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Are your hormones going haywire? Fill up on these nutrient-rich eats to give your body an easier ride and try our menopause diet.
Whatever stage of the menopause you might be going through, it’s likely your hormones could be making things a little tricky. Right from when you begin the peri-menopause and your reproductive cycle starts to prepare for ‘the change’, oestrogen and progesterone begin to deplete, and this can cause hot flushes, mood swings and sleep problems.
‘All women will have a different experience of the peri-menopause and the menopause,’ explains specialist menopause nurse, Kathy Abernethy. ‘While there’s no such thing as an ideal menopause diet, there’s no doubt that some foods will become particularly relevant at this time of life.’
The menopause diet plan
Choose from one of these breakfasts each day:
* A bowl of porridge made with soya milk or semi-skimmed milk, sweetened with a teaspoon of honey
* Grilled oily fish of your choice (mackerel, haddock, salmon, sardines, pilchards) with grilled tomatoes and mushrooms
* Soya yogurt or low-fat plain yogurt with a tablespoon of muesli and a tablespoon of dried fruit
* A poached egg on a wholemeal bagel or on a thick slice of wholegrain toast
Choose from one of these lunches each day:
* Grapefruit, beetroot and avocado salad
* Couscous salad, mix couscous with any choice of chopped veg
* A small two-egg omelette with fresh chopped vegetables of your choice
* Cream of cauliflower soup
* Pasta salad with a handful of seeds and marinated tofu
Choose from one of these dinners each day:
* Asian chicken thighs with a green salad
* Lamb and marrow stew
* Stir-fried tofu with green vegetables – have a go at our vegetarian curry with tofu
* Roast beef, roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli
* Tofu noodles with mushrooms and mange tout
More foods for menopause symptoms to add to your diet
Menopause diet: Cheese
Maintaining your calcium intake is vital. ‘The reduction of certain hormones causes women to start losing bone mass, which can lead to weakened bones,’ says Kathy. ‘Some women may also cut out calcium without realising if they’re trying to lose weight or avoiding dairy.’
Cheese, milk and yogurt are good sources of calcium but if your diet is dairy-restrictive, try other foods rich in calcium, like tofu, nuts, fortified milk alternatives, sesame seeds and bony fish, such as sardines.
Menopause diet: Broccoli
‘These vegetables contain a substance called diindolylmethane (DIM), which supports the excretion of used hormones and prevents their re-uptake,’ says Fran McElwaine, health & lifestyle coach (thelunahive.com). ‘It is the recycling of hormones that’s a major factor in the hormone imbalance that creates mood swings, hot flushes and joint pains,’ she says.
Menopause diet: Oats
‘The B vitamins in foods such as oats, whole wheat, wholegrain rice, barley and quinoa support the adrenal glands, and can therefore help to reduce symptoms such as irritability, tension, anxiety, poor concentration and low energy,’ says Henrietta Norton, nutritional therapist and founder of Wild Nutrition.
Menopause diet: Chickpeas
‘During the menopause, your oestrogen levels decrease and this can affect your muscle mass, so it’s critical to make sure you’re keeping up your levels of good-quality protein,’ says Isabel. ‘Legumes are a great source of plant protein to help build up muscle and they’re full of fibre to help keep your gut healthy.’
Menopause diet: Shatavari
Part of the asparagus family, the shatavari root is an Ayurvedic herb that helps stabilise hormones. ‘It’s beneficial when taken on a regular basis and can be supportive for those struggling with hot flushes, vaginal dryness, low libido and low mood,’ says medical herbalist Katie Pande. Shatavari can be taken in capsule form and also drunk in a tea. Try Pukka Wholistic Shatavari (£16.95 for 30 capsules, ocado.com).
Menopause diet: Sardines
‘Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis due to hormone changes during the menopause, and calcium and vitamin D are two important nutrients for bone health,’ explains Isabel Butler, nutritionist at Spoon Guru. ‘Sardines contain vitamin D, calcium AND omega-3, which is good for your heart, and thought to help with menopause symptoms, too.’
Menopause diet: Avocado
‘Healthy fats are vital for our hormonal health as they help us make progesterone, which is one of the main female hormones supporting sex drive, sleep quality and bone health,’ says women’s health coach, Pamela Windle. Increase your intake of healthy fats with avocados, nuts, olive oil and coconut oil.
Menopause diet: Soya
Japanese women with a diet rich in soya have fewer hot flushes than Western women, according to studies. ‘Soya contains phytoestrogens, which mimic oestrogen in the body, the hormone that declines during the menopause,’ explains Julie Lamble, senior nutritionist at Lifeplan. She suggests eating two to three soya products (soya milk, tofu, miso) per week.
Why have I started to put on weight during the menopause?
The reason many women put on weight during the menopause is because as we get older our metabolism slows down, which means the body takes longer to burn off calories. Plus, our digestion changes and can become sluggish, which some nutritionists believe leads to IBS, allergies, weight gain, lack of energy and other digestive problems.
The other reason for weight gain during the menopause is because the body slows down, and in some cases stops, the production of oestrogen. Scientist don’t quite fully understand the relationship between fat and oestrogen but they know it can contribute to weight gain.
How can I lose weight during menopause?
Weight-bearing exercise, such as doing weights in the gym or using your own body weight, to do exercises, such as press-ups, can help strengthen the bones, and as levels of oestrogen drop, bones get weaker. This sort of exercise also tones muscles and the more toned your muscles are, the more fat you’ll burn.
Many women find that yoga also helps with the menopause because not only is it good for the bones and muscles, the breathing exercises can help minimise hot flushes, anxiety and mood swings. Plus, yoga is very relaxing, which is important because feeling stressed and depressed can be common symptoms of the menopause and make all the other symptoms worse – and lead to weight gain too.
Drink plenty of water, aim for 6-8 glasses a day – you may find this gives you more energy and helps to flush out any urinary infections, such as cystitis, which is a common side-effect of the menopause.
Nutritionists and doctors know that what you eat can affect your mood and there’s a lot of evidence that suggests certain foods such as tofu and fresh fruit and vegetables that contain anti-oxidants can reduce the symptoms of the menopause. So, this menopause diet plan involves lots of these foods, plus it’s a low-fat, high-fibre diet to help lose weight and improve digestion – another common problem that comes with age and the menopause.
Can seed cycling can help to balance your hormones?
For pre- and peri-menopausal women still having periods, seed cycling can help harmonise your hormones. ‘Seeds can help improve hormonal equilibrium in three main ways,’ says Pamela. Here, she explains how it works and how to get started.
- They contain lignans. These are plant polyphenols that help your body to eliminate excess oestrogen, which can help to reduce hot flushes. The best sources are sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
- They’re rich in hormone-friendly minerals. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which helps to promote healthy progesterone levels, and sunflower seeds are high in selenium, which helps to remove excess oestrogens from the body.
- They’re rich in essential fatty acids. Seeds are great sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help maintain optimal hormone levels, as well as boost your brain function and nourish your skin, hair and nails.
How to seed cycle
- Day 1-14
Starting on the first day of your period, take 1tbsp of ground flaxseeds and 1tbsp pumpkin seeds (group or whole) per day. You can eat all these seeds as a snack or add to your meals.
- Day 15-28
Take 1tbsp of ground sesame seeds and 1tbsp of sunflower seeds (ideally ground, too) per day.
If you have any tips to make this important transition in your life a little easier, head to our Facebook page to share your experiences.