Are your hormones going haywire? Fill up on these nutrient-rich eats to give your body an easier ride and try our menopause diet.
A proper ‘menopause diet’ can help ease menopausal symptoms and the impact that hormonal fluctuations have on day to day life.
Following a menopause diet plan can also help you avoid food and drink that might make symptoms worse and have a negative effect on hormones. On top of that, a properly considered menopause diet can also aid weight loss and leave you feeling healthier and more active overall.
So, whether you’re experiencing early menopause or grappling with one of the three stages of menopause, this advice from medical and nutritional experts will guide you through how to eat right and how to get the most out of your diet at this time.
What is a menopause diet and how can it help your symptoms?
A menopause diet involves eating certain foods that could help you feel better and have a balancing effect on fluctuating or declining hormones during this period of transition. A menopause diet also helps you avoid foods that may exacerbate unpleasant symptoms and side effects of menopause.
“Food can transform your health, and it’s the same for hormones and the menopause transition,” says Nicki Williams, an award-winning nutritionist and founder of the website Happy Hormones for Life.
“Hormones need a steady stream of nutrients for them to work efficiently. Without the right nutrients your menopause symptoms can worsen. Your natural instinct is to go for a fast fix with the wrong foods (carbs, sugar, bad fats). This makes things even worse,” she explains.
Jackie Lynch, a nutritional therapist and founder of the WellWellWell clinic, and author of The Happy Menopause adds: “A diet that helps to regulate the body’s response to stress is very important in managing menopause symptoms. There are lots of ways that nutrition can help to manage menopause symptoms. For me, the thing to focus on is a diet to support hormone balance.”
“During the perimenopause and menopause, our sex hormones are on a rollercoaster. This hormone fluctuation is at the root of many symptoms, from dealing with hot flushes and night sweats to anxiety, mood swings and brain fog.”
One thing to be aware of is that any existing dietary requirements you have could adversely affect you during this time.
“You may be plant-based, or favour dairy-free or gluten-free options,” says Dr Annice Mukherjee, a top UK hormone specialist and author of The Complete Guide to the Menopause. “But if you exclude a food group, you need to ensure you’re getting enough of the micronutrients that food usually provides.”
“For example, if you’re dairy-free, ensure you’re getting enough calcium from non-dairy sources. If you’re vegetarian, you need iron and B12 from non-meat sources. Don’t eat fish? Get a source of omega 3 oils in your diet or through a supplement. And if you eat a lot of meat, don’t overeat saturated meat fat or processed meat.”
What are the best foods to eat during menopause?
- Fill your plate half full of vegetables – the more colourful the better. ‘These are healthy carbohydrates that supply plenty of plant nutrients to your hormones. They’re also great for gut bacteria,’ says Nicki. ‘Focus on the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, chard, rocket etc) – these veg are particularly helpful for detoxifying excess hormones through the liver.’
- Fat is your new friend! ‘Good healthy fats are essential menopause foods. You need them for hormone production (especially as oestrogen declines), absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,C,E,D) and keeping blood sugar stable. And they fill you up so you’re not hungry between meals,’ Nicki says. ‘The best fats to add to your diet include coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter (not the spreadable stuff), avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish.’
- Good sources of protein. ‘These are essential for blood sugar balance, energy, detoxification, transport and storage of hormones, bone and muscle repair,’ she says. ‘Go for good quality meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, nuts and seeds.’ Here are high-protein breakfast ideas to start your day and some easy quinoa recipes to inspire you.
- Phytoestrogens are fantastic. ‘These plant-based compounds help you regulate your oestrogen levels, so they can be helpful for PMS and menopause symptoms,’ says Nicki. ‘The biggest source is soy (organic) and flaxseeds (or linseeds), while lentils and chickpeas have some, too.’ Here’s how to cook lentils if you’re uncertain.
- Enjoy complex carbs. ‘Replace refined carbohydrates such as bread (which may cause bloating), pasta and pastries with vegetables, brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, beans and legumes.’
- Flaxseed. ‘A menopause-friendly food, a large spoon of ground flaxseed with your breakfast cereal or smoothie can go a long way. It’s a great combination of protein and fibre, which balances blood sugar first thing in the morning, giving you a great start,’ Jackie says. ‘It’s also packed with omega 3 fatty acids which support heart, skin and brain health. And it’s an excellent source of phytoestrogens.’
- Leafy green vegetables. ‘Two handfuls of veg, such as rocket, spinach or cabbage every day will boost magnesium levels. This marvellous mineral is every menopausal woman’s best friend. It calms the nervous system, regulates the body’s response to stress and helps you feel better equipped to cope with the challenges of daily life,’ she says.
- Protein with every meal and snack. Like Nicki, Jackie is an advocate of protein. ‘It can help at so many different levels. It helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, which is nutrition 101 when it comes to managing stress. This is because every time your blood sugar crashes your body releases stress hormones. We also need protein to support muscle tone. Women can lose up to 40% of muscle mass by the time they have gone through the menopause. And the body uses amino acids found in protein to build key neurotransmitters that support mood, memory and motivation, which can all be affected during the menopause,’ she explains.
Another thing to consider is drinks. ‘Drink alcohol in moderation, within government guidelines,’ says Dr Mukherjee. The effects of alcohol on your skin can leave lasting damage, and to much drink will also cause weight gain and hormonal disturbances.
Tea and coffee are OK in the daytime. However, to avoid nocturnal trips to the loo, drink more fluid earlier on and less in the evening. This will reduce your need to pee at night.
Are there foods that make menopause worse?
Dr Mukherjee recommends avoiding:
- Caffeinated drinks in the evenings. These can cause insomnia. Jackie also points out that ‘green tea contains the same amount of caffeine as black tea. Be careful not to swap one problem for another – opt for a caffeine-free or herbal tea,’ she says.
- Alcohol. While it’s OK for some women to drink, if you’re ‘someone who becomes intolerant to alcohol during the menopause you may find it worsens your sleep. And it can cause a hangover even when you haven’t drunk very much,’ says Dr Mukherjee.
- Sugary drinks. ‘Avoid as they will cause weight gain, tooth decay and can cause sugar crashes and even type 2 diabetes in the long-term,’ she says. ‘Alcoholic drinks are also a source of sugar.’
- Foods containing refined sugar. ‘These can cause weight gain for many women. Avoid if possible.’
- Processed foods. ‘These also cause weight gain, are not nutritionally balanced and should be limited or avoided. Understanding what processed means is essential. For example, wheat-based foods and many liquidised foods and sugary drinks are processed. So bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, pizza, pastry and noodles are processed. Non-wheat alternatives to these are also processed. Fizzy drinks contain lots of sugar or lots of chemical alternatives to sugar,’ she explains.
You may also discover that you react to foods you’ve previously had no issues with. If you’re suffering from bloating, fatigue, headaches or any other symptoms after eating certain foods, Nicki suggests removing them from your diet. “Common culprits include gluten and dairy,” she says. “Try eliminating them for 3-4 weeks then re-introduce one product at a time and notice how you feel.”
How can I lose weight during menopause?
“Weight management is a complex topic and not just about what you’re eating,” says Nicki. “It’s possible to avoid weight gain and even lose weight, but you need to identify the root cause. For instance, HRT can replace low hormone levels, but if you don’t manage your stress then it’s not going to help your weight.”
“Plus, if your thyroid isn’t optimal, your metabolism is going to be very slow and it’s going to be very hard to lose weight,” she explains.
If there isn’t an underlying health issue, then Dr Mukherjee says it’s absolutely possible to lose weight during menopause.
“But because your metabolism is slower than in your younger years, it can feel harder,” she says. “A combination of increasing movement to burn more calories and limiting your calorie intake, especially from high sugar and processed foods, will help a lot. Intermittent fasting such as the 16-8 diet plan suits some people,” she suggests.
“Gradual and sustainable approaches are best, but you should be aware that these will not result in the rapid weight loss we all want once we decide to shed some pounds,” she adds. “Be mindful that one pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. So it’s not easy for anyone eating normally to lose weight.”
Patience and persistence is the key to success.
Menopause diet plan – what to eat to lose weight during menopause
“Stick to unprocessed food where possible,” says Dr Mukherjee. So, eat plenty of whole foods such as different coloured fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils) and wholegrains such as bulgur wheat, quinoa, brown rice and whole oats. “This is because processed foods cause weight gain and are not nutritionally balanced like wholefood is.”
“Beware of liquid diets as they have been processed by blending,” warns Dr Mukherjee. “Remember, wheat-based food (bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, pizza, pastry) are highly processed. Cutting those down or out of your diet can help with weight loss.”
You can also try swapping pasta for legumes or wholegrains, and cakes and biscuits for nuts, seeds and dark chocolate.
“A diet that balances blood sugar is a sensible and sustainable approach to weight management for women in midlife,” says Jackie, whose Happy Menopause podcast is well worth a listen. “Eating a combination of protein such as meat, fish or tofu and complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables or wholegrains, with each meal will help keep you fuller for longer. And it will reduce the sugar and carb cravings that often lead to weight gain,” she says.
Importantly, Jackie recommends women don’t fall for fad diets. “Avoid yoyo dieting and super-strict regimes. These will just confuse your body and may cause the metabolism to slow down, making it even harder to lose weight,” she explains.