There’s an uncomfortable truth about perimenopause and menopause — and about growing older in general. We’ve always known what’s good for us, we just got away with it for a long time — and we can’t get away with it any longer.
There are no miracle menopause diets. There are foods that contain phyto-oestrogens, molecules in plants that are thought to bind to oestrogen receptors. There’s very little evidence that these actually change our menopause symptoms. And even if they did we’d have to eat ridiculous amounts of them.
There are suggestions that Japanese diets, for example, help with menopause — but it’s hard to separate that from other aspects of Japanese culture, which views menopause very differently.
So what does help? Firstly plants! As many different ones as possible. They’re full of essential vitamins and minerals and fibre — including magnesium which sits at the heart of every single green chlorophyll molecule. You can’t have too many plants in your diet — and a plant based diet is a great idea.
One of the reasons plants are so great, is because you need the fibre. Constipation is a common problem. Our muscles can struggle in perimenopause and menopause — and the bowel is a muscle too. Fibre also helps us feel full when we’re trying to deal with menopausal weight gain.
However it’s also important to make sure you have enough protein. We often lose bone density and muscle mass. We’ll talk about exercise, which is crucial, in another blog — but we need to support that by eating plenty of protein which our bodies need to build new muscle and bone. If you are reliant on plant protein you will need to select your protein sources very carefully and may need to consider supplementing your diet to make sure you get all the essential amino acids. Protein also helps us feel full and helps us manage our food intake.
We may find ourselves more susceptible to sugar rushes. We often don’t manage our blood sugar levels as well as we did — some of us may even find ourselves pre-diabetic or dealing with Type 2 diabetes. Sugar fluctuations cause fatigue. Our brains are already struggling with glucose metabolism. Surges and drops in blood glucose level make all those brain symptoms worse. They also make managing our weight harder.
I’m not going to tell anyone never to eat sugar. Banning food stuffs just makes us want them all the more. However there’s no doubt that the more we eat sugars the more we crave them. I am going to tell you to be sensible with sugar. Keep it for occasional treats.
And there’s more!
And just in case this is all sounding just too boring, here’s something else to consider. Alcohol can affect our sleep and in some cases make hot flushes worse.
Some people break down caffeine in their bodies more slowly and coffee may be a problem for them, particularly later on in the day if it affects sleep. But it's not a problem for everyone and the advice about avoiding it to help hot flushes is being reviewed.
Some people may find spicy food makes hot flushes or skin problems worse but again this is a very individual thing.
A thought about allergies and intolerances
Many of us suffer from digestive issues and food intolerances at this time of life. These can be many and varied. There’s no evidence that either gluten or diary products are bad for us if we’re not intolerant. In fact they’re important sources of protein, especially if we’re vegetarian or vegan.
So, it’s important not to make assumptions, but to use a systematic way of investigating your food issues. There are a few different ways of carrying out an exclusion diet — many available online but if you can I’d recommend the support of a dietician.
Keeping it simple
- A good variety of plants
- Plenty of protein
- Plenty of fibre
- Be sensible with sugar
- Watch out for food intolerances