Janet lies on the couch, totally exhausted. She is chilled all over and has just put her sweater on one more time. In fact, she has taken it off and put it on so many times that she has lost count. The magazine she is reading lies on her lap. She calls it ‘Teflon Brain’; nothing ‘sticks’ any more. She isn’t really interested in the article anyway. She reaches for another sip of coffee and starts to read again.How different she feels from the energetic woman of a few years ago! While Janet has experienced changes in her memory and her ability to focus and concentrate, she has also gained a few pounds. Her diet has remained about the same. Her bone density test shows signs that her bones are thinning. A recent blood test indicates that her cholesterol level has risen. Janet realizes that her body is changing and that menopause is a time for her to focus on her own needs.
Menopause is one time in your life when good nutrition is particularly important. In fact, better nutrition can reduce hot flashes, keep bones strong, help manage weight and energy levels, and keep your heart healthy. If you are experiencing the change of life, these ten nutrition tips can help you meet your body’s needs during menopause and beyond.
1.Avoid hot flash triggers
Hot flashes and the chills that follow seem to randomly come and go. However, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods all increase the potential for hot flashes. Try limiting these trigger foods at times when a hot flash would be inconvenient, like during a business lunch. Order a non-alcoholic beverage, avoid the spicy menu choices and finish the meal with decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea.
Many women do not routinely have three cups of milk or yogurt daily. If this is true for you, consider taking a calcium supplement to bring your intake up to 1200 mg/day. Choose a supplement that shows the amount of elemental calcium on the label and has vitamin D added. Additional magnesium is not necessary. If you need two tablets per day, take one after breakfast and the other after supper to increase the amount of calcium you absorb.
During menopause, the level of the estrogen hormone falls. Less estrogen means calcium is lost from your bones and is not absorbed as well from the food you eat. As a result, you need more calcium and vitamin D. After age 50, women require 1200 milligrams of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D a day to keep bones strong and reduce the risk of fractures. Three cups of low-fat milk or yogurt, plus a well balanced diet, provide the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Cheese, while high in calcium, is also high in fat, sodium and calories. Look for a light cheese and treat yourself to small amounts.
As menopause approaches, it becomes harder to manage your weight. Your metabolism (how your body handles calories) is slowing down. Your metabolic rate will fall by five per cent during the decade around menopause. For instance, if 2000 calories per day maintained your weight at age 45, only 1900 are needed to maintain it at age 55. That difference of 100 calories per day can result in a 10 pound weight gain per year!
One way to better manage your weight is to eat breakfast. Breakfast boosts your metabolic rate. Skipping breakfast or lunch leads to overeating later and weight gain as a result. Skipping meals also means a lack of energy throughout the day.
Want to start having breakfast? Begin by cutting down evening snacking. When you snack heavily in the evening, you are just not as hungry the next morning.
Exercise protects the muscle mass you already have and helps you lose body fat. If you lose muscle, as you do on many fad diets, you slow down your metabolism. Once you quit the diet and return to your regular way of eating, a slower metabolism makes it easy to gain weight back... as fat. While one pound of muscle burns 40 to 50 calories, one pound of fat only burns two calories. Protect your muscle mass and your metabolism with regular exercise, and stay clear of fad diets!
Pop, ice tea, juice and other sweet beverages offer significant calories and sugar. One cup of pop contains seven teaspoons of sugar and 100 calories. Surprisingly, one cup of juice contains about the same - even ‘unsweetened’ juice. Limit juice to one cup each day. Instead, drink water, diet pop or clear herbal tea between meals.
If the portion you are served is too large, don’t feel you have to finish it! Leave it on your plate or ask for a doggie bag. In restaurants, men and women are served the same amount because they have paid the same, but women usually need smaller portions.
Make yourself more aware of evening snacking habits by recording what you eat. Ask yourself, “Why am I snacking?” Perhaps you are bored, stressed, or just eat out of habit. If you find yourself wanting food around bedtime, you may be tired, not hungry. Go to bed instead.
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that act as weak estrogens in your body. The two primary phytoestrogens are lignans and isoflavones. Lignans are found mainly in flaxseed. Grind flaxseed and sprinkle it on cereal or add it to muffins or bread. It will add a pleasant, nutty flavour.
Isoflavones are found primarily in soy products. Soy products are good for your heart because they are low in saturated fat. They are less likely to increase levels of artery-clogging LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. Heart-healthy choices include eating soy burgers instead of beef burgers or snacking on soy nuts rather than chips.
Soy has been shown to have little effect on the severity or frequency of hot flashes in most women. However, it may make a difference for you. Use soy products containing isoflavones (see sidebar) and have one serving of soy per day. If you have a history of breast cancer, limit soy to two servings per week, as isoflavones may stimulate estrogen-sensitive tumors.
Vegetables and fruits provide heart-healthy antioxidants and help you manage your weight by making you feel full with fewer calories. Include vegetables in your lunch every day. For instance, try a vegetable-based soup such as minestrone, tomato juice, a salad or raw vegetables such as mini carrots. Enjoy fruit for a dessert. At supper, fill half of your plate with cooked vegetables and/or a salad.
Slow down at mealtimes. Linger and relax. Food is one of the pleasures to be enjoyed in life. Eat foods bursting with flavour and relish every bite! Enjoy all foods in moderation.
In the years after menopause, many women finally have time to concentrate on their own needs and interests. Life takes on a calm not possible in the years of starting careers and raising children. Eating well and staying healthy will help you to enjoy these years to the fullest.