Menopause can be a challenging time for women, both physically and emotionally. This is why it’s crucial to prioritise your health and well-being during this phase. Taking care of yourself involves paying close attention to your diet, to ensure it’s well-balanced and nutritious. The right diet can have a huge and lasting impact, as it can help significantly improve your menopause symptoms.
To help you develop a personalised menopause diet, we spoke with menopause nutritionist Charlotte Hunter. Here, she shares her expert advice to empower you to make informed decisions that support your overall health and well-being.
Keep reading to see how your diet can help you ease your symptoms (and why you should leave grapefruit out of your fruit salad this summer).
What foods are good for menopause?
When it comes to menopause, it’s not just about which foods to eat or avoid. Instead, it’s important to consider our overall diet. Focusing on the bigger picture is more helpful than worrying about specific ingredients.
Studies suggest that following a Mediterranean diet is the most beneficial during menopause. By menopause diet, I mean the inclusion of fruits, veggies, fish, lean meats, healthy oils, and plant-based foods with phytonutrients and antioxidants.
How does diet affect menopause?
The impact of diet on menopause is unique for every woman. Keeping a food and symptom diary can be a helpful strategy to understand how certain foods may trigger symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, or other symptoms that are individual to you.
How can diet help menopause symptoms?
Transitioning through menopause can be made easier by incorporating dietary changes that help alleviate symptoms. Making simple food swaps is an effective way to clean up your diet, without having to completely overhaul it with a special menopause diet. By replacing white bread, pasta, and rice with whole-grain options, you can make a significant impact on your overall health and well-being.
You should also consider your caffeine consumption if you’re experiencing hot flushes. To avoid triggering them with coffee, you may want to gradually decrease your caffeine intake. Starting with half decaf could be a good option, allowing you to still enjoy the taste without the full caffeine content. From there, you can gradually transition to entirely decaf or explore other alternatives like herbal teas or hot water with lemon. This simple step can help reduce your caffeine intake and potentially alleviate hot flushes.
Now, let’s talk about alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol can trigger a lot of unwanted menopause symptoms. This doesn’t mean you have to completely give up alcohol, just try and work out which types of alcohol are a trigger for you. For example, many of my clients find they can’t drink wine or prosecco anymore, but they can still enjoy the occasional gin and tonic.
Do menopause supplements work?
During menopause, taking supplements and vitamins can be beneficial, but it’s important to determine what your body specifically needs. Keeping a diary of symptoms and food intake can help identify patterns and areas where extra support may be necessary.
A good starting point is a multivitamin, but once you know your specific needs, you can tailor your supplement regimen. If you’re experiencing anxiety or stress, you could consider incorporating B vitamins. B vitamins, especially B5 and B6, are essential for healthy blood cells, hormone production, and brain chemical balance.
Another helpful nutrient is ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb that can aid in stress management.
Can a menopause diet help boost energy?
It’s very common to have low energy during menopause. A lot is happening to your body, as you’re going through a huge hormonal transition and change. Over that time, it’s very easy to think about boosting your energy with quick fixes. Many of my clients come to me drinking coffee, too much chocolate, or grazing throughout the day. Although these give you a really quick burst of energy, over time you just end up feeling worse and your energy can really take a hit. If you’re relying on stimulants like coffee, too much chocolate, too much wine (all the fun stuff), it’s going to affect your sleep and leave you feeling more tired in the long run.
So, thinking about how to improve your energy overall really needs to come from a big-picture perspective. Consider your diet as a whole, rather than just those individual foods that might give you a temporary boost.
How does a menopause diet impact your mood?
Menopause can have a massive impact on mood. However, the triggers can vary from person to person. One thing that can impact mood is diet and it’s essential to maintain balanced blood sugar levels to stabilise energy levels. This, in turn, stabilises mood, promotes better sleep, reduces cravings, and makes symptoms, especially mood-related ones, more manageable.
The easiest way to support your mood is by avoiding the sugar roller coaster caused by consuming simple carbohydrates, such as white bread or pasta, biscuits, or added sugar. Instead, focus on consuming protein, whole grains, and healthy fats, which can significantly improve your mood.
Will a menopause diet help you lose weight?
It’s very common for women going through menopause to gain weight, which can be frustrating. Many of my clients seek guidance on weight loss during menopause and often express concerns about excess fat around their tummies. They wonder why they’re suddenly gaining weight, even though they’re eating and exercising the same as before.
The reason for this weight gain is complex and studies suggest it’s related to metabolic shifts happening in the body during perimenopause and menopause. These changes put significant pressure on the body’s processes which usually work smoothly.
Women tend to gain weight during menopause for two main reasons. First, the body becomes more insulin-resistant. By that I mean our body can’t hear the signals to use sugars and carbohydrates in the way it used to. When our body doesn’t hear those signals, it just keeps producing more insulin and our blood sugar level stays high. Eventually, the body responds by simply storing that sugar as fat and you’ll never guess where the body likes to store this… Around your tummy!
The second reason is stress. Now, stress will make our blood sugar control less effective and insulin resistance can become even worse. Also, when we’re stressed, we don’t sleep and we crave foods we probably shouldn’t be eating. Now, when we start reaching for the chocolate and the carbohydrates, we can find ourselves getting into a vicious cycle that ultimately leads to weight gain.
How does gut health impact menopause?
Gut health is so important for menopause. Not only during the transition to menopause, but post menopausally as well. Interestingly, there’s lots of emerging research that suggests that our guts change during menopause and our microbiome, or the bacteria in our gut, changes quite significantly.
Many ladies experience gut issues during menopause, such as bloating, indigestion and a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the stomach. Constipation or the feeling that your tummy’s ‘not quite right’ is also common.
Fortunately, there are lots of things that you can do during menopause to support your gut health. Firstly, eating a good diet. So, make sure you get plenty of plant-based foods, pulses, and legumes (if you can tolerate them).
Also, consider taking a good supplement, such as probiotics or gut-supportive nutrients and antioxidants. Making sure that you have plenty of fibre will also help keep your gut healthy, as it helps clear out those excess hormones that can worsen symptoms.
What about menopause nutrition for women on HRT?
One of the most common questions I get asked about HRT is, ‘Should I be changing my diet? Is there anything special I need to do, or any food that I should avoid?’ Well, to reassure you, there isn’t anything that you need to do in particular when you’re on HRT.
However, if you’re taking oral oestrogen, you might want to avoid grapefruit as it can make the drug more potent. That’s something you should discuss with your doctor though. If you do have any concerns about HRT or any of your other medications, or foods, it’s always worth having a chat with your GP about it.
Easy summer menopause recipes
To kick start your menopause diet, here are some of my favourite summer recipes for you to try at home.
Tasty Mediterranean tray bake
Looking for a light and healthy summer meal that’s quick to make? This Mediterranean tray bake is a must-try recipe for anyone who is going through menopause – or just likes healthy, tasty food!
Chicken Satay Salad
This recipe is all about quality protein, antioxidants and colour, nutrients many of us don’t get enough of during menopause. Especially when brain fog and energy crashes hit, and we can’t be bothered to cook.