Perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) typically begins for women sometime in their 40s. This is when you may begin noticing menopause symptoms including hot flashes, interrupted sleep, lower energy, and mood swings. And as women arrive at menopause (defined as when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period), they may also be impacted by a slowing metabolism. Menopause brings with it many bodily changes, but a well-balanced diet and nutrition can help support you on your journey.
Through the menopause transition, hormones (primarily estrogen and progesterone) are fluctuating as they slowly decline. These changes create a new physiological environment for the body which has metabolic effects that influence how the body metabolizes food. Consuming a well-balanced diet is key for optimizing health throughout all stages of life, but during menopause it becomes even more important.
“The changing hormones of the menopause transition create stress on the body, albeit a normal natural stress, it is stress nonetheless. Being intentional about optimizing your nutrition during this time can support your body through managing the stress of the hormone changes. By giving your body this support, a reduction in symptoms can occur in the short-term and overall health can be supported in the long-term.” -Stasi Kasianchuk, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Exercise Physiologist, and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics
Stasi Kasianchuk, a registered dietitian nutritionist, and Gennev’s Director of Health Coaching, shared with us key nutrition recommendations for women in menopause that will support the body through the transition and optimize health outcomes now and into the future. Stasi suggests that first, it’s necessary to examine our relationship with food. “At times in our life when our bodies change in ways that feel outside of our control it can be tempting to see food as the enemy and want to restrict or limit your intake." Stasi recommends, “During the menopause transition, when your body is already managing the stress of changing hormones, restricting calories can further exacerbate the stress response resulting in undesirable consequences. Establishing a positive relationship with food by focusing on nourishment and support, can be helpful to get the most out of the following recommendations.”
Rather than low carb or no carb, focus on strategic carb. Estrogen influences carbohydrate metabolism, so as estrogen levels change during the menopause transition, so does the way the body uses carbohydrate. The body’s ability to respond to insulin secreted in response to carbohydrate consumed also decreases and can lead to increased blood sugar levels. This does not mean you need to eliminate all carbohydrates, in fact that will have the opposite effect and typically exacerbates undesirable blood sugar spikes. Strategically approaching your carbohydrate intake with the majority of these coming from fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain sources can help to meet your carbohydrate needs and support an optimal blood sugar response. Refined or simple carbohydrates can certainly be enjoyed, as this is part of having a positive relationship with food, and also make a great fuel source prior to exercise, especially high intensity training.
Prioritize protein. Most women are not aware that protein needs increase during peri and post-menopause. Having adequate protein from food is important to provide the body with the building blocks to support muscle mass which naturally declines during this phase of life. Aiming for 20-25g of protein with each meal and especially after resistance training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) can help to mitigate muscle loss. While all foods containing protein are beneficial, protein foods which contain the amino acid leucine are particularly helpful for stimulating muscle growth. These foods include eggs, beans, legumes, chicken, salmon, brown rice, and chia seeds.
Fats are your friend. The hormonal shifts during peri and post menopause allow the body to better utilize fatty acids. The key here is to prioritize fats from unsaturated sources, especially those containing omega-3s such as salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flax, hemp, and chia seeds. These support brain and heart health and help the body manage inflammation.
Think in color. Focusing on eating a variety of colorful foods typically results in eating more fruits and vegetables which offer fiber and nutrients to help the body better manage inflammation which can increase with the changes in estrogen and progesterone. The hormonal changes during peri and post menopause can also influence the gut microbiome. Women may experience changes in digestion as a result. Supporting the gut with a variety of plant sources of fiber not only supports optimal digestion, but also promotes satiety, lower levels of blood cholesterol, and stabilize blood sugar. All of which are also altered when hormone levels start to shift.
Bone support. While dairy foods can certainly support bone health, they aren’t the only foods that provide bone building nutrients at a time when bone formation is no longer occurring. A combination of foods containing calcium, vitamin K, magnesium, vitamin D, and protein synergistically can support maintaining bone. These foods include dairy products, tofu, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and plant and animal sources of protein. If you have limited exposure to the sun, you may benefit from supplementing with at least 2000 IU of vitamin D per day (check with your doctor to confirm your needs).
Take note of symptom exacerbators. Perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and mood swings are some of the symptoms that can be exacerbated by certain foods. These include refined carbohydrates/simple sugars, caffeine, and alcohol. Pay attention to your symptoms when you consume these foods or beverages. If you notice your symptoms getting worse it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate these items, but a modification to your intake may help you to feel better.
Implementing these nutritional strategies along with making time for daily physical activity will not only help relieve symptoms, but will support your overall health throughout the menopause transition and beyond. If you need additional guidance in developing a healthy diet in this stage of life, our menopause specialists can be a great resource for creating a personalized plan that supports your body’s changing nutritional needs, relieves symptoms, and optimizes your health for the long term.
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.