8th of March is international women’s day, and we want to celebrate it by asking one of Odhealth’s AfN registered nutritionists her advice on nutrition and menopause.
Jump in below for the Q&A aiming to answer:
Can diet help managing symptoms and support health through and after the menopause?
How can diet affect how we transition into menopause?
The food we eat impacts all systems in our body, including our endocrine system, meaning our hormone production, utilisation and how those impact their target organs.
During the menopause oestrogen and progesterone levels decline, a process that starts 2-3 years before the actual ovulation stops. Is important to stress that menopause is not an illness but part of women’s life, and a balanced nutrition can help managing some distressful symptoms such as hot flushes and brain fog.
Good balanced nutrition can also help supporting bone and cardiovascular health which can be affected by this physiological hormonal decline.
What nutrients should a woman consider adding to her diet during this time?
Studies suggest that vitamin E and lignans can help better manage hot flushes. Vitamin E is a very powerful antioxidant present in nuts and nut-oils; the best sources are sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts. Also avocado and fish are good sources.
Lignans are polyphenols – plant compounds that have an antioxidant and a mild phyto-estrogenic action. This means they can “mimic” oestrogen action, which can help not only with hot flushes but also in preserving bone mass and cognitive function (avoiding brain fog) during and after the menopause.
The very best source of lignans are flaxseeds, along with sesame seeds, beans, pulses (chickpeas, lentils, beans) and brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, rocket,..). Studies have shown that women who consume 2 tbsp of flaxseeds daily may cut in half the number of hot flushes within 6 week and reduce their intensity by 57%.
Omega3 fatty acids can also help with hot flashes and preserving cardiovascular health, and the best sources are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herrings. Another priority should be to ensure the diet includes calcium sources on a daily bases in order to preserve bone health. Dairy is the most common source, but also green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and green beats are an excellent source along side almonds, tofu and beans such as edamame and white beans.
What about soy? There is lots of advice about it.
Like lignans, isoflavonoids in soy have a mild phyto-oestrogenic action, but research show that soy’s phyto-oestrogens are more active in women who have followed since young age a vegetarian diet rich in soy produce, seaweed and soy. This is because their intestinal microflora is better equipped to convert those isoflavonoids into an active form (specifically daidzen into equol).
This doesn’t mean they won’t “work” in women who ate a typical western diet all their life, as studies show that a reduction of hot flushes was noticeable in women having 80-160mg of soy isoflavones per day, which translates in approximately 20-45gr of firm tofu.
When talking about soy I would suggest to prefer tofu or tempeh, as other soy products such as yogurts, milks and burgers can be very processed and often have added sugar and preservatives.
How this translates into food? Can you give us examples of menopause friendly dishes?
Sure, many of the nutrients mentioned above are in a variety of foods so it would be easy to integrate them in everyday life.
A good option for breakfast could be scrambled tofu, or eggs on flaxseed bread.
If opting for a smoothie, just add some avocado for vitamin E and 2 tbsp. of flaxseeds.
Main meals can feature grilled or oven baked oily fish, with a side of green vegetables and some slow energy realising carbohydrates like buckwheat, wholegrain rice or quinoa.
I also suggest my clients who are rushed with time to add legumes into family meals, for example into a Bolognese sauce, into soups or into a chilli con carne.
Big salads with legumes, avocado, seeds and tofu can be an easy option if bringing lunch to work – don’t be scared of carbs, have also a slice of bread or some oat cakes with it. If craving something sweet, add to your yoghurt some seeds and almonds or try a flaxseed pudding which is very easy to make: grind some flaxseeds and add some nut milk (proportion 1:2) and let it rest in the fridge for half an hour to reach a pudding consistency – add almond or fruit on the top, or a spoonful of cocoa powder in the mix to make it more flavourful.
If you’re looking for support with menopause, our registered nutritionists can help tailor nutrition recommendations to you.