The food we eat has a major impact on the range and severity of our menopausal symptoms. We show you how to eat yourself well.
It’s fascinating to note that Asian women have a very different experience of menopause to Western women. They rarely experience hot flushes and night sweats and, until recently, the Japanese language didn’t even include the term ‘hot flush’. The key difference between the Western and Asian diets is the amount of plant oestrogens – known as phytoestrogens – that are eaten.
As oestrogen levels start to drop around the time of menopause, phytoestrogens can give your oestrogen levels a natural boost.
Good Sources Of Phytoestrogens
- Soya milk
- Soya beans
- Soya flour
- Soy nuts
- Red clover
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Beans and lentils
- Mung beans
- Green and yellow vegetables
Adding phytoestrogen to your daily diet
To alleviate menopausal symptoms, you should aim to eat 100mg of isoflavones each day. The best way to get enough is to consume phytoestrogen-rich foods, little and often throughout the day, as isoflavones appear to leave the body quite quickly.
Foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as soya yoghurts and milk, are available. Here are w&h’s suggestions of what to eat daily:
- A sandwich made with two slices of low-GI soya linseed bread (22mg phytoestrogen)
- ¼ cup roasted soy nuts (60mg phytoestrogen)
- 100g portion of soya yoghurt (8mg phytoestrogen)
- 250ml glass of soya milk (20mg phytoestrogen)
- 100g tofu (25mg phytoestrogen)
Flaxseeds are available both in ground form and seed form; if you buy the ground form, it’s easy to add it to cereals, yoghurts, soups and smoothies. In addition, your goal should be to eat an all-round healthy diet and to put back some of the nutrients that time and nature have removed, including zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and essential fatty acids.
- Eat 100mg of phytoestrogens each day. Consume foods that are rich in phytoestrogens little and often over the course of the day.
- Add 2tbsp of flaxseeds to cereal, yoghurt or fruit salad. As well as being rich in phytoestrogens, flaxseeds are a good source of fibre and can ease constipation. They also help prevent some oestrogen-dependent cancers, including ovarian cancer, and they reduce the incidence of heart problems and the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
- Eat at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. These provide plenty of potassium and magnesium, plus small amounts of phytoestrogens. Where possible, eat organic products or grow your own.
- Eat foods rich in calcium and magnesium, such as green leafy vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, wholegrains and bony fish, including sardines and herring.
- Have a serving of dairy products each day. These provide calcium and additional amounts of protein. Choose low-fat options if you need to lose weight, but avoid fat-free milk, which contains no vitamin A.
- Eat regularly. Three meals a day help to ensure a good balanced diet and a steady flow of energy throughout the day.
- Include animal or vegetarian protein in at least one meal a day. Low-protein diets jeopardise the balance of many nutrients, including calcium, vitamin B and iron.
- Try to drink the equivalent of at least eight glasses of water daily, including herbal and fruit tea. Rooibos tea can be made with milk and is a good alternative to ordinary tea. Let hot drinks cool down, as the heat may trigger a flush.
- Eat three portions of oily fish per week, including salmon, herring or sardines, which are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and help with hormone and joint health.
- Eat nutritious snacks between meals if you get hungry. Nuts, seeds, fresh fruit or dried fruit that hasn’t been dipped in sulphur dioxide are ideal.
- Limit your consumption of red meat to one or two portions a week. Eat fish, poultry, peas, beans and nuts instead.
- Exceed national guidelines on alcohol consumption (no more than 14 units per week). Ideally, limit yourself to three alcoholic drinks a week. Alcohol aggravates flushes, insomnia and, in excess, can worsen many nutritional deficiencies at a time when you need to be conserving essential nutrients.
- Drink endless cups of coffee and tea. Caffeine can aggravate flushes, as well as anxiety and insomnia, so choose herbal alternatives instead.
- Eat very heavily spiced food.
- Like hot drinks and alcohol, hot spices can bring on flushes.
- Add salt to your cooking or at the table, and avoid salted foods like kippers and bacon. Salt causes fluid retention and encourages calcium loss in your urine. Instead, use potassium-rich salt substitutes, fresh herbs, mild spices or kelp powder.
- Eat foods containing wheat and bran in the short-term if you feel bloated, or experience wind, cramps or constipation.
- Eat sugar and junk food, including sugar added to tea and coffee, sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, marmalade, jam, honey, ice cream and soft drinks containing phosphates. They may reduce the uptake of essential nutrients, and cause water retention and bloating.
- Eat lots of fatty food. Limit your intake of fats to no more than 30% of your dietary intake. Avoid hydrogenated fats and anything other than small amounts of butter. Instead choose cold-pressed oils, including sunflower, sesame and olive oil.