At a time when your brain and body are changing, it’s all the more important to treat yourself with love and respect – with tasty, nourishing food at the forefront.
The menopause marks the end of one chapter and the exciting start of another. But challenging side-effects, such as hot flushes, insomnia and weight gain, can put a dampener on what could be a time of joy and freedom. Making informed dietary choices now can not only transform your experience of menopause, but possibly even delay symptoms by as much as three years according to the latest studies. Through good nutrition, including ingredients that reduce symptoms, you can provide your body with the fuel it needs to heal itself holistically and function with ease.
Vitamin D is one such game changer. A study published this year by the Sao Paolo State University’s Botucatu Medical School revealed that 35 per cent of women aged between 45 and 75, who had ceased menstruating at least 12 months earlier, were vitamin D deficient. The research suggested that simply upping your intake of vitamin D could reduce many menopausal symptoms, including the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This cluster of conditions is what leads to things like excess fat around the waist, lower energy and unhealthy cholesterol.
This is because once in the body, vitamin D is synthesised into a hormone that contributes to a number of metabolic functions, including fat burning and insulin secretion.Thankfully, your body produces 90 per cent of the Vitamin D you require, but that vital extra 10 per cent you need to fully thrive has to come from elsewhere. You’ll find it easily during hot summer months, when just 10 minutes soaking up UV rays will give you your quota. It can also be found in a variety of foods, such as eggs and dairy, when the sunshine is a little less glorious.
Tweaking your diet so that it is menopause-friendly doesn’t stop at easing and, in some cases, eradicating symptoms. Eating foods that support you in all the right ways and avoiding those that don’t even delays the onset of the menopause according to recent research by the University of Leeds – the first UK study into the link between diet and the start of the menopause. ‘Our research has revealed that higher consumption of oily fish can delay the onset of natural menopause by approximately three years,’ says study lead author Yashvee Dunneram. ‘Fresh legumes such as peas and green beans showed a delay of around one year. However, a higher consumption of refined carbohydrates such as pasta and rice, hastened the onset by a year and a half.’
Eat for oestrogen
Altering your diet to find hormonal harmony is a refreshingly natural approach to managing your health, yet it really gets results. ‘The key ingredients for looking and feeling your radiant best during mid and later life include phytoestrogens,’ says Liz Earle, wellbeing entrepreneur and author of The Good Menopause Guide (£25, Orion Spring). ‘These are oestrogen-like compounds that occur naturally in the plant kingdom.’ The menopause begins with a drop in oestrogen, which is often the trigger for many of the symptoms, so adding phytoestrogens to your diet to help bring those levels back up is a fantastic place to start. ‘Phytoestrogen-containing foods include soya milk and flour, linseeds, chickpeas, tofu, Japanese tempeh and miso, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, celery, rhubarb and green beans,’ says Liz.
As well as vitamin D, the B group of vitamins, and vitamin E are considered to be some of the best nutrients you can include in your diet during menopause. You’ll find lots of B vitamins in fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut, plus in milk, wholegrains, butternut squash and potato – which are being harvested right now.
As well as keeping your hormones balanced, these nourishing nutrients can help to improve your mood and energy levels, reduce cholesterol, and ease bloating. Vitamin E is a real superhero when it comes to fighting free radicals. These environmental toxins can affect women more during menopause, due to changing hormones causing an increase in stress and lowered immune system responses. Top your vitamin E levels up by eating plenty of healthy fats such as avocados and almonds, which will reduce toxins, lower inflammation and significantly reduce hot flushes as a result.
Say no to sugar
When oestrogen and progesterone diminish during the menopause, it has a knock-on effect on your blood sugar levels. This means that too much sugar in your diet will raise your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain, in a way that it didn’t before. ‘Tempting though it may be to reach for an afternoon biscuit, a better option is to choose nuts, seeds or fresh fruit,’ says Liz. ‘These options will restore flagging energy in a more balanced and sustained way.’