Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life as her menstrual cycles come to an end. In other words, it is the natural stopping or cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Usually, women experience menopause between 45 and 55 years of age.
Menopause not only brings about permanent biological changes but also alters the physical and mental health of a woman, partially because of the hormonal and biochemical changes associated with it. As menopause nears, the ovaries (the primary female reproductive organ) make less of a hormone called estrogen.
Estrogen is the sex hormone responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. As a result of decreased estrogen, the menstrual cycle starts to change, becomes irregular, and stops.
During this transition period, many women experience symptoms like hot flashes (sudden feeling of warmth, especially over the face, neck, and chest), night sweats, flushing (temporary reddening of the skin), fluctuating emotions, dry skin, weight gain, difficulty in sleeping, etc.
The good news is that making changes in your diet may help relieve some of the menopausal symptoms like poor sleep and low bone density.
Menopause Diet/Foods: What to Eat & What to Avoid
1. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated to avoid dry skin and dehydration. During menopause, you might experience extreme dryness of your skin due to a decrease in estrogen levels. Drinking water can also reduce the bloating that can occur with hormonal changes. Drink at least eight glasses of water every day.
2. Eat small, frequent meals and do not skip any meal. During menopause, you might find yourself being frequently hungry. This happens due to the increased release of the ‘hunger-stimulating’ hormone called ghrelin.
It is advisable to eat small and frequent meals that consist of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, high-quality proteins, and dairy products. Avoid fatty and salty snacks to maintain a healthy weight and to avoid other health issues.
3. Get enough fiber from fruits, green vegetables, and complex carbs like whole grains, brown rice, oats, wheat bread, barley, quinoa, etc. Fiber improves stool frequency, regulates bowel movements, and helps women in menopause with weight management.
Fiber foods will keep you full for a longer period of time and help in curbing unnecessary cravings.
4. Consume dairy products to get your dose of calcium, vitamin D, and protein. The lack of estrogen during and after menopause leads to the development of osteoporosis (a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle), and thus, the intake of calcium and vitamin D is essential.
Milk and dairy products, fish bones (such as in canned salmon and sardines), and dark-green, leafy vegetables are the best sources of calcium. Red meat, liver, and egg yolks are rich in vitamin D. You can also soak in sunlight for about 15 to 20 minutes daily for vitamin D and for your overall health.
5. Include lean proteins in your diet. Rich sources of lean proteins are eggs, fish, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and lean chicken. The preferred method for cooking lean proteins should be either boiling, steaming, grilling, or baking.
Due to a decline in estrogen, there is a reduction in muscle mass and bone strength during menopause. Lean proteins play an important role in keeping your body strong, during and after menopause.
6. Include healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Women with menopausal symptoms, who eat omega-3 foods, vitamins, and supplements experience a reduction in hot flashes. Fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds, olive oil, etc. are rich sources of omega-3 foods.
7. Eat foods rich in phytoestrogens like chickpeas, tofu, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, beans, and soybeans, and soy products (such as soymilk and soy flour). These help in balancing your hormones and reducing hot flashes.
8. Limit the intake of salt in your diet. Avoid spicy, processed/fried/sugary, and junk food. Quit smoking, avoid alcohol and caffeine beverages. During menopause, there is an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. Reducing your sodium intake may help lower this risk.
The necessary dietary changes, clubbed with daily exercise and enough rest can help you cope with menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, poor sleep, anxiety, and depression. Visit your gynaecologist for more information on menopause and how to deal with the overall changes.
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