If you ask me, the proper term for menopause should be “demon-o-pause.” Any woman currently going through the “change” would attest to the fact menopause literally turns your life into a constant outer body experience. Hot flash, cold flash, dizzy spell, mood swing, increasingly frustrating fatigue, emotional crying outburst then it’s on to acting like a head spinning crazy person—and that is all within five minutes! Ah yes, let the good times roll!
Well, the good news is that there are simple, natural things that you can do with your nutrition to help alleviate some of these symptoms. In general, a healthy diet consisting of unprocessed, unrefined foods like lean meats, soy products, beans and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats can help to balance hormones and improve mood and brain chemistry. That said, here are a few of the specific foods and supplements I keep in my diet to help me deal with the “change.” [I am not a physician, but from my research and experience, these are my recommendations. That said, always consult your physician about health concerns.]
Enjoy soy! Soy foods contain isoflavones (plant hormones) that act like a weak form of estrogen in the body. Two servings daily may help to relieve menopausal symptoms.
A word of caution. Researchers are unsure if consuming high quantities of plant estrogens will increase the growth or risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers. If you have had estrogen-dependent cancer, check with your health care provider or seek the advice of a registered dietitian before eating additional soy and phytoestrogen-rich foods.
Bring on the beans (legumes). These guys are the perfect little package of fiber, protein, calcium, folic acid and phytoestrogens. They can help with blood sugar control. Aim for five or more servings each week by adding canned legumes to salads, pastas, soups and stews, or trying bean dips and hummus.
Sneak in zinc. Zinc helps to boost progesterone, a hormone involved in balancing estrogen. Zinc also keeps your immune system in tip-top shape. Good sources of zinc include lean meats, seafood, eggs, and milk.
Boost your boron. This mineral helps the body hold onto estrogen. It also helps keep the bones strong by decreasing the amount of calcium needed each day. Meet your boron needs by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
Hold off on the “hot flash” foods. Certain foods and beverages may worsen hot flashes. Avoiding or limiting spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol may lessen the severity or frequency of your symptoms. Darn, maybe this is my problem…
Pile on the produce. A variety of fresh fruits and veggies contain beneficial plant estrogens. Pre-menopausal women should aim for five servings (minimum) each day. During menopause, however, eating seven to nine servings is a must! The more of this that you eat, the less chance you will have of an irritable grouchy mood swing set in!
Keep bones strong. Due to a lack of estrogen, menopausal women are at risk for developing osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D (along with a healthy diet and regular exercise) may help prevent this disease. Check with your health care provider first, but many suggest that menopausal women consume 1200-1500 milligrams of calcium daily. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are absorbed well by the body. To improve absorption, you need sufficient levels of vitamin D, which can be bolstered with sun exposure or supplementation. Just 15 minutes of sunshine on the face and arms, three times per week or 5,000 IU’s of liquid Vitamin D3 per day will meet your needs.
More magnesium. It helps with mood swings and insomnia. It is also a key player in bone health. Go for magnesium potent foods such as beans, legumes, nuts, green veggies and whole grains. You can also supplement with about 500mg of magnesium daily.
Good fat. Fat should provide about 30% of your total calories. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which tend to raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease in post-menopausal women. Total saturated fat should not exceed more then 10% of total fat. Limit these unhealthy fats by cutting back on fatty meats, whole milk, ice cream, margarine and butter, baked goods and snack foods. The right fats, such as flax oil, avocados, and nuts can protect against heart disease and certain cancers. Research also indicates that monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial to menopausal women.
Feast on flax. Including ground flaxseed in your diet is one of the safest ways to help with hormonal balance during menopause. Ground flaxseed offers a high amount of essential fatty acids and lignan, a natural antioxidant and phytoestrogen. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your daily diet will help stabilize the hormonal roller coaster ride.
BE THE BOSS!
Okay, ladies…let’s show these hormones whose boss! By carefully managing your nutrition, you can seriously alleviate your menopausal symptoms. And, remember…make sure to always discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional.
Next week…shh, it’s a surprise!
Lee, John R., What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause. Grand Central Publishing, 2007.