Menopause comes with many physiological changes that are completely normal in women and symptoms can look different for each person. Let’s find out what happens during this transitional period and what diet is best for menopause.May 30, 2022 5:44 pm March 17, 2022 2:41 pm
What is menopause?
Menopause is a physiological occurrence in a woman’s life which tends to take place anywhere between the ages of 45 to 55 for most women. However it can also happen earlier or later in some women. During this period, a woman’s menstrual cycles stop. In fact, menopause officially begins 12 months after the last menstrual period. Moreover, the period leading up to menopause is called “perimenopause”, this is what is often referred to when women are “going through” menopause.
Natural changes in the body
During perimenopause, a woman’s body goes through many changes. In fact, the main physiological change is a significant decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone. Moreover, given that estrogen levels decrease, a woman’s periods may become irregular and consequently lead to a loss of fertility. In addition, other bodily changes can include an increase in blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as a loss of calcium from bones.
Many women report weight gain, hot flashes, irritability and headaches amongst the symptoms of perimenopause. Low estrogen is the main cause of these symptoms, which can last between a few months and several years. However, the severity and types of symptoms can vary from one person to another.
Fortunately there are many strategies available to manage the symptoms of a menopausal transition. Many women are able to lead active and fulfilling lives during this time as well as afterwards, and treatment and support is available for those who experience symptoms. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can have significantly beneficial effects on overall health and well-being during menopause.
Bone health and osteoporosis
Firstly, bone health is especially important in menopausal women. In fact, osteoporosis affects about 1 in 3 women after menopause. Moreover, the risk of fractures due to osteoporosis is higher than that of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Fortunately, the risk of developing osteoporosis or fractures can be controlled through positive lifestyle changes. For example, adequate intakes of calcium, vitamin D and protein in the diet help to maintain healthy and strong bones. Additionally, exercising regularly and including resistance training into your exercise routine, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding smoking can also greatly benefit bone health.(1)
The importance of calcium and vitamin D
High intakes of dietary calcium can significantly improve bone mineral composition and bone mineral density, thus reducing the risk of fractures in menopause. However, studies conducted in postmenopausal women show that calcium alone is not enough to reduce fracture risk. In fact, calcium and vitamin D combined produce the most favorable effects for bone health.(2)
Moreover, we should approach calcium supplements with caution. In fact, a meta-analysis found that calcium supplements, especially when taken without vitamin D, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. However, it seems the literature did not observe this increased cardiovascular risk with food sources of calcium. Therefore, it may be preferable to consume naturally occurring calcium from foods.(3)
Chia seeds contain over 600mg of calcium per 100g, which is about 5 times more calcium than regular cow’s milk. Try adding a teaspoon of our organic chia seed powder to your morning smoothie or porridge, or perhaps sprinkle it inside your soup or on top of salads for a boost of calcium, protein and fiber.
In addition, most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight exposure, however sunlight alone is often not enough to meet our requirements, especially during the winter months. Furthermore, women over the age of 65 have higher requirements for vitamin D due to an increased risk of osteoporosis. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are an excellent source of vitamin D. In fact, just one tablespoon of hemp seed oil provides about 40% of your daily vitamin D requirements.
“During perimenopause [..] bodily changes can include an increase in blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as a loss of calcium from bones.”
Protein for healthy muscle and bones
Protein makes up about half of our skeleton’s volume and a third of its mass. Therefore including protein in the diet is essential for strong bones. In fact, a higher intake of dietary protein is associated with greater muscle mass and strength in postmenopausal women. In addition, studies have found that in people with osteoporosis, increased protein intake is associated with a higher bone mineral density and a slower rate of bone loss, as well as reduced risk of hip fracture.(1)
Legumes, nuts, and seeds are all great sources of plant-based protein which should be a part of a healthy diet, particularly during menopause.
Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
In Western countries, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the primary cause of death in women. Moreover, women tend to develop CVD approximately a decade later than their male counterparts and their risk significantly increases during the menopausal years. In addition, while CVD is relatively rare in women under 45 years, women over 55 years are more likely than men to develop CVD. In other words, the risk of coronary artery disease is higher for postmenopausal women compared to premenopausal women.
One study looked at the levels of HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol in menopausal women compared to premenopausal controls. It was found that menopausal women had lower levels of HDL cholesterol and higher levels of LDL cholesterol compared to the control group . Overall the results suggest that menopause has a negative effect on lipid metabolism which can increase the risk of coronary artery disease.(4)
Moreover, studies suggest that the prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases in women after menopause. Metabolic disease is a term that describes a cluster of conditions including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. A 9 year study on over 900 women investigated the menopausal transition and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. It was found that the odds of developing metabolic syndrome were significantly higher in women who had already gone through menopause compared to women in perimenopause. Moreover, metabolic syndrome may be linked to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular risk during menopause.(5)
So what strategy should be used to counter the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome? The answer may lie in the power of healthy fats!
Healthy fats for a healthy heart
Healthy unsaturated fats from cold-pressed oils, nuts and seeds are perfect additions to your diet during menopause. Olive oil contains heart friendly monounsaturated fats which have been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and decreased risk of heart disease.
Almonds also contain healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber to keep your heart healthy. Thanks to their fiber content and healthy fats, almonds have been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. Try having a handful a day as a snack or add them to your porridge or chopped in salads.
Moreover, Omega-3 fats also offer protective effects against cardiovascular disease. Our organic chia seed oil is a great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an Omega-3 fat commonly found in plant foods. In fact, just one tablespoon provides 100% of your daily ALA requirements.
The mediterranean diet, a tool against weight gain
Amongst the physiological changes that occur throughout menopause, one of them is the increased susceptibility to weight gain. Moreover, a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy nutritional patterns can further compound the effects of menopause on weight gain. It is well known amongst the scientific community that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets for overall health and longevity. But what about for menopause?
One study observed the effects of a Mediterranean diet to promote weight loss in postmenopausal women. There is a common belief that menopausal women have a harder time losing weight compared to younger women. This study attempted to prove otherwise. In fact, the researchers prescribed a low calorie traditional mediterranean diet to participants. One group included fertile women over 45 years and the other group included menopausal women. Following 8 weeks of treatment, all women had improved body composition scores and blood pressure readings.(6)
The results suggest that following a traditional Mediterranean diet can help menopausal women to lose fat and maintain muscle mass no differently to younger fertile women. A review further confirmed this finding, showing that the Mediterranean diet is a safe and healthy approach to fighting menopause-related obesity and its cardiometabolic complications.(7)
Moreover, reduced fat mass and improved body composition can lower the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease in menopausal women.
High fiber and protein to keep the kilos at bay
Including high fiber, protein rich foods into your diet is a great way to maintain lean muscle mass whilst keeping the extra kilos at bay. Amaranth is a nutrient-dense high fiber cereal that can keep you feeling fuller for longer. With 18g of fiber and 18g of protein per 100g, amaranth is the perfect companion for salads, breakfast bowls and more. You can also try using it as a substitute for rice or pasta to add more variety to your diet.