So, you’re staring 50 in the face. You’ve been dreading this time in your life, because of “THE CHANGE” you’re about to undergo. Life goes better when you’re educated and prepared, and when you accept the natural changes happening as you make this journey. Let’s look at what is happening – or is about to happen – to you.
What is menopause? It’s the time in a woman’s life, starting around age 45 and ending in the mid-to-late 50s, when ovulation ends and her periods cease. Menopause is divided into three phases – peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Peri-menopause is the time when hormones begin to change, ovulation and periods become erratic, and the negative effects of menopause start – hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, and dry vaginal tissue, to name a few. Menopause defines the period when a woman has been period-free for one year. Post-menopause is the tine after menopause begins. The negative effects of menopause can continue for up to three years after menopause depression occurs, and can be a significant problem to a woman’s quality of life.
Do you just have to sit back and take it? You can’t stop it from happening, but you can take action to make it at least tolerable, if not negligible. There are several things a woman can do to minimize the effects as she transitions from peri-menopause into menopause, and then into post-menopause. Some of these things need to be done, not just to have a good quality of life, but to avoid osteoporosis and other age-related conditions directly related to hormonal changes. The first thing a woman can do is to take charge of her nutrition during this time.
You are what you eat. We’ve all heard our mothers say it, from time immemorial. However, just because it’s an adage doesn’t mean it’s not true. Nutrition plays a big part in how a woman adjusts as she undergoes this process. Modifying your diet to include nutrients your body begins to lack, or in fact become deficient in, gives you a fighting chance. What exactly are these nutrients?
Calcium is critical for bone health and muscle function. Calcium doesn’t travel on its own; Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, and calcium is necessary for Vitamin D absorption as well. Adequate intake of calcium for women 51 and older is 1,200 milligrams a day. Calcium is found in dairy products, fish with bones (such as sardines or canned salmon,) broccoli, and legumes.
Iron is necessary for a number of physical processes, and is needed to prevent anemia. Anemia is a debilitating disease, causing low energy, severe fatigue, and dizziness. Iron levels are impacted by a woman’s menstruation, and also by menopause. Adequate iron intake for older women is listed as eight milligrams a day. Eating three servings of iron-rich foods daily keeps enough iron in your diet. Iron is found in lean red meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and leafy green vegetables. Enriched grain products are also a source.
Fiber is an essential for many reasons – cholesterol levels, proper bowel movements, and protection against insulin resistance. Fiber is divided into two categories: soluble (oat bran, psyllium seed husks) and insoluble (beans, nuts, whole grains). Soluble fiber helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and slows food down in the digestive tract, helping blood sugar levels stay flat. Insoluble fiber provides bulk, making movements easier, and insoluble fiber provides protection against insulin resistance. Both fibers are essential for digestive health. Adult women should get 21 grams a day of fiber in their diet or through supplementation.
Fruits and Vegetables
Your Mom was right when she pushed the fruits and vegetables in your diet. Fruits contain fiber (pectin) and provide essential vitamins. Vegetables provide many needed nutrients, such as boron and folic acid, and also provide vitamins. Recommended levels of fruits and vegetables for menopausal women are 1.5 cups of fruit, and 2 cups of vegetables a day.
Water is not a nutrient, but it’s essential. Staying hydrated has lots of positive effects – toxins flush out of your system, fluid levels stay at normal levels, skin is less dry or not dry at all – the list goes on. Adequate hydration helps with menopause symptoms in general, and may help with hot flashes.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Weight issues are a whole other subject, and we’re not going to dive into it. Maintaining a healthy weight for your body type will be an asset during menopause, but it’s an overall benefit, not specific to menopause. Determine your ideal weight and do your best to achieve it by doing what works for you, not by blindly following one guideline or another.
Moderation in all Things
Use sugar and salt in moderation. Don’t go overboard and jump into a low-salt or no-salt diet. Recent research is suggesting these diets actually cause cardiovascular problems, not relieve them. Salt is an essential element for your body; consume it in reasonable quantities. Processed sugar is not evil; it is not responsible for the diabetes epidemic currently raging in the country. Sugar is like salt – use it in reasonable quantities, and avoid processed foods with high sugar contents. Making your own cookies or cake gives you the benefit of a sweet treat without all the additives in the Twinkies.
Avoid a low-fat mentality. Fat does not make you fat. Fat is necessary for your body in many ways; our brains developed on a high-fat diet, and we require the EFAs (essential fatty acids) for proper brain function. Essential means we need it and can’t make it in our bodies – it must come from outside. Research is showing we need fat in our diets to help control appetite. What we need to do is to avoid trans-fats, found in all processed foods with the words “partially hydrogenated” attached to the name of a fat. Saturated fats are not evil either; just don’t make them the basis of your entire diet. Polyunsaturated or mono-unsaturated fats are great, and corn oil and olive oil are primary in the category.
Watch your alcohol intake. It’s not necessary to give it up if you drink, just limit your intake to one drink a day or less.
Foods to Eat During Menopause
Topping the list is water. Tap water in the United States is certainly safer to drink than water in the vast majority of the world, but you’re better off if you process it through another filtration system. Reverse osmosis water is considered the closest to pure water, distillation is next, and charcoal filters round out the list. Below is a list of foods you should consume, with the nutrients they provide:
Foods high in calcium: dairy products, fish canned with bones (sardines, salmon), broccoli, legumes
Foods high in Iron: lean red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, nuts, enriched grain products
Foods high in Fiber: Whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fresh fruits, vegetables
Foods high in Vitamin E: wheat germ oil, nuts, egg yolks and leafy green vegetables.
Foods high in phytoestrogens: Fruits: plums, prunes, strawberries, apples, tomatoes, pears, grapes, grapefruit, oranges
Veggies: cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, soybeans, sweet potatoes, beans, Egg yolks, fish, olive oil, canola oil, beans
Foods to Avoid Or Eat In Moderation During Menopause
Avoiding or limiting these foods may alleviate some symptoms of menopause. Moderation in all things is a good motto to use when deciding on your diet. Reading the label will tell you if a food fits the categories listed. Below is a list of foods to practice moderation with, or to avoid:
Foods high in processed sugars, Foods high in nitrates, Foods with trans-fats, Foods with excessively high sodium
Supplements That Help With Menopausal Symptom
There are many natural supplements capable of alleviating menopausal symptoms. Below is a list of the most common:
Soy products, Flaxseed, Dong Quoi, Black Cohosh, Vitamin E, B Vitamins, Evening Primrose Oil or Black Currant Oil
Menopause is a natural phase of life. Nothing will make the symptoms go away completely, although we keep trying.
Utilizing good nutrition during this time is common sense, and it may make the journey a bit easier to take.