Menopause is a natural transition that all women experience. But it can often invite a range of unwanted symptoms – such as hot flushes, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. Menopause can also increase our risk of certain health conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease.
While this period of life can be frustrating for many women, the good news is that there are various ways to help manage it – and your diet can play a role in this.
According to scientific research, certain food groups may help women manage (and even reduce) various symptoms linked with menopause and boost their overall quality of life.
With this in mind, we’ll be covering some of the best foods to help you through menopause, as well as those that are worth avoiding when possible.
What changes happen during menopause?
Menopause causes a variety of changes in a woman’s body and symptoms are largely the result of a decreased production of estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries.
Symptoms are different for everyone, but typically include hot flushes, vaginal atrophy (which can lead to dryness and painful intercourse), weight gain (due to changes to metabolism), and difficulty sleeping.
Lower levels of estrogen can also increase women’s risk of certain health conditions like osteoporosis, urinary tract infections, and heart disease. This is because, among other things, estrogen is important for maintaining bone density and thickness of the vaginal walls, as well as keeping blood vessels flexible to allow healthy blood flow.
Research has revealed that in the three years after the final menstrual period, bone loss can be rapid, and, as a result, women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. The risk of developing a urinary tract infection also doubles for women over 65 due to vaginal tissue becoming thinner and drier.
You can read more about what happens to your body during menopause on the Lloyds Pharmacy website. And for more information on osteoporosis, why not head over to the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s (ROS) website?
7 of the best food groups to help you through menopause
Some of the top food groups to consider adding to your diet during menopause include…
1. Soy-based foods
Research has suggested that eating soy-based foods – such as soybeans, tofu, and tempeh – may be effective in reducing both the frequency and severity of hot flushes caused by menopause.
This study looked at postmenopausal women who had two or more hot flushes a day. The women were divided into two groups: one control group and one group receiving a soy-rich, low-fat vegan diet, which included ½ cup of cooked soybeans.
The results found that the group who received soy-rich foods experienced an 84% decrease in moderate to severe hot flushes, compared with a 42% decrease in the control group. After the study finished, 59% of participants in the soy group reported that they no longer experienced moderate or severe hot flushes at all.
For more tips on how to manage hot flushes, have a read of our article on the subject.
2. Dairy products
Because of its impact on bone density, upping your intake of dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt during menopause can be particularly beneficial. This is because these products contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K – all of which are essential for healthy bones.
For example, in this study of nearly 750 postmenopausal women, those who ate more dairy, as well as animal protein, had significantly higher bone density than those who ate less.
Upping your intake of dairy may also improve sleep. This study found that foods containing high amounts of the amino acid glycine (for example, milk and cheese) promoted deeper, more restful sleep in menopausal women.
To find out more about how diet can affect bone density, head over to the ROS website.
3. Healthy fats
According to research, healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids can help to relieve symptoms of menopause.
This scientific review of 483 menopausal women found that omega-3 supplements decreased the frequency of hot flushes and the severity of night sweats.
Examples of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish like salmon, mackerel, and anchovies – and seeds like chia and flax. You can find out more in our article; Omega-3: what is it and why do we need it?
And if you own an air fryer and are keen to learn how to make delicious sweet and savoury salmon bites that are packed with healthy fats, why not tune in to Shamal Kumal’s upcoming demonstration over on Rest Less Events?
4. Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain various vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants – many of which have been proven to be effective at easing various menopause symptoms.
For example, in this study of over 17,000 menopausal women, those who ate more fruit, vegetables, and soy-based foods experienced a reduction in hot flushes compared with the control group. Experts attributed this reduction to eating a healthier diet and weight loss.
Some research suggests that upping your intake of berries may be particularly effective. In this study, consuming 50g of freeze-dried strawberry powder each day lowered cholesterol compared to a control group.
Another study found that menopausal women who took 200mg of grape seed extract supplements daily experienced fewer hot flushes, better sleep, and lower rates of depression, and also increased muscle mass and reduced blood pressure.
Our article, 10 simple ways to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet, has plenty of ideas for how to get your five a day – from batch cooking to eating more plant-based meals.
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5. Whole grains
Diets high in whole grains have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. For example, in this review, researchers found that eating three or more servings of whole grains a day lowered the risk of heart disease by 20-30%, compared to those who ate mostly refined carbohydrates.
Since menopause is associated with a progressive increase in cholesterol levels and a higher risk of heart disease, these results are notable.
Examples of whole grain foods include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and rye. If you find it tricky to eat enough whole grains, you might like to check out these easy tips from Bon Appetit or try some of these whole grain recipes from Better Homes and Gardens.
6. High-quality protein
Lower estrogen levels are linked with a decrease in bone strength and muscle mass.
Since protein is the most important macronutrient for muscle growth, maintenance, and repair (making up roughly one-third of bone mass), menopausal women are encouraged to increase their intake.
In this study, postmenopausal women who took 5g of collagen (the most abundant protein in the body), had significantly better bone mineral density compared to the control group. In addition, this study found that in adults over 50, both plant and dairy protein was linked with a lower risk of hip fracture.
As a general guideline, experts recommend that women going through menopause should aim to eat between 20-25g of high-quality protein per main meal.
Good sources include lean meat, fish, eggs, legumes, and dairy products. You can find out more about the benefits of eating more protein and how to up your intake in our article; 12 high protein meal ideas.
7. Phytoestrogen-rich foods
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic the role of estrogen in the body. Research suggests that they may benefit health – particularly for women going through menopause.
While there has been debate over the pros and cons of consuming phytoestrogens, various studies have shown that they can be effective at reducing the intensity and frequency of hot flushes and may also help to improve sleep, bone health, and decrease vaginal atrophy.
For example, in this scientific review, phytoestrogens were found to lower the frequency of hot flushes compared to control groups, with no serious side effects.
Examples of foods containing phytoestrogen include soybeans, chickpeas, flax seeds, peanuts, barley, plums, and green and black tea. Check out this list of plant-based estrogen recipes from One Green Planet, which has everything from quinoa crepes to sweet potato brownies, for some inspiration on how to work them into your diet.
What are some of the worst foods for menopause?
In the same way that some food groups can help improve symptoms of menopause, others can have a more negative impact.
Processed carbohydrates, fast food, and added sugars
Processed foods and added sugars are known to cause blood sugar spikes. And research shows that the more processed a food is, the greater its effect on blood sugar.
High blood sugar has been linked to a greater frequency of hot flushes in menopausal women, and eating fast food on a regular basis is known to increase the risk of heart disease – a condition that menopausal women are already more likely to develop.
For more tips on regulating blood sugar, you might want to read our article; 12 science-backed ways to lower blood sugar levels.
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Research has linked high-salt intake to lower bone density in postmenopausal women.
For example, in this study of over 9,500 postmenopausal women, sodium intake (salt) of more than 2g per day was linked to a greater risk of low bone mineral density.
Lastly, other studies have found that reducing salt intake to a moderate amount can lead to better overall mood, compared with diets that have no salt restriction.
According to experts, foods that rate high on the spice scale can trigger menopausal symptoms like sweating and hot flushes.
If you enjoy a bit of heat in your meals, it might be worth skipping the chillies and jalapenos, and seasoning with spices that offer flavour with less heat – such as turmeric, cumin, and basil.
There are many reasons why moderating your alcohol consumption can be positive for health. But when it comes to menopause, alcohol has been shown to aggravate symptoms such as hot flushes and disrupted sleep.
Studies have also found that women who have two to five alcoholic drinks a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t drink at all – and heavy drinking can increase the risk of heart disease.
Similar to the research on alcohol, studies have also drawn a link between the consumption of caffeine and a higher frequency of menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and low-quality sleep.
Luckily, limiting intake appears to reverse these effects, as this study found that reducing caffeine consumption resulted in fewer hot flushes.
Menopause causes various changes within a woman’s body. These changes can lead to various unpleasant symptoms and increase the risk of certain health conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis.
However, while adjusting to changes during menopause can sometimes be challenging, the good news is that research has shown that diet can be an effective way to help you regain control, boost your health, and make this important transition that little bit easier.
For more advice and support navigating your way through menopause, head over to the menopause section of our website. Here, you’ll find advice on everything from menopause in the workplace to sex and relationships.
What do you find are the best and worst foods for menopause? Does anything else help you regulate your symptoms? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.