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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.
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. Through her company, An Ounce of Prevention, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy to apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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