Ask the Expert - The power of food at menopause
The wonderful thing about my job as a menopause nutritionist is that not only can food help ease my patient’s menopausal symptoms, it can help future proof our body too! It’s great being able to help empower women to feel more in control of menopause and to get back into enjoying food again, without any feelings of guilt which often exists around food.
Unfortunately my world is often brushed aside with the ‘eat a balanced diet’ comments, often as a side note really. But so much can be done with the power of nutrient dense food to help support this often bumpy ride to menopause, and also help nourish those around us too.
So many women I see in my practice have really ‘sad’ diets for want of a better word. They are counting calories and using low fat this and low fat that which just all sounds rather tasteless and joyless. For me I always want food to be about celebration. Midlife is hard enough let alone feeling like you are going without. My focus is always on what we can add in first. Not what we can take out.
Beneficial fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds are full of the essential fatty acids omega 3 which we need to get from our diet (omega 6 is found in meat, dairy and vegetable oils), as well as a little saturated fat coming from whole foods like butter, full fat yogurt all help to anchor our hunger.
The same goes for protein which helps quash cravings for sugar. We are losing lean muscle mass at menopause so we need a steady supply of amino acids which are the building blocks of the body. Add in more protein rich foods like fish especially oily fish, lean red meat, chicken, full fat yogurt, tofu and pulses.
Being more carb cautious is beneficial here but I am certainly not anti carbs – carbohydrates are our brains preferred energy source! Refined carbs (sweet things like biscuits, white rice, bread, pasta, crisps, sweets, pastries etc) are like putting petrol onto the energy fire. The flames burn super bright (lots of energy) and then they go smaller than they were before (cue an energy crash and needing more sugar). Enjoy more complex carbs from pulses and veggies like squash and grains like oats, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice.
Many of us also don’t take time to eat – remember 15 minutes is 1% of your day! We DO have time to eat breakfast and 30 minutes to take for lunch and 45 minutes to cook our evening meal. Because our world is so fast paced and turbo charged, unfortunately the way we eat is also like this. We expect it all to be ready immediately and we also inhale our food not taking time to chew it properly either!!!
Overwhelm can be a big factor at menopause. We are incredibly tired, we often have young children in the house or dealing with the joys of teenagers, at the top of our career workwise and are also dealing with elderly relatives as well as dealing with grief. And on top of that comes menopausal symptoms. So I like to keep it simple. To move us from an energy dense food (refined carbs like bread, pasta, biscuits, rice, sweet things, crisps, ultra processed foods) to a more nutrient dense diet: more plants including fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices; high protein foods like eggs, fish, legumes like tofu and pulses. Most of us consume our most nutritious meal at the end of the day and I often say how differently we would feel if we had that at the start of the day! No wonder we start to get a second wind – we have suddenly nourished our brain and body well for what might be the first time that day!
So however overwhelmed you might be feeling, and who isn’t really, focus in on the first hour or two of your day. These changes will help give a positive ripple effect to the rest of the day so that you can stay one step ahead of energy crashes and reactionary food choices and feel more in control of what you are eating and
These are 3 tiny shifts that you can try (doesn’t matter what happens to the rest of the day!):
1) Have water and a slice of lemon on waking (or a couple of slices of ginger or just some hot water).
2) Enjoy a protein rich breakfast – eggs any which way, avocado on toast with some grilled mushrooms and tomatoes (great for days when you might be hybrid working), high protein granola (watch out for any with dried fruit which are basically sugar lumps) with some full fat Greek yogurt and some blueberries and a couple of tablespoons of ground linseed or porridge or bircher with added protein from pumpkin and chia seeds, ground linseed, a dollop of full fat yogurt on your bircher and some blueberries or other dark berries.
3) Enjoy your caffeine with breakfast – one or two cups. I know for many of us we wake up and have a cuppa on waking which immediately puts your body into stress mode. Waiting until breakfast means that we look forward to it more and we might even have to wait until we get to our desk at work, if that’s the time we usually have breakfast. It will also help you feel hungrier for breakfast as caffeine stops us from feeling hungry. This is when we need sustenance – at the start of the day. HotTea Mama's Take a Pause has a base of steamed green tea for a gentle caffeine lift. It contains raspberry leaf, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, valerian, sage and liquorice to support hot flushes, brain fog, and stress.
The main thing though is to strive for consistency and not perfection. The body can handle 20% rubbish if it is getting 80% of the good stuff. It seems a bit radical to take time to eat and cook and it is!! And in our modern day world, some days just might be a bit of a right off. And that’s OK. It’s all about being mindful and taking time to nourish ourselves and to boundary set in other ways such as at work too. All of this will help us feel more grounded and in control, ready to start our second Spring with a new found energy and vitality!
Karen Newby is a nutritionist with over 10 years clinical experience working in women’s health. She has a BSc in Nutritional Medicine and is a registered with BANT and CNHC.
Author of The Natural Menopause Method – a nutritional guide to perimenopause and beyond, Karen also runs a specialist menopause clinic. Her approach is highly practical, realistic and achievable – to help women gain the greatest effects from simple changes.