Navigating nutrition during perimenopause and menopause — what to eat & what to avoid

We asked a dietitian what nutritional needs women have during menopause.

Welcome to Ask A Dietitian, a series where Yahoo Canada digs into food trends and popular nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on menopause nutrition in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)
Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on menopause nutrition in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)

As women transition through perimenopause and menopause, their bodies undergo significant hormonal shifts that can impact all aspects of health — including nutritional needs.

When your estrogen levels decline, you experience changes in glucose and lipid metabolism regulation, muscle mass maintenance and bone density. It can also contribute to weight gain.

Registered dietitian Abbey Sharp tells Yahoo Canada, "this is really an important time for women to be focusing on getting in that healthy, balanced diet — both to help to reduce the risk of excess weight gain, and also to maintain muscle mass and bone mass."

But can making changes to your diet actually help manage symptoms of menopause? Here's what you need to know.

What are the key nutrients for menopause symptoms?

According to Sharp, protein plays a central role during perimenopause and menopause, which Canadian women generally experience between ages of 45 and 55.

She emphasized the importance of consuming enough protein to support your muscle and bone health, recommending a daily intake of 1.2 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

So, if you weigh 70 kilograms, you should be eating between 85 to 125 grams of protein daily. For reference, an average chicken breast contains about 31 grams of protein, an average salmon fillet contains about 22-25 grams, and an egg contains about six grams. An average scoop of protein powder is between 21 and 28 grams.

Healthy food selection on white background. Detox and clean diet concept. Foods high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Anti age foods. Top view.
Hunger-crushing combos of protein, fiber and healthy fats are crucial to a healthy diet. (Getty)

Additionally, Sharp highlighted the importance of carbohydrates, particularly opting for high-fiber, low-glycemic index options to prevent insulin resistance, which can also be exacerbated by declining estrogen levels, putting you at risk of prediabetes or diabetes.

"My advice is always to kind of 'dress it up,' like I say, add in those hunger-crushing compounds — the fibre, protein and healthy fat — because that's going to help to stabilize our blood sugars," she explained.

Calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients for bone health, with Sharp recommending food sources such as dairy and fortified products.

Can food help manage my menopause? What to eat & what to avoid

Menopausal Mature Woman Having Hot Flush At Home Cooling Herself With Letters Or DocumentsWeight loss can alleviate symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
Weight loss can help alleviate some menopause symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings. (Getty)

In terms of symptom management, Sharp suggested prioritizing fruits and vegetables rich in fiber. "We actually found that women in menopause, whose diets were rich in those fruits and vegetables, were less likely to experience bone loss," she claimed.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also important, as research suggests weight loss can alleviate symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.

"There was a really large study on women that found women who lost at least 10 pounds or 10 per cent of their body weight over the course of a year, were more likely to eliminate the hot flashes and the night sweats, and those unpleasant side effects."

Highly processed, sugary foods, and caffeine and alcohol intake may exacerbate symptoms. "It's possible it's because of these how these foods affect our energy levels or dilate our blood vessels," the expert claimed. Avoiding or limiting your intake of those can improve the uncomfortable symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause.

Sugary foods, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods are some of the most common triggers for things like hot flashes.

Sharp added incorporating soy-based products into the diet may also help reduce hot flashes, as they contain compounds that mimic estrogen. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids were highlighted as beneficial nutrients, from sources like fatty fish (salmon) or supplements.

Women who want to get the most out of their menopause nutrition are advised to keep a food diary to identify personal triggers — for example, what you eat when your hot flashes act up — and adjust the diet accordingly.

"I don't recommend recommend cutting out all the things at once, because you're never really going to know what what was triggering you," Sharp said.

Like in any stage of life, hydration is crucial. Adequate fluid intake can help alleviate bloating and can support digestion. It can also contribute to a sense of fullness, potentially aiding in weight management. Abbey recommended listening to your body's thirst signals and aiming to drink 8 to 12 cups of water daily, based on individual needs and activity levels.

Physical activity is just as important as diet: Expert

Physical activity can significantly impact your quality of life during menopause. (Getty) Senior woman exercise with dumbbells at home . happy mature woman doing arm workout using dumbbells. Elderly woman prefers healthy lifestyle
Physical activity can significantly impact your quality of life during menopause. (Getty)

Physical activity is integral to overall health during perimenopause and menopause, with Sharp stressing it improves "literally every negative side effect of menopause."

She stressed the importance of incorporating weight-bearing exercises into your routine to maintain muscle and bone mass. But even moderate activities such as daily walks or yoga sessions can have significant benefits in managing symptoms and promoting overall well-being. "It also helps to decrease stress and improve our mood, and then improve our sleep, and ultimately manage our weight."

Exercise improves literally every negative side effect of menopause, so you want to aim to be moving every day.

As women navigate this stage of life, prioritizing nutrition and physical activity can significantly impact their quality of life. By focusing on key nutrients, identifying potential triggers and embracing a balanced lifestyle, women can better manage symptoms and support their overall health during this transitional phase.

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