For some women the symptoms of the menopause can be unbearable. The symptoms are a result of hormonal fluctuations and imbalances that also can increase risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Although diet is not the main treatment, a few simple changes can help reduce symptoms or work to enhance prescribed drug treatment.
Many women gain weight during the menopause. This can interfere with hormone balance, exacerbate depression and increase risk of heart disease.
√ Stick to a healthy balanced diet. Choose plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and low fat sources of protein and dairy foods, such as lean meats, white fish, semi-skimmed milk and low fat cheese and yoghurt.
√ Be active everyday. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity (enough to make you feel warm and slightly breathless) at least 5 times a week. Remember you can break the 30 minutes up, for instance you could walk for 10 minutes to and from work and then spend 10 minutes digging the garden.
X Follow faddy diets to lose weight. Ultimately they never work and you end up back where you started.
Recent research has been investigating the possibility that substances from plants called phytoestrogens may help to reduce the severity of hot flushes and other symptoms of the menopause. Phytoestrogens, which mimic human oestrogen, are found in soya beans, flax seeds and alfalfa sprouts.
√ Incorporate some of these foods into your diet. Try tofu in a stir fry, add flax seeds to salads and breakfast cereals and try alfalfa sprouts in sandwiches, salads and stir-frys.
X Take high strength phytoestrogen supplements without first consulting your doctor. They may interfere with your treatment.
Calcium and vitamin D
As the menopause can increase the risk of osteoporsis, a good intake of calcium and vitamin D is important to protect bones.
√ Consume a moderate amount of low fat dairy products everyday. Choose from milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais, custard and milk puddings. Calcium-enriched soya milks also belong to this group. There is no official recommendation for the number of portions of dairy products that should be consumed each day, but a good rule of thumb is to include a source at each meal.
√ Include plenty of other calcium-rich, non-dairy foods. Choose from fish with soft edible bones, eggs, shellfish, broccoli, soya products (tofu) and dried apricots.
√ Expose face, hands and forearms to at least 30 minutes of sunlight a day.
√ Include dietary sources of vitamin D, such as oily fish, eggs, fortified margarines and breakfast cereals.
Omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fatty acids can help to reduce some of the symptoms of the menopause caused by inflammation. They are also important for heart health
√ Eat more oily fish as it is the best source of long chain omega 3 fats. Choose from mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, sardines, pilchards and fresh tuna (canned tuna doesn’t count).
√ Include other sources of omega 3 fats such as flax seeds, walnuts and acai fruit
X Eat too much; postmenopausal women can eat up to four portions a week.