What comes to mind when you think of menopause? As someone who hasn’t personally experienced this stage of life, I immediately think of hot flashes. Though I'm not excited about the thought of excessive perspiration, frequent fanning of oneself, and constantly cranking up the air conditioner, I prefer to view aging (and the phases that come with it) as a gift, even if that means sweating buckets.
As if hot flashes aren't bad enough, menopause may also come with changes in body composition, physical strength, sleep cycle, sex drive, and even bone and heart health. If you’re menopausal or perimenopausal, you might wonder if there’s anything you can do to reduce the effects of this natural transition. Fortunately, choosing certain foods can lessen the severity of symptoms, making them a little more tolerable and a little less terrible.
Why Nutrition Matters During Menopause
While transitioning to menopause and after, your body produces less estrogen, a primary sex hormone. Decreased estrogen levels can disrupt lipid metabolism, leading to increased body fat, loss of muscle mass, and elevated cholesterol levels. These changes are associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and brittle bones. Optimizing your diet is crucial for managing symptoms of menopause and reducing your risk of developing certain chronic diseases.
What’s the Best Diet For Menopausal Women?
During menopause, you’ll want to focus on eating foods that support heart health, bone strength, and lean muscle mass while reducing foods that worsen symptoms. Consuming a Mediterranean-style diet could reduce your risk of many adverse health outcomes commonly associated with menopause. A Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish, and poultry and limits intakes of red meat, refined carbs, and added sugar.
A Mediterranean-style diet for menopause may:
- Reduce risks of developing cardiovascular diseases
- Help to maintain bone density
- Prevent/delay cognitive decline
- Prevent or manage type 2 diabetes
- Help to maintain a healthy weight
Increase your Intake of Vitamin D and Calcium
Eating foods rich in vitamin D and calcium may help preserve bone density. Osteoporosis is a condition marked by weak and brittle bones that is common among menopausal women. Vitamin D and calcium can be found in fortified milk and cereal. Vitamin D is naturally occurring in salmon, sardines, and tuna. Also, be sure to get outdoors because sunlight exposure helps your body synthesize vitamin D!
Eat Foods with Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower risks of heart disease, decreased waist circumference, and reduced insulin resistance. Increase your intake of omega-3s by eating fatty fish like salmon and sardines.
Include Foods with Phytoestrogens
Plant compounds called phytoestrogens naturally occur in some foods and may behave as a weak estrogen in your body. They could reduce symptoms of menopause linked with decreased estrogen levels. Soybeans, tofu, and tempeh are rich in phytoestrogens.
Eat High Protein Foods
To reduce changes in body composition related to menopause, increase your protein intake to preserve lean muscle mass. The body requires protein to build muscle tissue. As we age, our protein needs increase. More muscle mass improves your metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories throughout the day, even at rest. To preserve muscle mass and boost metabolism, eat a source of protein with every meal.
Consume Enough Fiber
Menopause can also come with weight gain related to hormonal changes. In addition to eating more protein, focus on foods packed with fiber to manage your weight. While fiber is best known for relieving constipation, it also keeps you feeling fuller for longer after eating. Soluble fiber found in foods like oats (see our German Chocolate overnight oats recipe for a great, delicious idea), barley, and beans forms a gel-like substance that slows the digestion of other nutrients, prolonging a feeling of satiety. Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per/day. When you feel full and satisfied after a meal, you’re less likely to snack on empty calories throughout the day.
We put together a great resource, the 5-day menopause diet plan to lose weight, which is a comprehensive article and free PDF download!
How Many Calories Per Day Should a Menopausal Woman Eat?
Calorie recommendations vary greatly depending on age, height, and activity level. Many women in their 40’s and 50’s will need to eat between 1500-2200 calories per day to feel energized and alert. Those who are physically active typically require more calories than those who are sedentary because their bodies utilize more energy.
Although weight gain is common during and after menopause, deprivation is never the solution. Cutting out food groups and skipping meals to slash calories will likely only result in increased cravings and weight cycling (when you lose weight and gain it all back). Instead, focus on eating whole foods, increasing protein and fiber intake, and incorporating more physical activity into your day.
Consider working with a registered dietitian to help determine the appropriate calorie range best for you.
What Foods Should Women Avoid During Menopause?
If experiencing hot flashes, you may want to avoid certain foods that can exacerbate this symptom. Limiting your intake of alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine could reduce the severity of hot flashes during the menopausal transition. It may help to write down what you ate before having a hot flash, so you can identify trigger foods.
Women going through menopause sometimes have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption could help you get a better night's rest.
Lastly, a diet high in sodium is linked to decreased bone density in menopausal women. Reduce sodium intake by ditching the salt shaker and choosing fresh fruits and vegetables. If you need to buy canned foods, look for low-sodium options or rinse vegetables and beans in a strainer before warming them to remove excess salt.
The Best Food For Menopause
Vitamin D Foods:
- Fortified cereal
- Fortified milk
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified cereal
- Sesame seeds
High Fiber Foods:
- Whole grain bread
- Whole wheat pasta
- Apples with the skin
- Pears with the skin
- Sweet potatoes
- Black beans
- Lima beans
- Brussels sprouts
High Protein Foods:
Omega 3 Foods:
- Chia seeds
Menopause Foods FAQs
Breakfast is an excellent opportunity to eat oats (check out our red velvet protein overnight oats recipe), eggs, yogurt, berries, or fortified cereals. These foods contain nutrients that could benefit women going through menopause. Consider these ideas:
- Avocado toast using whole grain bread and topped with a fried egg
- Yogurt bowl topped with chia seeds, walnut pieces, and berries
- Omelet made using spinach, cheese, and mushrooms
Fruit is a rich source of fiber and antioxidants for menopausal women. No fruit is off limits, but fruits significantly high in fiber include apples, pears, and raspberries. Be sure to leave the skin on the fruit because that’s where most of the nutrients are.
Egg (including the yolk) is a source of vitamin D. During menopause, your bones may start to become weak and brittle. Eating foods like eggs that contain vitamin D could help preserve bone density.
Milk is a potent source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein, significant nutrients during menopause. Opt for low-fat or skim milk to reduce your intake of saturated fat. Almond milk can be fortified with vitamin D and calcium (check the label) but is not a good source of protein. Soy milk most closely mimics the nutrients in cow's milk and gets extra bonus points for containing phytoestrogens.
During menopause, you may notice more weight concentrated around your midsection, otherwise known as menopause belly bloat. Focus on eating a variety of fiber-rich and high-protein foods to manage your weight. Think whole fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, poultry, and fish.
In addition to eating nutrient-dense foods, consider adding weight-bearing exercises to your fitness routine to maintain and even build lean muscle mass. Remember, muscle mass can help to boost your metabolism!
Vitamin D and calcium are necessary during menopause to promote the preservation of bone density and can be consumed through food or supplement. Fish oil is a source of omega-3s that can be taken in supplement form for heart health. Always talk to your doctor first before starting a new supplement.
Learn more about by reading our best menopause multivitamins article, or find an effective over the counter menopause supplement, which we covered as well.
Wrapping Up: What’s The Best Nutrition Plan For Menopausal Women?
Menopause and the transition leading up to it can lead to a slew of uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes, poor sleep, and changes in body composition. Not only that, menopause is linked with an increased risk of developing heart disease and weak, brittle bones. Opt for foods that sustain heart health, strong bones, and lean muscle mass and avoid or reduce foods that trigger menopausal symptoms. Consider adopting a Mediterranean-style diet to reduce your risk of developing health complications associated with menopause. Aim to eat foods that are good sources of vitamin D, calcium, fiber, protein, phytoestrogen, and omega-3s. Though the symptoms of menopause can be less than desirable, eating the right foods may help to ease them, making your time during this natural phase more enjoyable.