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Nutrition Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Managing Menopause with a Healthy Diet

Make ''The Change'' a Healthy One!

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian and Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer
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If these symptoms seem overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. Not only is it unlikely that you’ll suffer from all of them, but there is also strong evidence that you can alleviate or ease many of them by eating well. What’s more, many minor dietary changes that you make before and during menopause will help you feel better and establish healthy habits that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Consider these dietary tips to take on menopause:

Eat a healthy diet that includes unprocessed, unrefined, foods like lean meats, soy products, beans and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats. These foods not only provide the body with essential nutrients but may also help balance hormones and improve mood and brain chemistry. Many unprocessed plant foods provide phytochemicals that protect the body. Phytoestrogens, for example, are structurally similar to the hormone estrogen, and may act as weak estrogen in the body. These chemicals "trick" the body into thinking it has more estrogen than it really does and may diminish some of the discomforts caused by low estrogen levels.

A Word of Caution: Researchers are unsure if consuming high quantities of plant estrogens will increase the growth or risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers. If you have had estrogen-dependent cancer, check with your health care provider or seek the advice of a registered dietitian before eating additional soy and phytoestrogens-rich foods.
  • Enjoy soy! Soy foods contain isoflavones, (plant hormones) that act like a weak form of estrogen in the body. Two servings daily may help to relieve menopausal symptoms. Learn how to incorporate soy foods into your diet.
  • Bring on the beans (and legumes). These guys are the perfect little package of fiber, protein, calcium, folic acid and phytoestrogens. They can help with blood sugar control. Aim for five or more servings each week by adding canned legumes to salads, pastas, soups and stews, or trying bean dips and hummus.
  • Sneak in zinc. Zinc is a precursor for progesterone, a hormone involved in balancing estrogen. Zinc also keeps your immune system in tip-top shape. Good sources of zinc include lean meats, seafood, eggs, and milk.
  • Boost your boron. This mineral helps the body hold onto estrogen. It also helps keep the bones strong by decreasing the amount of calcium needed each day. Meet your boron needs by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Hold off the "hot flash" foods. Certain foods and beverages may worsen hot flashes. Avoiding or limiting spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol may lessen the severity or frequency of your symptoms.
  • Pile on the Produce. A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables contain beneficial plant estrogens. Before menopause, aim for five servings (minimum) each day. During menopause, however, eating seven to nine servings is a must!
  • Keep bones strong. Due to a lack of estrogen, menopausal women are at risk for developing osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D (along with a healthy diet and regular exercise) may help prevent this disease. Check with your health care provider first, but many suggest that menopausal women consume 1200-1500 milligrams of calcium daily. Here are 15 ways to boost your calcium intake. If you must supplement, calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are absorbed well by the body. To absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D, which it can make through sun exposure. Just 15 minutes of sunshine on the face and arms, three times per week will meet your needs. Milk that is fortified, along with calcium and multivitamin/mineral supplements are also good sources of vitamin D.
  • More magnesium! It helps with mood swings and insomnia. It is also a key player in bone health. Go for beans, legumes, nuts, green veggies and whole grains.
  • Understand good and bad fats. Fat should provide 30% or less of your total calories. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which tend to raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease in post-menopausal women. Limit these unhealthy fats by cutting back on fatty meats, whole milk, ice cream, margarine and butter, and snack foods. The right fats, however, can protect against heart disease and certain cancers. Research indicates that monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial to menopausal women.
  • Watch for hidden sugar. Too much sugar can cause blood sugar to spike, which stimulates the pancreas to release more of the hormone insulin. Limit your consumption of soft drinks, syrups, jam, table sugar, candy, desserts, sweetened yogurt and sugary breakfast cereals. Find out how much hidden sugar is lurking in your foods.
  • Feast on flax. Including ground flaxseed in your diet is one of the safest ways to help with hormonal balance during menopause. Ground flaxseed offers a high amount of essential fatty acids and lignan, a natural antioxidant and phytoestrogen. Add 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your daily diet. Here's how.
There’s no getting around it—as you go through “the change” of menopause you will probably suffer some of the less-than-fun symptoms most women experience. But by being aware of the changes—and meeting them head on with healthy diet—you can ensure that this transitional time involves some “change" for the better.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • JPEARSON86
    This article was informative but did not help me much since I am post menopausal. - 1/12/2014 1:51:37 PM
  • Good article. However -- Seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day is "a must"? Come on, who really gets 7-9 servings a day? - 7/15/2013 1:50:32 PM
  • Thank you for the article. My menopause seem to be better since I have change my way of eating. - 6/19/2013 3:01:12 PM
  • AMYB822
    thanks for this article it really explained alot - 5/2/2013 8:11:15 PM
  • Thanks for the info, love the "your own private summer" - 10/6/2012 6:51:41 PM
  • I am 49 and the Doctors have been telling me that I have been premenopaul for the last 9 years. I have gone thru just about everything on your list. except night sweats but it's not over with yet. I found out that I now have Endometriosis after some shots and a few months from now I will have a hysterectomy done. but they need to shrink the uterus first. that's what the shots are for. but the hot flashes are suppose to get worse with the shots (by the 2nd one) and the hysterectomy, and to be honest that scares me more then the surgery does. I have had 3 c-sections so they tell me that my recovery time will be longer. I found this article very interesting and helpful, thanks for the great advise. I wish all women who are going through this a calm, cool and happy journey. God Bless - 7/14/2012 1:48:07 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    I am a breast cancer survivor, and my oncologist told me to avoid soy as much as possible. Its phyoestrogens can feed estrogen-receptor positive cancer cells, and can interfere with some breast cancer medications that block estrogen.

    In addition, soy adversely affects thyroid function, so if you are hypothyroid, you should avoid soy as well.

    But - as in all things, check with your doctor before adding soy or eliminating soy from your diet, because those decisions should be based on your individual situation.

    By the way, chemo put me into menopause 13 years ago, at the age of 46. I survived menopause without the addition of any Hormone Replacement Therapy, or any over the counter menopause treatments - because many of the OTC products contain soy and/or black cohosh (which is also not good for breast cancer).

    It wasn't the end of the world! I managed my hot flashes by dressing in layers,cutting back on caffeine and spicy foods, and keeping a bottle of ice water with me at all times. Taking a few sips of ice water minimizes the hot flashes & lessens their duration - without drugs. Caffeine & spicy foods can trigger hot flashes. - 11/17/2011 2:36:13 PM
  • JEAN_W_1960
    Thanks for the informative article and thanks especially for the tip off about soy and estrogen. I've been avoiding soy, though I love tofu, because of my concerns about estrogen, but it's good to have expert advice. I also avoid dairy products, though I love milk, cheese, etc . . ., because of estrogen concerns. Perimenopause has been a horrible experience. Recently I made the connection between eating poorly and killer periods. I cut back drastically on sugar and fat and wow, what a difference. I would have done that years ago if only I'd known how much difference it would make in how I feel. It's not easy, I really miss sugar, but it's worth it. - 11/17/2011 11:22:27 AM
  • "Some women mourn it as the end of youth and fertility. Others welcome it as a time of freedom and new opportunities. " And some of us just think of it as an enormous pain in the arse. Actually, it's interesting that the article suggests looking to your mother's or grandmother's experience to see how you're likely to fare. My mother and grandmother would both periodically get the feeling -- beyond all logic and everything they knew to be so -- that their husbands were running around on them. The feelings would go away when their hormones subsided. I thought I was safe, having no romantic attachments -- until the day I found myself sitting at work so firmly convinced that something terrible had happened to my cat that I had to call home and have my roommate check on her! I've had it a couple of times since, usually around the same time I get hot flashes and/or mood swings. - 11/17/2011 9:28:08 AM
  • Good article. Glad I read it just to remind myself about how to eat during this stage in life. - 7/8/2011 8:50:06 AM
  • RUNESHADOW
    I just wish I knew how to tell if I am in menopause or am postmenopausal. I had a hysterectomy 13 years ago but kept my ovaries and at 58, I just don't know. No symptoms, except some breast tenderness, which could simply be my previous period-tenderness
    . I seem to have PMS at times, so wonder if my ovaries are still functioning. Oh well. Not a big deal, I guess. Glad I have escaped the unpleasantness so far. - 7/7/2011 6:44:13 PM
  • BCLEMENT
    While there is some excellent information in this article, zinc is not a precursor for progesterone. It may be a cofactor, meaning that zinc is required for the hormone to work, but it's not the same thing. And too much zinc can alter taste, and we don't need that! And in general, I'm always amazed at how pretty much every affliction known to humans can be addressed with a "correct" diet, usually full of veggies and pretty much lacking in anything interesting, certainly alcohol is discouraged. - 7/7/2011 11:37:19 AM
  • Yes, "My Own Private Summer!" LOL I feel exactly like I were standing in the sun in Jamaica!

    Last winter I stood outside with my dogs in the dark, wearing a tiny silk nightie, it was 13 I felt great! My 4 siberian huskies were with me and they thought I was a rock star! Now it's in the 90's everyday and I am using my huskies as a heat guide... AC vents rock! we take ice cube breaks and lots of calm resting. I make low cal frozen treats and frozen dog treats... I eat frozen cranberries and blueberries...

    My husband thinks I am also a bit cranky but no more than a husky on a hot day! LOL poor guy, he's out numbered. - 7/7/2011 10:28:28 AM
  • I thought it was interesting that the food recommendations didn't include the usual "eat a ton of carbohydrates" advice. I read recently that the lowering of estrogen levels is a major contributor to that "middle-age spread" weight gain. - 7/7/2011 8:25:13 AM
  • I am nearly 55 and still buying tampons.
    Lots of food cravings, water retention, hormonal whackiness, foggy brain, etc.
    Thankfully no hot flashes, night sweats or sleepless nights.
    It is weird. Not at all what I expected.
    I guess there is no "text book" menopause. - 7/7/2011 3:32:57 AM