Menopause is often connected with a ‘turning point’ in life – a sense that what now follows will be different from what went before. This is referred to by the Japanese as having an awareness of ‘fu shi me’, or, a defined mental outlook. In Asia, the transition and process of menopause are regarded positively rather than in the West where it's often approached most often with dread.
Why? One reason could be that in Asia, a more plant-based diet is adhered to, helping to eventually relieve the symptoms of menopause when the time comes, making the process a whole lot more bearable and, frankly special.
A study by the Organic Consumers Association shows that millions of American women suffer from hot flashes during menopause, but not many realise that diet can have a lot to do with it. Fortunately, hot flashes do not have to be an inevitable part of menopause. It has been reported that hot flushes, the most common of the symptoms of menopause, varies from 70 – 80% of menopausal women in Europe, 57% in Malaysia, but only 18% in China and 14% in Singapore. This drop could be due to their increased consumption of plant-based food and phytoestrogens.
Let's take a look at what foods can help you deal with menopause naturally and why they're good for you, as well as what to avoid so that you don't suffer from issues like mood swings, irritability and insomnia to name a few.
Foods that help with menopause
1. Oily foods
60% of our brain is made up of essential fatty acids, so nourishing this is important. Oily foods like fish, seeds and oils are packed with Omega 3 which is essential for memory and helps boost concentration.
2. Plenty of fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain plenty of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Green juices are cooling to the body which is very helpful when dealing with hot flashes. High amounts of Vitamin C on a daily basis is said to help with symptoms of menopause like vaginal dryness. Another nutrient that you can get from fruit and beg that is important to support the body in this transition is magnesium, as it can help you manage insomnia and actually sleep instead of staying up with night sweats.
Phytoestrogens are compounds that naturally occur in plants, especially soy, and support the female hormone estrogen, found in women. Foods like soy, specifically in the forms of miso or tofu, as well as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, seeds, garlic and celery are great sources of natural foods and home remedies that support a healthy menopause. Isoflavones found in legumes and lignans found in grains and seeds, especially linseed, are all phytoestrogens.
4. Complex carbohydrates
Keeping your body nourished and feeling energetic is important when going through menopause. Complex carbohydrates like oats, brown rice and whole grain bread are great for slow-releasing energy in your body.
5. Plenty of fibre
Fibre intake reduces flatulence and constipation which are common during menopause. Fibre helps you feel fuller after meals and reduces the speed of blood sugar being released into the system. Also, soluble fibre like oats, rice, fruits and beans stops old estrogens re-circulating.
Staying hydrated is important when increasing fibre in your diet, as fibre increases water absorption. This also helps with water retention, a common menopause symptom. As we are made up of 70% water, staying hydrated is key to controlling many symptoms of menopause like night sweats and hot flashes.
After menopause, the adrenal glands produce oestrogen so it's important to nourish these glands that sit on top of our kidneys. The key ways to nourish our adrenal glands include protein (to give us a drip feed of energy) which reduces the stress hormone cortisol that is produced in the adrenals. Also, plenty of Vitamin C and B vitamins can be some of the most helpful natural supplements for this stage after menopause.
What to avoid during menopause
Symptoms of anxiety can again be very similar to the symptoms of menopause. Therefore, blood sugar control is very important to keep your mood and irritability levels balanced. You can be faced with forgetfulness, weight gain (especially in the stomach area), fatigue, anxiety, tension, sweating, lack of concentration, and let's not forget stress. When blood sugar falls, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol into the blood to get blood sugar raised. This up-and-down can be quite nutrient-depleting and can cause adrenal exhaustion and the inability to deal with any stress.
To help you avoid mood swings and hot flashes, a low GI diet with plenty of whole foods is recommended to counter-act this imbalance and is said to be a good diet if you suffer from menopause weight gain. Avoid refined carbohydrates and rather enjoy plenty of natural ingredients to help with blood sugar control, like cinnamon. Bear in mind that sugar also affects white blood cell activity, so make an exception for fruit – but opt for whole fruit, not fruit juices as these tend to be filled with artificial sweeteners.
High salt intake in the body can lead to high blood pressure – the more sodium you consume the more potassium you need to counteract its effect. So, try to reduce foods in your diet that can actually reduce potassium levels in your body, like alcohol, coffee, sugar, diuretics and laxatives. Keep your blood sugar stable by eating plenty of greens and reduce your salt intake.
3. Artificial sweeteners
One of the best ways to relieve menopause symptoms is to try and cut all artificial sweeteners from your diet. Aspartame is over 180 times sweeter than sugar and has been linked to increases in weight gain and binge eating in women going through menopause. Naturally, this leads to negative effects on the body such as insomnia, stress, anxiety and mood swings.
One of the most important things to avoid in your diet to help stop hot flashes is stimulants. Stimulants can increase hot flashes by making blood vessels dilate. Try to avoid drinking hot beverages that can make hot flashes worse, as can spicy food, as well as caffeine which can exacerbate breast tenderness.
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