oily fish which includes salmon, sardines and mackerel are a great source of those all-essential omega-3s.  However, it’s oily fish with bones, particularly sardines, that also provide a good source of vitamin D, very much needed for the menopause years. Levels of vitamin D really drop in the UK population during the winter months causing low mood, amongst other problems.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Production of vitamin D is related to the neurotransmitter serotonin, our happy hormone, and a big issue for many women going through menopause is low mood and anxiety.  It follows, therefore, that having more vitamin D in the diet is really important for women’s hormonal health, not to mention for the bones and teeth.  However, it’s not possible to get sufficient vitamin D just from oily fish alone during the winter months, so supplementation is essential.

Broccoli

Broccoli is a member of the wonderful family of cruciferous vegetables which provide a myriad of health benefits, too long to mention them all.

However, for women struggling with menopause, broccoli can really come into its own.  Broccoli (and all cruciferous vegetables) can play a major role in the body’s detoxification processes, including of oestrogen.  This is important because the body needs to eliminate ‘old ‘oestrogens at the end of each cycle so toxins don’t build in the body and cause more symptoms.

Fresh,Broccoli,Soup

Broccoli is also very effective at helping the liver to detoxify.  This is hugely important during menopause, as the body needs to expel oestrogens from the environment, known as xenoestrogens, that can cause even more imbalance and severe hormonal disruption.

Enjoy some broccoli (plus cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale) as often as possible.

Natural yoghurt

As with all aspects of our health, the digestive system features at every level.  If digestion is not working correctly, then nothing else will.  This is especially true when talking about hormonal issues. Constipation can be a major problem during menopause, hence digestive health is key.

A bowl of natural yoghurt on a wooden background

Natural yoghurt is rich in probiotics, those all-important friendly bacteria that live within us and fulfil many different functions, including bowel regularity.  They are fed by vegetables which are known as prebiotics.  Another great reason for eating lots of broccoli!

Natural yoghurt is great for breakfast or with some fruit after a meal.  Make sure you choose live yoghurt and especially those varieties without sugar or sweeteners.

Changing your diet is one of the first steps in addressing menopause misery and it can make a real difference to symptoms.

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Women’s health: nutrition at every life stage

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

Women’s health needs vary throughout their lives.  There are many years spent balancing hormones and this can have other knock-on health implications.

Thankfully there are some vitamins and minerals which can specifically offer solutions to women at every life stage.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at which are the top nutrients women should be focusing on during their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

The fertility years – 30’s

A group of women in their 30's

More women are now having babies in their 30’s than in their 20’s in the UK. And there are certain nutrients that can help support fertility.

It’s important to ensure the body is being fed specific nutrients such as the mineral zinc, needed for fertility as well as immune health.  Oysters (also aphrodisiacs), whole grains, seafood, beef, beans and mushrooms are all good sources so make sure they feature in your daily diet.  Zinc also helps with hormone balance which will help manage fluctuations better.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

In terms of looking after your hair, skin and nails, then the beauty vitamin is biotin.  It’s found in organ meats, soya products, oats and dairy.  Also make sure you are eating a varied, colourful diet, with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to keep you looking your best from the inside out.

The Peri-menopause years – 40’s

Group of women in their 40's

However, much we try to avoid saying the ‘M’ word, unfortunately menopause can start to become noticeable during our 40’s.  The average age for menopause is 51, however, during the 5-10 years leading up to it we may start to notice various symptoms. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate what’s down to peri-menopause symptoms and what’s caused by stress.  Anxiety, low mood, unwanted weight gain, poor sleep and heavy periods can all be problematic.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Thankfully there is some nutritional help at hand. Top of the list for supporting both stress and peri-menopause symptoms is vitamin B6. It’s needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, helps with the stress response and keeps female hormones in good balance.  Cereals, beans, poultry, fish and dark leafy greens are your hormone-friendly foods.

The Menopause years – 50’s

A group of women in their 50's looking at a photo on the screen of a camera

Around 80% of women suffer from menopause symptoms in varying degrees.  Some are so debilitating that women have to stop working, have relationship issues or just feel total despair.  The good news is that there’s much that can be done to alleviate symptoms.  Top of the list are phytoestrogen foods which help to balance falling levels of oestrogen naturally.

A range of phytoestrogen foods

Soya products such as soya milk and tofu, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, beans (especially edamame beans) and chickpeas are all great sources of phytoestrogens so try to have some at every mealtime.

Disturbed sleep can also be a problem during these years; if you’re struggling, the herb valerian, taken about an hour before bedtime is very effective and it won’t make you feel drowsy in the morning.

And if you’re looking for natural support for the symptoms of the menopause you could try Black Cohosh – a traditional herbal remedy used to help hot flushes, night sweats, disturbed sleep and mood swings.

The Freedom years – 60’s

Group of retired women in their 60's walking on a beach

Hormonal fluctuations are diminishing, family life and work pressures should be lessened and hopefully there’s finally a lot more time on your hands!  However, it’s also time when you need to be taking really good care of your bones.

Peak bone density is reached during your 30’s (or earlier) so bone strength can decline thereafter, and this can really accelerate after the menopause due to lack of oestrogen.  Make sure you’re eating plenty of bone-loving calcium-rich foods.  It’s not all about dairy. Soya products, green leafy vegetables, oily fish including bones (such as tinned fish) and nuts and seeds are all great sources.

A range of foods containing calcium

Additionally, calcium can’t do it’s work within bone structure without the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D.  During winter months, it’s impossible to get enough from the sun itself, so do make sure you’re taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Exercise is also essential for bone health and mental wellbeing so make sure you’re doing some every day. It’s not about going to the gym if that’s not your bag, but simply about being as active as possible and enjoying what you’re doing.

So, with a little careful planning, us women can help meet our health needs with specific nutrition throughout all our life stages. 

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Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts