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Optimal Nutrition During Menopause

Woman holding her neck in discomfort, eyes are closed
Credit: VIOLETASTOIMENOVA / Source: Women's Day

October’s Menopause Awareness Month is an occasion to acknowledge what a truly challenging time this is for women: while it is a natural biological process, menopause brings about a myriad of physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, and emotional symptoms that may disrupt sleep, lower energy and/or affect a woman’s overall emotional health.

By looking at lifestyle factors, women can see improvements in symptom management and mitigate the impacts of unanticipated bodily changes. Not only can women see improvement in their wellbeing by choosing foods and activities that are healing, they can also feel confident that aging can be healthy. a successful endeavour. 

Menopause: What To Know

Menopause can start anywhere between the age of 45 to 55 years and marks the end of the menstrual cycle (defined as 12 months without menstruation).

This occurs mainly because estrogen levels drop and consistently stay low for the duration of menopause. As a result of these hormonal shifts, women experiencing menopause require specific nutrition support to control weight gain, prevent diabetes and heart disease, and to preserve muscle and bone mass.

Image Source: healthline.com

Tips To Mitigate Symptoms

  • Weight Management: Because the structure of the household often changes during this part of life (e.g., children leaving home to go to university), women have less reason to prepare meals in the home, and may instead gravitate towards more processed and prepared meals, dine in restaurants more often, and possibly skip meal routines. Although women gain only two kilograms during menopause on average, many may worry about weight gain and body image, and engage in restrictive diets or extreme food behaviours to lose weight. This can further exacerbate deficiencies in calcium, result in greater bone loss, result in protein deficiency and accelerated muscle mass loss, and affect mood and wellbeing.

  • Find Your Fibre: Instead of dieting, it is better to increase fibre intake, which will create both fullness, and ensure nutritional needs are met for vitamins and minerals through the inclusion of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins. To date, there is no evidence to show that using soy products or tofu will alter hormonal levels in an unfavourable way, therefore a variety of foods can be included in the diet while ensuring good weight management.
  • Diabetes and Heart Health: As hormonal levels change, so estrogen and progesterone levels drop, insulin sensitivity is lowered, which means that cells have a harder time detecting the presence of insulin. This can raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Nutritionally, the key is consistent meal timing and portion control, with avoidance of intermittent fasting or leaving long periods of time without eating. Small, frequent, high fibre meals will help lower dietary sugar and fat intakes, while fibre itself helps to normalize blood sugar and blood fat levels.

  • Muscle and Bone Mass: As mentioned, women in menopause require higher intakes of calcium to protect their bones, so it is advisable to take 1200 mg calcium from food (and if needed, supplements) and 800 IU vitamin D from supplements. In order to protect muscle mass, women need to take adequate amounts of protein per meal three times a day, and to engage in weight-bearing and cardiovascular exercise to preserve skeletal muscle mass. Finally, menopausal women are less likely to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12 and should aim to consume 2.4 μg/day through fortified foods (e.g., non-dairy milks, meat substitutes) or supplements, and may benefit from having their B12 status assessed.

In better knowing how to prepare for this life stage, women will be better equipped to seek out the supports they need, whether it is working with a dietitian, exercise specialist, physiotherapist, or psychologist, to ensure that their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing are considered and maintained as they age successfully and with good quality of life.

By Dani Renouf, Registered Dietitian at St. Paul’s Hospital.