Perimenopause, the period of time that precedes menopause (i.e. when you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a period), isn’t something many women look forward to, even if it is part of the natural aging process.
Perimenopause brings about fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels, and these hormonal shifts can trigger common symptoms like vaginal dryness, mood changes, irregular periods, hot flashes and night sweats. Another often frustrating effect of this universal hormonal change is weight gain, which may lead you to wonder if there are dietary changes you should consider during perimenopause.
According to Shannon Brasil, RN, NP it’s not uncommon for women to gain weight during the menopausal transition, and confirms that there is a connection between perimenopause, its symptoms and the need to consider dietary changes. Women may gain approximately 5 pounds during this transitional time, but fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re still getting ideal nutrition during perimenopause while staying mindful of your weight.
Why Does Perimenopause Nutrition Matter?
You may be tempted to indulge in things like chocolate and wine when you’re feeling down about perimenopause symptoms and changes to your body that you can’t control, but they may unfortunately only make things worse, both in the moment and long-term.
“Higher levels of body weight and fat are associated with increased risk for numerous adverse health consequences, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and certain cancers, which is why it’s important to make these dietary changes,” Nurse Brasil explains. “The risks for these conditions already increase due to the loss of protective estrogen during menopause, so adding excess body weight or fat can add to these risks.”
Making certain dietary changes can also help to reduce the increase in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), which can often lead to the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, Nurse Brasil adds.
What Diet is Best for Perimenopause?
According to Nurse Brasil, a well-balanced diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins, like fish, is recommended during perimenopause, coupled with reducing caloric intake by 500-1000 calories daily during this transition can help minimize weight gain.
She recommends eating two servings a week of fish that is high in omega-3s, for example, which can contribute to lower risk of heart disease. Additionally, she advises increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables which can in-turn increase the amounts of micronutrients and fiber in the body, which helps to boost elasticity in the vascular system.
Increasing your intake of deeply green colored fruits and vegetables like spinach, along with carrots, peaches and berries is also a great idea, according to Nurse Brasil, as they’re considered to be higher in micronutrients when compared to starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn. Regular consumption of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables described here can help to positively affect the vascular system.
“Consider consuming fish, especially oily fish, at least twice weekly due to their high omega-3 counts,” Nurse Brasil advises. “Low-fat dairy options that are high in calcium are also a good idea, as they are beneficial for supporting bone health through perimenopause and menopause.” Overall, women should consider shifting to a diet that is lower in carbohydrates, low in fat, and high in fiber and calcium – the Mediterranean diet is a great example.
5 Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Make the Perimenopause Transition Smoother
Adjusting your diet doesn’t have to mean restricting the foods you love. You can still enjoy your favorite meals and treats in moderation, while also taking the below key steps to keep excess weight gain at bay and to support your overall health during perimenopause.
Avoid Excess Caffeine and Sugar
According to Nurse Brasil, caffeine-containing drinks and foods can trigger hot flashes, contribute to insomnia, and increase dehydration, so it’s best to limit your intake and skip the afternoon latte or sugary snack. Try swapping in a fresh fruit, some raw vegetables or a handful of mixed nuts as a healthy snack instead.
Monitor Your Salt Intake
Nurse Brasil recommends limiting salt intake when eating out or cooking at home, as reduced sodium intake can help to prevent hypertension. The average recommended intake of sodium is no more than 1.5- 2 grams per day, she explains. The Mediterranean diet, mentioned above, can be a helpful option for many women in perimenopause to consider, as it’s naturally heart healthy and can help lower sodium intake, as it recommends salt be replaced with other spices.
Consume Alcohol in Moderation
“High alcohol consumption can contribute to higher body weight during perimenopause, and cause more fat around the midsection,” Nurse Brasil cautions. Healthcare providers typically recommend no more than one drink per day for women, or 40 ounces total per week.
Limit Your Intake of Saturated and Trans-Fats
The American Heart Association recommends an intake of less than 7% of saturated fats, less than 1% trans-fats, and less than 300mg of cholesterol daily, Nurse Brasil says. Consider avoiding processed foods as much as you can and read nutrition labels when you do opt for a pre-packaged snack.
Eat at Regular Intervals
You’ve probably heard it before: Don’t skip breakfast if you don’t want to break down and binge on sugar and other less-than-healthy options later in the day when you find yourself ravenous as a result.
“Eating on a more regular basis (every four to five hours) without skipping meals, helps maintain metabolic activity,” Nurse Brasil says. “Staying hydrated, which typically means consuming at least 64 ounces of water daily, helps to maintain metabolic activity and can provide a ‘fuller’ feeling, which helps to decrease food cravings and snacking.”
Exercising regularly also is key, she adds.
Talk to your Healthcare Provider About Dietary Supplements
There are certain situations where supplementation may be recommended, though individual needs may vary, which is why it’s key to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a vitamin regimen.
Generally speaking, though, 1,200mg of omega-3 should typically be considered during perimenopause if your intake of oily fish is limited, Nurse Brasil explains. Additionally, she recommends considering 1,200mg a day of calcium if you have an intolerance to dairy, and 1,000-2,000iu of vitamin D3 daily, as low vitamin D can contribute to poor dietary absorption of calcium and bone loss. Vitamin D levels should also be checked periodically, as a precaution, because of this. Multivitamins are also typically recommended for seniors, she adds, to help fill any nutritional gaps.
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“Women should have an established relationship with a healthcare provider they are comfortable with and start the conversation about preparing for perimenopause and menopause as early as possible,” she says. “It’s important to start healthy dietary and exercise habits; the earlier the better.”