Since it takes 3,500 extra calories to gain one pound of fat, just adding a muffin to your routine each morning can cause you to gain a pound a week! Unless you exercised it off, but that means you would have to run around 6 miles a day to burn off those morning muffins. Not the best diet for menopause.
Worried that your health will fail if you eat fat? Stop worrying. For the past few decades, there has been an outpour in misleading information that eating fat will make you fat, that you should follow a low-fat diet, that saturated fat is bad for you, etc.
In fact, in 1977 the United States government made its very first dietary recommendation to “eat less fat and cholesterol, and more carbohydrates.” The obesity rate in America thus skyrocketed and the rate of diabetes went up along with it. Not to mention, it may have affected our hormones in a bad way, leading to increased infertility, early menopause, and a wide array of other problems.
Now we know through research that avoiding fat is nonsense. New studies also found that eating healthy fats don’t adversely affect your blood cholesterol and don’t cause heart attacks.
There are plenty of reasons for why you should NOT buy low-fat foods and they are:
- Eating fat makes you feel satisfied. When you eat fat, your brain receives signals that you have the needed energy stores coming in and your appetite is then suppressed. Your stomach starts to empty more slowly, which means that you end up feeling full longer. Low-fat foods don’t have the same effect. You end up eating more calories because your body doesn’t sense that enough energy is coming in.
- Displacing carbs with fat helps with weight loss because of the effect on insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is released by your pancreas in proportion to the amount of carbs you eat. The more carbs you eat, the more insulin is released. But the more insulin released, the more weight gain. Keeping insulin levels low helps you lose weight. Fat in the diet helps keep insulin levels low and allows your body to use fat as energy.
- When you get enough fat in your diet, your body becomes conditioned to burn it more efficiently. This has to do with a fat-burning hormone called adiponectin, which is produced when you eat fat. Adiponectin increases the rate that fats are broken down, curbs appetite, increases muscle efficiency, and increases insulin sensitivity. When you eat low-fat foods, only small amounts of adiponectin are produced. You want to keep those numbers high.
Research has found that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet can significantly reduce body weight. So, the next time you are at the grocery store, avoid the “reduced fat” foods and choose whole-fat dairy products and foods that are in their natural state.
Wondering what “healthy fats” you should be eating? I will tell you how to choose healthy fats below.
Best Diet for Menopause 101: Eat Healthy Fats
Fat is essential in our diet and we need it to build and maintain many parts of our body including our hormones. Prostaglandins, hormones produced by almost all cells, play a huge role in inflammatory and immune processes in our body. Some prostaglandins promote inflammation (pro-inflammatory) and others inhibit it (anti-inflammatory). Omega-6 fatty acids increase production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and omega-3 fatty acids increase production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Since inflammation is sometimes necessary in our body, we need a healthy balance between the two.
Studies show that a diet very high in omega-6 fatty acids is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer because omega-6 fatty acids increase pro-inflammatory prostaglandin levels and damage DNA, which promotes cell growth. On the other end, omega-3 fatty acids inhibit cell growth, keeping things under control.
Ideally, we want to have more omega-3 and less of omega-6 fatty acids.
A diet rich in natural, healthy fats can help create that balance.
Here is a chart that shows the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content of some fats and oils:
The categories of saturated, mono- or polyunsaturated fats are less important than the difference between natural fats and fats that have been processed or “synthetic.” Learn to avoid trans-fats, which are sometimes listed on food labels, mostly from hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans-fats have been linked to cancer, decreased immune function, reproductive problems, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, bone loss, diabetes, and obesity.
Think about what types of fats humans have been eating for most of human existence and choose those. If it was created by man or is highly processed, it probably isn’t good for you.
Here’s a breakdown of some common fats and oils that are found in the foods we eat, to guide you in making the right choice:
Eat More Of…
- Avocado oil: Rich in healthy essential fatty acids.
- Butter: Eaten in moderation can be good for your health. Grass-fed butter is best.
- Coconut oil: Make sure it says “virgin” or “unrefined” on the label. This means it is the least processed.
- Fatty Fish: Fish such as salmon, cod, tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fats.
- Olive oil: Make sure it says “extra-virgin” on the label. This means it is the least processed and is high-quality. If it says “pure” or “light,” that means it is a lower-grade olive oil.
Eat Less Of…
- Canola oil: Highly processed, but better to use than corn or soybean oil.
- Corn oil: Highly processed and a majority of corn are genetically engineered.
- Soybean oil: Highly processed and usually hydrogenated.
- Vegetable oil: Highly processed.
- Margarine: High in trans-fat.
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil: Contain trans-fats and are often found in margarine, potato chips, and baked goods. These fats can block “good” fats and create hormone imbalance.
Eat Phytochemicalst Phytochemicals
Phytochemicals are compounds produced by plants that have protective or preventive properties, and are parts of the best diet for menopause. When included in your diet, they can act as a natural defense against cancer and research has also found that phytochemicals can prevent menopausal bone loss.
There are many types of phytochemicals and many different ways to categorize the thousands of phytochemicals we know today. Nutritionists usually categorize them by their possible health effects in the human body. For example, phytochemicals that act as
antioxidants are simply called “antioxidants” and some phytochemicals that affect metabolism of the female sex hormone estrogen in the human body and are called “phytoestrogens.”
Phytoestrogens are a hot topic in menopause because their chemical structures are very similar to estrogen found in the body and because of this, can bind to and activate estrogen receptors. A common food known to have estrogenic effects is soy. However, don’t think of soy as a cure for menopause.
Soy is NOT the cure for menopause.
Here are the controversies of using soy to treat menopausal symptoms:
- The effects that soy have on estrogen levels in the body are around 1000 times weaker than estrogen produced by your ovaries.
- Research has also found that soy is about one third as effective than a woman’s own estrogen in reducing hot flashes.
- Soy may be contraindicated if you have a personal or family history of estrogen-sensitive cancers like breast cancer.
- Soybeans contain phytate, otherwise known as the “anti-nutrient,” which may block absorption of important minerals.
However, there are always two sides to every story. For one, phytates are often found in small amounts. You would have to eat a lot of soybeans or other foods containing phytates to create a mineral deficiency in your body. The key to good health is moderation, and that may be said so for soybeans. Tossing some into your salad or having edamame as a snack will most likely not lead to negative health consequences. Most research surrounding phytates involved very high amounts, more than what are found naturally in a meal. For that, it may be worth a try to see if you start feeling better after a month or two of adding soy to your diet.
Additional types of phytochemical include:
- Carotenoids include beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, which protect fat cells, blood, and other bodily fluids from free radicals.
- Good sources: apricots, mangoes, papayas, watermelon, spinach, sweet potatoes, corn, red peppers, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes, to name a few sources.
- Flavonoids include resveratrol, hesperidin, anthocyanin, quercetin, and tangeritin, which act against inflammation and prevent platelets from sticking together. They also block the enzymes that raise blood pressure.
- Good sources: vitamin-C-rich foods such as apples, cherries, blueberries, grapefruit, oranges, plums, strawberries, broccoli, and kale. And yes, red wine.
- Ellagic acid decreases cholesterol levels and reduce the inflammation process in the arteries.
- Good sources: strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, kiwifruit, raspberries, currants, and red grapes. Strawberries especially have been found in studies to inhibit certain enzymes, reducing the inflammation process in the arteries.
- Allium compounds protect the cardiovascular and immune systems.
- Good sources: onions, scallions, leeks, chives, and garlic.
Best Diet for Menopause: Eat Whole Foods First
Although I am giving you plenty of information regarding phytochemicals, healthy fats, etc., the single most important piece of information regarding the best diet for menopause is to eat whole foods.
That means unprocessed, unrefined, natural, “pulled-from-the-Earth” foods.
There are many diets out there that push for reduced-fat, reduced-calorie, or fat-free foods. However, the foods found on grocery store shelves bearing those labels are full of preservatives, hidden sugars, and additives.
Eating whole foods means eating fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and meats without fillers added to them.
Basically, if it doesn’t resemble something found in nature, it isn’t a whole food.
Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables means that they will not only taste better, but they will contain more nutrients than canned fruits and vegetables. The canning process removes some vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and important enzymes. Although buying frozen foods is better than canned, they still aren’t as nutritious as fresh.
Keep in mind that fruit and vegetable juices are simply that- juice. That means that they usually do not contain any fiber, which can help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
Choosing whole grains means that you will look for the whole-grain label on each product. If it doesn’t say “whole grain,” then it isn’t.
If a bread is labeled as “whole wheat,” it doesn’t mean that it is whole grain. It just means that it is made with wheat flour. However, when wheat is processed, the fibrous, mineral-rich outer coat is removed and the vitamin-rich “germ” of the grain is also removed. Without these, it is not as nutritious and it also has a bad impact on your blood sugar levels when you eat it.
Finally, choosing whole meats is simply that. A meat that does not contain any fillers or preservatives like hot dogs, lunch meats, and other processed meats do.
Nitrites and nitrates in processed meats can be some of the most harmful compounds you put into your body. They are known to damage cells and also morph into molecules that can cause cancer, particularly colon cancer. Although they most likely won’t cause problems in most people, those who use stomach acid suppressants may be at a greater risk since the decreased stomach acid allows for the growth of bacteria that produce nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic compounds produced during digestion of nitrates and nitrites.
Of course, never eating white bread, canned beans, or sausage again is not very realistic. The key is moderation. By eating mostly whole foods with a treat every now and then can still mean a balanced diet.
Real Food vs Processed Food
Have you ever been on a diet before where you were pushed to buy their packaged, processed low-fat but high-carbohydrate products?
Do these look familiar?
The problem with these high-carb, low-fat foods is that they don’t hold you over until the next meal, they spike your blood sugar, and they don’t have much nutritional value. You end up hungry, wanting to eat more of them, and you eventually consume more calories than you would have if you ate something high-fat, high-protein, low-carb.
Unfortunately, this type of dieting has been mainstream for too long, and does not constitute the best diet for menopause for sure. For the past few decades, there has been an outpour in misleading information that eating fat will make you fat and that you should follow a low-fat diet to lose weight.
In fact, in 1977 the United States government made its very first dietary recommendation to “eat less fat and cholesterol, and more carbohydrates.” Thus, the dawn of low-fat foods spread throughout the country like wildfire, and the obesity rate in America skyrocketed.
The recommendation was a big fat fail. Since then, research has proven that avoiding fat is non-sense. New studies also found that eating healthy fats don’t adversely affect your blood cholesterol and don’t cause heart attacks. It just so turns out that the amount of calories from fat is irrelevant and replacing fat with refined carbs and sugar is far worse.
You should strive for a balance of healthy fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates during every meal. The keyword for carbs is “complex.” This means you should be including fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice or in your diet to cover the carbohydrate portion, while avoiding or minimizing refined carbs such as white bread, pasta, and pastries.
Eating More Fiber is Part of the Best Diet for Menopause
Fiber is essential to any healthy diet, and to the best diet for menopause. But, it’s particularly important for women in perimenopause and menopause, since it can aid in weight loss, remove excess cholesterol from the body, and improve glucose tolerance and insulin levels. In addition, it improves digestive health by preventing and treating constipation and for “cleaning” the gut, which can help reduce the risk of developing some cancers, in particularly colon cancer.
High-fiber foods are low in calories and fill the stomach, creating a sense of fullness. This leaves less room for high-calorie foods, which can help you lose weight.
Fiber is material that the body can’t fully digest, which creates bulk in the stool and helps you have a bowel movement. This helps with constipation and will help keep your colon clean. When your colon is kept clean by having regular bowel movements, this can reduce the risk of colon cancer.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber expands when mixed with water and turns into a gel. Insoluble fiber
Best Diet for Menopause: Drink Plenty of Water
Since vaginal dryness and dry skin are a consequence of decreased estrogen during menopause, it is important to drink plenty of water. Being dehydrated can make vaginal dryness and dry skin worse.
Drinking plenty of water also helps get rid of bloating that occurs with hormonal changes during perimenopause, which is a period of time before full menopause when estrogen starts to decline and lasts around 5 years.
Drinking water with enough fiber in your diet will also help prevent constipation, which can occur in menopausal women who take certain medications, vitamin supplements, or sleep aids when dealing with difficult menopausal symptoms.
The recommended water intake is called the “8x8 rule,” which means 8-ounce glasses, 8 times a day, which equals about half a gallon a day. Remember that you can also get fluid from soups, fruit, and other foods, which can count towards that recommended daily amount.
Buy Organic and Free-Range Foods
Free-range, organic, conventional.. There are so many different labels on the eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables you buy in the grocery store, so how do you choose?
Let me break it down for you:
Organic meat means that the animal was given no antibiotics or growth hormones and was fed organic foods, and was raised with outdoor access to land not treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Organic fruits and vegetables means that they were grown in pesticide and chemical fertilizer-free land. The soil is often richer in nutrients.
Free-range means that the animal was raised in open air or was free to roam, which also means that it was able to consume foods found naturally in their environment, such as grass and worms and insects.
Conventional meat means the animal was typically raised in a cage, often with barely any room to move, and are fed antibiotics to prevent deadly infections usually caused by poor living conditions and hormones to make them grow faster. In addition, the grains they are fed were typically derived from land treated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers and were genetically modified (e.g. corn). Conventional fruits and vegetables means that they were probably grown in soil treated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The soil usually contains less nutrients because of over-farming.
I am sure you have heard that the pesticides left on the skins of fruits and veggies are “too small to make a difference.” Well, add up all the other pesticides you are exposed to and the toxic load may be too much, wreaking havoc on your body and leading to hormonal imbalances and cancer.
Still wondering how free-range and organic makes a difference? You can actually SEE the difference between eggs that came from a hen who was able to roam the land eating insects and worms, and eggs that came from a hen who was confined to a tiny cage and fed grains.
In addition, free-range and grass-fed animals are naturally leaner. When a cow is able to graze the land, the meat contains stable, saturated fats. On the other hand, when it is fed cheap, poor-quality grain mash, the meat becomes full of chemicals, hormones, and polyunsaturated and saturated fats. You can see the difference in this as well..
Does this make it easier to decide which is best? Just go with your gut feeling, here. Not only is buying free-range and organic better for the environment and animals, but it is also better for your health.
Is Dairy Right for You?
Americans are one of the few cultures who consume milk on a regular basis. In fact, most other people in the world are allergic to milk or lack the enzymes to digest it properly.
Is milk part of the best diet for menopause?
Many years ago, Eastern Mediterranean people discovered that adding a bacterial culture to milk made it digestible because it converted lactose into lactic acid. This is how yogurt came into our food supply. Cheese also has a similar effect during digestion.
Although the government pushes for dairy in its daily food allowance recommendations, you don’t actually need to consume dairy to get enough calcium and other nutrients in your diet. There are plenty of other foods that contain high amounts of calcium, such as dark green veggies (broccoli, kale, etc) and fish (salmon, sardines, etc) and even nuts such as almonds.
In addition, remember that the growth hormones and antibiotics given to cows end up in your own body when you drink their milk. This affects your own hormones and also makes you more resistant to antibiotics, which makes them less effective when you truly need them.
To make matters worse, cow’s milk contains excessive amounts of hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc.). Obviously, cows are animals and they have hormones just like humans, right? So, it might seem to make sense to drink milk to get more estrogen to help menopause symptoms, but that’s not really the case. Consuming hormones from a different animal’s body with a different biology will not have an ideal effect on your own body. You’ll end up with mood swings, acne, insulin issues, and possibly cancer.
Take Your Vitamins and Minerals
As we age, our vitamin and mineral requirements change. Unfortunately, food is not as nutritious as it was 1,000 years ago, thanks to overfarming and chemicals and hormones our livestock are exposed to (unless you buy organic). Soil quality decreases with each new crop, and the vegetation grown from it decreases in mineral content as a result.
To combat this, we are left with 2 choices: Ignore the problem, or, take a supplement to take out the guesswork of whether or not we are getting enough vitamins and minerals through diet.
As us women approach menopause, we often experience a broad range of unfortunate signs and symptoms such as hot flashes, brittle nails, fatigue, decreased libido, vaginal dryness, and so on…
What many of us aren’t aware of is how nutrients and supplements can help combat these signs and symptoms. So, I am going to give you a cheat sheet on which vitamins and minerals can help certain menopausal symptoms:
- Menopausal Fatigue: vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, iron, zinc
- Vaginal Dryness: vitamins E, B, A
- Brittle Nails: zinc, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B
- Brittle Bones: calcium, vitamin D
- Decreased Libido: vitamin C, vitamin B
- Muscle Tension: vitamins B, C, D, E
- Mood Swings: vitamins B, C, D
- Anxiety: vitamin B, D, Omega fatty acids
- Depression: vitamin B, D, Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc
- Thinning Hair: iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C
- Weight gain: Learn from my recent blog post on the best (and worst) supplements for weight loss.
Daily Vitamin and Mineral Guidelines:
- Vitamin A: 5,000-10,000 IU
- B Vitamins
- Thiamine (B1): 10-25 mg
- Riboflavin (B2): 10-25 mg
- Niacin (B3): 50-100 mg
- Pantothenic Acid (B5): 10-50 mg
- Pyridoxine (B6): 50 mg
- Methylcobalamine (B12): 1000-2000 mcg
- Biotin: 100-300 mcg
- Choline: 50-100 mg
- Folic acid/Folate: 400-800 mcg
- Inositol: 150-300 mg
- Vitamin C: 1000-2000 mg
- Vitamin D: 300-400 IU
- Vitamin E: 400-500 IU
- Boron: 1-5 mg
- Calcium: 300 mg
- Chromium Picolinate: 200-400 mcg
- Copper: 1-5 mg
- Magnesium: 300-400 mg
- Manganese: 10 mg
- Selenium: 60-100 mcg
- Vanadyl Sulfate: 10-25 mcg
- Zinc: 10-20 mg
Take Care of Your Digestion By Taking Probiotics
The community of microorganisms that live in your digestive track, better known as “gut flora,” play an important role in all aspects of your health, including weight loss.
In fact, a healthy gut is the hidden key to weight loss! Here’s why…
* Different guts metabolize food differently.
Research has found that transplanting fecal material (poop!) from a thin gut into an obese gut is associated with weight loss.
Obese people have gut flora that cause the body to absorb more calories.
This may have been an advantage thousands of years ago, but in these modern times, our guts don’t need to be as efficient when food is so readily available. And although the species of flora in our gut have been around for quite some time, the balance between species changes according to diet. This is because some bacteria will dominate while others diminish when their incoming nutrients are altered.
- Insulin sensitivity is regulated by gut flora.
When the gut is overcrowded with “bad” gut bacteria, inflammation occurs and insulin resistance develops. This means that the body can no longer process carbs the way it should, which leads to high blood sugar, sugar cravings, and weight gain.
- Gut flora affect your sweet tooth
The reason for this is because when you have a lot of gut bacteria that prefer to feed on sugar, you crave sugar to feed your gut. The more sugar you eat, the more “bad” bacteria thrive in your gut.
Taking probiotics can help balance gut flora. You can get probiotics from fermented foods such as yogurt and pickles, or you can take a supplement.
Check out my great recipe to make water kefir, a fizzy probiotic drink.
However, you should be careful when choosing a probiotic. Not all probiotic supplements are created equal. In fact, 85% of probiotics on store shelves have been found to be ineffective, primarily due to poor storage techniques.
The best probiotics should contain at least these three most important strains:
- acidophilus: supports nutrient absorption and helps with digestion of dairy foods.
- Longum: helps maintain the integrity of the gut wall and is a scavenger of toxins.
- bifidum: critical for digestion of dairy products and breaks down complex carbohydrates, fat, and protein into small components that the body can use more efficiently.
And these if available:
- rhamnosus: known as the “travel probiotic,” can help prevent occasional traveler’s diarrhea.
- fermentum: helps neutralize some of the byproducts of digestion and promote a healthy level of gut bacteria.
In addition, a probiotic supplement full of dead bacteria is a waste of money.
To ensure viability of the organisms inside, packaging and storage should include:
- An expiration date. If there isn’t one labeled, it should raise an eyebrow.
- A money-back guarantee. Companies that are honest and believe in their product will offer one.
- Refrigeration required or packaging that ensures the elements of light, heat, and moisture have minimal impact, such as opaque bottles with desiccant pouches.
I wrote a lot more information on balancing gut flora.
Complement The Best Diet for Menopause with Herbs
In conjunction with a balanced diet, some vitamins and minerals, and exercise, herbs can also be used to help balance hormones as women approach menopause.
Herbs are generally gentler to use than pharmaceutical drugs, but they should be used safely. Too much of anything can do harm, so use only in moderation. You should also consult with your primary care provider before starting an herbal supplement, as they may interfere with some medications you may be taking.
This plant seems to have hormonal activity and is used to bring on menstrual periods. It acts as a stimulant.
Contrary to popular belief, Dong quai does not have any estrogenic activity, meaning it will not simulate the effects of estrogen on the body. However, it does improve liver function and metabolism, which may improve excretion of hormones, bringing the body back into balance. It also acts as a mild sedative which may improve anxiety. Chinese women use it to bring on menstrual periods. However, there is not much research to back up its claims.
Has been found to be useful for hot flashes. Do not take if you have liver problems.
Some research has found that taking DHEA supplements can improve libido and reduce hot flashes during menopause. DHEA may also be useful for treatment of depression, weight loss, adrenal insufficiency, and bone density.
This is commonly found in herbal teas. It has oxytocin-like effects that can induce uterine contractions, so women take it when their menstrual period is late. However, it should not be consumed during pregnancy since it may stimulate an abortion. Women also use it to treat painful menstrual periods. Breastfeeding women use it to increase milk production. Men use it for erectile dysfunction and infertility. It is also helpful for weight loss by increasing a sense of fullness and reducing hunger.
Flax seeds and flaxseed oil contains a good source of lignans, which tend to balance female hormones. It has been found to ease night sweats in women undergoing menopause.
Some research has found that taking ginseng improves quality of life during menopause. It has been found to boost mood and improve sleep. However, there is no research that shows ginseng improves physical symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.
St. John’s Wort
Well-known for its antidepressant properties, St John’s wort can especially improve mood swings during menopause when combined with black cohosh. Consult with your primary care provider before use if you are taking antidepressants.
Is used by pharmaceutical companies to produce steroid hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, pregnenolone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisones. This has made it a popular alternative to hormone therapy for menopause. However, the diosgenin compound taken from wild yam is not equal to human estrogen or progesterone, despite claims found on many topical creams.