Menopause is a normal part of the aging process for people who menstruate; as the number of follicles in the ovaries diminishes, various hormone changes take place. Ovulation stops, and the amount of estrogen declines.
Everyone who enters menopause experiences it differently, but some people have severe symptoms that are difficult to manage. Research suggests that a "menopause diet" can help.
People are living longer, and the United Nations estimates that, by 2050, there will be more than 1.65 billion women over 50 worldwide.
Because of this, the effects of menopause and the resulting estrogen deficiency are expected to put increasing pressure on healthcare systems. Researchers are focusing on diet as a way to reduce the risks associated with estrogen deficiencies and promote continued health after menopause.
Estrogen affects the body in many ways. During menopause, women experience bone loss, increased LDL cholesterol, and narrowing of blood vessels, so a menopausal diet should focus on foods that promote bone and cardiovascular health.
People are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as they age and many experience these conditions simultaneously, which puts diet front and center for a healthy lifestyle.
Several studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce menopausal symptoms. This diet involves eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil, along with lean protein and fish. It does not encourage restriction but encourages eating an abundance of healthy foods that are affordable and easy to come by in most areas. For these reasons, people are more likely to stick to it than other diets.
Olive oil is beneficial to a menopause diet for many reasons. It contains healthy unsaturated fats with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Studies show that those with a high risk of cardiovascular disease who ate a diet rich in olive oil and other healthy fats had reduced inflammatory markers. The antioxidant effects of olive oil also decrease the risk factors for heart disease.
Before menopause, most people should consume about 1,000 mg of calcium every day; after menopause, this increases to 1,200 mg to support bone health as the bones age.
Many foods are high in calcium, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and dark leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach. You can also find many foods fortified with calcium, like cereals, fruit juices, and soy products.
A diet high in vegetables is a good idea for anyone, but one study showed that switching to a vegetable-rich diet helped menopausal women lose weight and relieved hot flash symptoms.
Leafy greens are a great choice because they are also loaded with calcium, but other vegetables, including asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli, may also reduce hot flash symptoms.
Focus on eating lean protein, like grilled chicken, turkey, and tuna, or stick with plant-based options, such as tofu, beans, and lentils. One study found that about 25 percent of healthy postmenopausal women did not get the recommended daily allowance of protein and that it affected their walking speed.
Protein is crucial during menopause because it helps build lean muscle mass and strength in older people and can help with weight management and staying active.
Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are similar to estrogen and can help relieve menopausal symptoms in some people. Try to get soy from food sources, like soy flour, soy milk, edamame, and tofu, rather than supplements.
Remember that soy might not work for everyone. Many people are allergic to soy, and some people do not have the enzyme needed to convert phytoestrogens into a form their body can use. There are also some concerns about safety and possible adverse drug reactions with phytoestrogens, so talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.
In addition to getting enough calcium, people in menopause also need to consider vitamin D. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Without it, the body takes calcium from the bones, which weakens them. Your body cannot produce vitamin D, but you can get it from the sun, diet, or supplements.
Another supplement recommended for menopause is black cohosh, which can reduce associated hot flashes and muscle aches. Talk to your doctor before taking vitamin D, black cohosh, or other supplements.
There are also some foods to avoid on a menopause diet. Caffeine elevates your heart rate and can intensify hot flashes, so avoiding or cutting back on coffee consumption can help. Alcohol can also worsen menopause symptoms, making hot flashes more intense.
Ideally, people in menopause will also cut back on processed foods with a lot of fats and sugars, like fast food, fried foods, and baked goods. These foods are known to cause high blood pressure, which makes some menopause symptoms worse and negatively affects cardiovascular health.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.