Menopause and nutrition
Change the food, change the mood.
How eating better can lead to a better menopause.
How are you feeling today? A bit bloated around the middle, tired, snappy, ready to shove your annoying co-worker under a bus?
These are all symptoms of the menopause, and if you’ve had a day of mood swings and hot flushes, it’s not surprising if the only thing you feel like doing is grabbing that huge bar of chocolate, that even bigger glass of wine, and tucking yourself up on the sofa with a ‘do not disturb’ sign stuck to your forehead. But if you keep having ‘one of those days’, maybe you should take a different approach.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What have you had to eat or drink in the last twenty-four hours?
- How much of it was processed or sugary?
- Could your treats and comfort foods be making your symptoms worse?
Our brains and bodies are connected firm partners in crime, and your hormones are the power-crazed villains that control it all. When we go into menopause, or peri-menopause, they start behaving even more wildly. They become confused, everything’s changing and they can’t cope, so they become bent on chaos and rampage; less master criminal and more toddler having a tantrum in a toyshop. What we need to do is keep them as calm as possible. This may include medical intervention, such as anti-depressants or Hormone Replacement Therapy, but never underestimate the power of good food. Because, if you’re looking after your body by putting the right things into it, your hormones will definitely thank you and stop embarrassing you so much in public.
So, what are my top tips for menopause-busting diet?
1. Go organic
Pesticides and fertilizers used to grow non-organic fruit and veg are now known to cause hormone disruption. A switch to organic fruit and vegetables, which are free of chemicals, and contain lots more nutrients might make a big difference. Organic dairy and meat are much healthier choices, too –they are mostly from free-range animals, fed on a natural diet, free of hormones and antibiotics.
2. Eat your greens!
Yes, I sound like your mother, but Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts, kale, rocket, watercress) have a special compound called DIM, which can help to detoxify excess oestrogen in the body. If your liver has a lot of toxins to deal with, things can back up and you could have excess oestrogen recirculated into your system. This can lead to ‘oestrogen dominance’ and symptoms include PMS, fibroids, breast tenderness and increased risk of oestrogen driven conditions. Try adding cruciferous vegetables to every meal (even breakfast!).
3. Keep hydrated
Water is the main ingredient in your body’s cells and fluids, carrying important nutrients, oxygen, hormones and waste to where they are supposed to be. Water intake includes fruit and veg, smoothies, tea and coffee, so you don’t need to drink huge amounts of plain water. You can lose your thirst response as you get older, though, so have a water bottle handy so you remember to drink. Try filling up a large bottle with water (you can add cucumber or lemon for flavour and extra nutrients) in the morning and make sure you finish it by the end of the day.
4. Eat good fats
We’re used to avoiding fat, but good healthy fats are essential for happy hormones! Fat is essential for hormone production (especially as oestrogen declines), absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and helps keep blood sugar stable, filling you up so you are not hungry between meals. Add these healthy fats to your diet; coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter (not the spreadable stuff!), avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
5. Stop snacking
If you constantly snack or eat ‘little and often’ your body always has a steady supply of glucose to use as energy. It never gets to use your fat stores! By leaving 4-6 hours between meals you will naturally burn more fat. Fasting overnight for 12-16 hours has a similar effect – great if you need to lose weight. DON’T do this though if you have any blood sugar issues or feel dizzy or faint between meals. Snack on healthy nuts, seeds, fruit or vegetables.
6. Know your carbs
We know high carb diets can increase your insulin and mess with your energy, weight, mood and brain function, but don’t go to the other extreme. Your body needs good carbohydrates to function properly. Just know the difference between good and bad carbs. Good carbs include all fruit and vegetables, whole grains, brown or wild rice, quinoa and buckwheat. You want to limit processed foods, refined carbs like most bread and pasta, and go for natural sugar alternatives such as xylitol, coconut sugar or raw honey.
7. Increase your phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that help to regulate your own oestrogen levels, so they can be really helpful for PMS and menopausal symptoms. The biggest sources are soy (only organic) and flaxseeds (or linseeds), while lentils and chickpeas have some too. Try including some organic milk or yoghurt (unsweetened), tofu or edamame AND 2 tablespoons of freshly milled flaxseeds a day into your diet (try them in smoothies, soups, stews, porridge, yoghurt etc).
8. Vitamin D
This sunshine vitamin is actually a hormone and is vital for your health. You can’t get enough Vitamin D from food. The main source is sunlight, and the lack of time spent outdoors plus the long winter periods in the Northern hemisphere mean that many of us are deficient. Try getting outside in direct sunlight for 20 minutes. If you can’t do this, take a vitamin D3 supplement (get your levels checked to get the right dosage).
So, natural food and fresh air. It sounds simple, but we women are often all too good at taking care of other people and tend to leave our own needs till last.
Don’t! Take up the good food fight against those pesky hormones and you’ll soon begin to feel better. And, maybe keep a little bit of that chocolate handy, for those really, really bad days, because better that than a flattened co-worker.
About the author
Nicki Williams is author of It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones and is a qualified nutritional therapist who specialises in hormone issues for women over 40. Find out more at www.happyhormonesforlife.com