How to eat your way through menopause!
‘What the hell has happened to me since I hit 40?’ If you are asking yourself that question you are not alone.
You may be suffering and feeling lost, or you may just have started noticing some changes. Either way, you’re probably looking for some answers and not getting very far.
If this is you, then you’re one of the 80% of women that are thought to suffer from various symptoms of the menopause between the ages of 35–60.
You might assume or have been told that you are ‘just getting older’, or you may have been to your doctor who offered you antidepressants or HRT. Or you may have tried the latest diet and exercise programmes or miracle supplements that promise to ‘fix’ you.
None of these ‘solutions’ has worked? That’s because none of them is addressing the true cause of your symptoms: your hormones!
Whether you are in perimenopause (the years running up to menopause), or you are post-menopausal, hormone imbalances can cause havoc.
Every woman has a different experience, but common symptoms are fatigue, stubborn weight gain (especially around the middle), mood swings, brain fog, insomnia, hot flushes, PMS and more. Or you may just feel like something is off, that you’ve lost your mojo.
Your hormones control your energy, mood, sex drive, stress response and fat stores, among other critical functions. As you age, your hormones decline and fluctuate at varying rates, upsetting the delicate balance and causing all sorts of unwanted side effects.
I know, because it happened to me in my early 40s and when I went to my doctor he could only offer me Prozac. I knew that wasn’t my path, so I decided to see what natural solutions were out there. After many years of experimenting and research, here are my top dietary tips for your menopausal years;
Pesticides and fertilizers used to grow non-organic fruit and veg are now known to cause hormone disruption.
Switch to organic fruit and vegetables, which are free of chemicals, and contain lots more nutrients. Organic dairy and meat are much healthier choices, too –they are mostly from free-range animals that are fed a natural diet and are free of hormones and antibiotics.
Eat your greens!
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 cancer.
Try adding cruciferous vegetables to every meal (even breakfast!).
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.
Eat good fats
Good healthy fats are essential for happy hormones! Fat is essential for hormone production (especially as oestrogen declines), absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,C,E,D) 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.
Have a protein shake
Whey protein is a great way to get all your protein needs in one hit. Protein is great for blood sugar balance (it slows the release of glucose into your system), and is essential for energy and hormone production.
Try a protein shake for breakfast. Blend up a good quality whey or plant based protein with your choice of liquids (coconut water, organic milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, etc). Stick some berries or raw cacao in there for your antioxidant fix, and some kale or salad leaves for your veg and that should set you up for your day!
Make sure your whey protein is undenatured and organic. Hemp, rice and pea are all good plant-based protein powders suitable for vegans/vegetarians.
Ditch the sugar
Sugar causes havoc to your hormone system. It can cause too much insulin to be produced, which can lead to diabetes if prolonged. Insulin is also your fat storing hormone, putting any excess sugar into your fat stores.
Try swapping white carbs for wholegrains, avoid processed foods with added sugars, and swap white sugar for natural alternatives such as xylitol, coconut sugar or raw honey.
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 source is flaxseeds (or linseeds), while lentils and chickpeas have some too.
Try including 2 tablespoons of freshly milled flaxseeds a day into your diet (try them in smoothies, soups, stews, porridge, yoghurt etc).
Get some 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).
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.
Nicki will be talking about nutrition and menopause at our next event for women on October 6. To receive details, sign up for our newsletter here.