“You are what you eat” … well this has surely never been more applicable than to those women currently managing the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. With age naturally comes loss of lean body mass or muscle. This results in a slower metabolism. Women in menopause unfortunately experience a double whammy, since lower estradiol levels affect metabolism as well. This translates into difficulty maintaining and losing weight. The constant stress of midlife that many women face only adds to the problem since constant cortisol release facilitates that dreaded “meno belly,” right around your mid-section.
So, what’s the best “diet “for women facing these challenges? I recommend the Mediterranean diet for menopausal women.
Foods to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet plan is not only cardio-protective, but it may also enhance immune function, optimize general health and wellbeing, as well as improve energy levels in women transitioning through menopause.
Naturally low in carbs and processed foods, the Mediterranean diet helps to optimize weight control. More specifically, the Mediterranean diet food list favors olive oil rather than butter, limits salt and replaces flavor with spices instead, minimizes red meat intake and aims for other sources of lean protein, like fish or chicken. The Mediterranean diet also adds healthy, satisfying fats and plenty of fresh produce.
Alcohol is acceptable in moderation on the Mediterranean diet, but processed foods and simple carbs should be avoided. Drinking plenty of water is favored. Eating well on the Mediterranean diet should be seen as a general lifestyle rather than a short-term fad diet. Adding in regular exercise and a dose of daily stress reduction can give your general metabolism and long-term health benefits a boost.
As an aside, and in addition to following the Mediterranean diet, there may be benefit to intermittent fasting for some, when considering weight control in menopause.
Mediterranean Diet and Inflammation
There are several scientific studies which suggest inflammation in our bodies can increase during menopause due to the stark decline in estrogen levels. Estrogen is known to be anti-inflammatory1, so as our hormones start to change and then drop during menopause, an increase in inflammation may be experienced.
Increased inflammation in the body can contribute to frustrating and disruptive symptoms such as joint pain, stomach discomfort, cognitive issues or cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to prioritize ways to reduce this.
Following the Mediterranean diet during menopause may help to reduce the amount of inflammation present in the body. The healthy whole foods recommended by this diet (i.e. fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and foods with lower fat/salt content) work to deliver key vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that work to reduce inflammation in the body as well as support your immune system.2
Eating Well to Manage Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
While it may seem too good to be true, switching to the more nutritious foods recommended in the Mediterranean diet can help to manage some of the more common symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes. To help beat the heat, consider eliminating common dietary triggers such as caffeine, red wine, consuming large, heavy meals, too much sugar and spicy foods.
If you’re finding that you’re struggling with disruptive menopausal hot flashes and night sweats, and these diet changes aren’t helping, you could look to the support of a dietary supplement for additional relief. Bonafide’s Relizen® is a safe, well-studied, hormone-free and effective oral supplement made from a proprietary blend of Swedish Flower Pollen. It’s designed to reduce the frequency and intensity of menopausal hot flashes and night sweats without working through hormonal pathways.*
Bonafide's Solution for Menopausal Hot Flashes and Night Sweats*
Relizen® is a prescription-free dietary supplement designed to decrease the frequency and intensity of menopausal hot flashes and night sweats.*
Supporting Bone Health Through Nutrition
It’s an unfortunate fact that we lose bone density over time due to natural aging and the diminished estrogen levels experienced through menopause. Being proactive to support your bone health can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce fracture risk during this time.
According to a recent study, sticking to a Mediterranean diet could help to reduce bone loss in people already diagnosed with osteoporosis. Findings show that sticking to a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil, and fish can reduce hip bone loss within just 12 months.3 While shifting your diet to incorporate more of the Mediterranean diet foods list, it’s important to not discount the importance of two individualized key nutrients in supporting bone health: calcium and vitamin D.
Calcium is essential for bone health. It reduces bone loss and contributes to the prevention of osteoporosis, fragile brittle bones, and risk of fracture. These days, it seems it’s most beneficial to obtain calcium mainly through diet rather from supplements. It’s recommended for women in menopause to obtain at least 1200mg of calcium daily. Dietary sources include dairy products (milk and yogurt), green vegetables such as kale and broccoli, almonds and fortified juices and cereals. Supplements can make up for any dietary shortfall but should not be taken in excess due to risk of GI upset, constipation and kidney stones. Larger doses of calcium (more than 500-600mg) should be taken in divided doses rather than all at once for best absorption.
Vitamin D works with calcium to maintain healthy bones. Although sun exposure helps the body make its own vitamin D, the risks of skin cancer and sunburn can cause us to favor the shade. In addition, women in the northeast have less sun exposure during the winter months. Recommended daily intake of vitamin D for menopausal women is 600IU/day. Dietary sources include fortified cereals and dairy products, salmon, and mackerel. Vitamin D3 is readily available over the counter – additional vitamin D supplementation may be indicated by your healthcare provider based on your blood levels or individual circumstances.
I wanted to share one final note about supporting your overall nutrition. For all of you women out there who don’t have a perfect diet, a daily multivitamin might also be just what the doctor ordered. Consider speaking with your healthcare provider about the addition of a high-quality multivitamin into your routine to help support any nutritional gaps in your diet to keep you feeling your best through menopause and beyond.