Menopause is when your MENstrual cycle PAUSEs—for good. It’s not a disease to be treated, but rather a normal stage of life. Menopause “officially” starts 12-months after your last period. That happens, on average, around the age of 51. The start of menopause, also known as “perimenopause,” marks the transition to the end of a woman’s reproductive years.
This change doesn’t happen overnight, though. Perimenopause often starts in the early- to mid-40s.
This is when you may start feeling symptoms like:
- Weight gain—especially around the midsection
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
Once perimenopause finishes and menopause begins, your risks for heart disease and osteoporosis rise.
Why does this even happen? Some of the reasons behind all these changes include your changing hormones, metabolism, stress levels, and lifestyle.
Because your body goes through all these changes, its nutritional needs also change. Here are some expert nutrition tips to help you at the start of menopause.
Nutrition tips at the Start of Menopause:
Drink enough fluids
As you age, you may slowly lose your sense of thirst. This means you can become less hydrated without even noticing it, through no fault of your own. Plus, some key menopausal symptoms may be improved simply by drinking more fluids. If hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, or bladder infections are affecting you, try drinking at least six 8-oz glasses per day to help hydrate you. Ideally, that drink is water or herbal tea.
You know that alcohol isn’t the best drink for your health—especially too much. Alcohol can worsen hot flashes and make it harder to stay asleep. It can also increase your risk of getting or worsening many health conditions. It can also lead to loss of muscle mass, balance problems, falls, and accidents. Plus, along with no nutritional value it can contribute to weight gain.
Cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar
If hot flashes bother you, consider avoiding common triggers like spicy foods and caffeine. When it comes to sugar, the simplest way to cut down is to replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water or herbal tea. If the thought of cutting out all desserts doesn’t sound fair, try eating smaller portions or even half-sized desserts.
Eat smaller quantities of food
Did you know that at 50 years old you need about 200 fewer calories per day than you did during your 30s and 40s? That’s assuming you were a healthy weight and you want to maintain a healthy weight as you get older.
This means that by continuing to eat the same amount of food as you did in your 30s and 40s, you’ll start gaining weight. On average, women in their 50s and 60s gain about 1.5 pounds every year.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to lose weight, try to eat about 500 calories less than what you need to maintain your weight.
Eating less food can be really hard! Try having smaller portions and using mindful eating techniques to help you get used to it.
Pro Tip: Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime, particularly if you have trouble sleeping.
Eat higher quality foods
Eating less food doesn’t mean you need less nutrition, though. That’s why it’s really important to eat quality foods with a lot of nutrients (i.e., nutrient-dense foods). These include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. When it comes to protein for your muscles and bones, eat legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and/or poultry.
By eating more nutrient-dense foods like these ones you’ll get more vitamins, minerals, fibre, and protein—all of which are very important to maintain your health at and beyond menopause.
Pro Tip: Your bones love calcium and vitamin D. Some of the richest sources of these are dairy products, fish with bones, and foods fortified with these nutrients (check your labels).
What about soy and phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen—the hormone that your body slows down the production of during menopause. Soy is the best-known food containing these phytoestrogens and is often recommended for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. In addition to food sources, you can also find dietary supplements with high amounts of phytoestrogens. Some women choose to take these supplements instead of hormones.
Research shows inconsistent results when it comes to phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms. That means some studies show a small reduction in hot flashes, while others don’t.
A recent review of 23 studies looked at the effect of phytoestrogen supplements on postmenopausal women. It found that some women (those who had diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol) who took the supplements weighed about 2 pounds more than women who were not taking phytoestrogen supplements. This was the opposite for healthy women taking phytoestrogens, who tended to weigh less about 0.6 pounds less than those not taking phytoestrogens.
When it comes to nutrition for menopause a few simple changes can help you go through the start of menopause
Be sure to drink enough fluids, but not alcohol; cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar; eat smaller quantities of higher-quality food; and have soy if you enjoy it, but don’t expect it to miraculously solve any bothersome menopausal symptoms.
Ultimate Guide to Nutrition for Menopause
Easy recipes to support you in the menopause
If you are struggling with putting together some recipes and are not sure of the right combination of foods to use then why not take a look at our specialise menopause recipes below.