Most women notice a change in their metabolism as they get older. The
dietary needs of menopausal women are different from those for women who
are younger. Attention needs to be paid both to calories and developing
habits for heart and bone health. Dr. Lisa Parviskhan of Paoli Hospital
summarizes the "how to's" of healthy eating and exercise. — Beverly
Vaughn, MD, Medical Coordinator, Menopause and You Program
A well-balanced diet, as well as exercise, has always been the basis for
good health and well being. This is especially true for women entering
menopause. Increased risk of heart disease and fractures due to
osteoporosis, as well as weight gain, depressed mood, and hot flashes,
are among the many concerns that women face and often fear as they enter
menopause. Attention to how you eat and also what you eat can greatly
ease these effects and make this life stage positive and enjoyable.
Don't skip meals. In fact, have several smaller
but more frequent meals. Lower blood sugar levels have been
found to increase some menopausal symptoms; therefore, by eating
more frequently, women can avoid these drops in sugar level and
actually feel better.
Avoid snacking. Women often realize that they
can eat less and still gain weight. Therefore, decreasing snacks
is a good idea.
Eat foods that are as unprocessed as possible.
The more processed or refined a food is, the fewer nutrients it
Eat lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
These foods contain much needed vitamins and minerals and also
are a great source of fiber. Fiber can reduce the risk for colon
cancer and can also help decrease constipation by increasing
bowel motility. You should try to have 20-30 grams of fiber per
Eat your smallest meal at night. Metabolism is
slower at night so try not to eat after 8:00 p.m.
Avoid eating trigger foods. Most women find
that caffeine, tea, coffee, alcohol and spicy foods can all make
hot flashes worse.
Eat low-fat dairy products. These are rich in
calcium. Calcium can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Other
foods rich in calcium are oysters, sardines with bones, and
leafy green vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
Choose foods that are low in fat, saturated fat, and
cholesterol. Women in menopause are just as likely as
men to have a heart attack. Maintaining good cholesterol levels
lowers the risk of heart disease. Also fat contains more
calories than proteins or carbohydrates. Keeping excess calories
to a minimum helps in controlling weight. Try to keep your daily
fat calories to less than 30% of your total daily calories.
Supplements. The best way to get all the
nutrients you need is by consuming nutrient-rich foods. If it is
not possible to eat as nutritiously as you'd like, supplements
may be helpful. Always check with your doctor first before using
any supplements, as too many of certain vitamins can be
dangerous, and some supplements could even interfere with
medications you may be taking.
Calcium and Vitamin D
When calcium levels in the blood stream are too low, the body takes the
needed calcium from the bones. Over time, this process causes
osteoporosis, a condition that makes the bones at greater risk for
Menopausal women should have 1,200-1,500 mg of calcium per day. Calcium
carbonate is the most easily absorbed form of calcium and it should be
taken in divided doses and after meals. Also our bodies need vitamin D
to be able to absorb the calcium from our food or supplements. We
naturally form vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun. But in
menopause it becomes more difficult for the skin to absorb adequate
sunlight. Compound that with the fact that we tend to spend less time in
the sun because of the danger of skin cancer, and it's easy to see how
vitamin D can become deficient. Too much vitamin D is toxic. The
recommended daily intake (RDI) is 400IU per day.
Soy is a natural way of dealing with hot flashes and night sweats. It is
rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folic acid, calcium, and potassium,
magnesium, and B vitamins. It is also low in saturated fat and free of
cholesterol. Soy contains estrogen-like substances called
phytoestrogens, also called isoflavones. In Japan, where the diet is
high in soy, it has been reported that women have significantly fewer
symptoms during menopause than Western women. Ongoing studies are
looking at the potential benefits that soy has on lowering the risk of
heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer, and even prostate cancer.
The FDA has approved a statement that 25 grams of soy protein per day,
along with a low-fat and low-cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of
heart disease. Keep in mind that soy protein and isoflavones are not the
same thing. The FDA has not yet decided whether it is the soy protein,
the isoflavones, or both that provides this benefit.
Many available products claim to help with menopausal symptoms. Just
because something is herbal or natural doesn't mean it is safe or
effective. Natural products can interfere with medications and can also
have unwanted side effects. Herbs such as black cohosh, red clover, and
dong quai are commonly advertised for having beneficial effects in
menopause, but none has been proven effective. In fact, results from a
recent study revealed the use of black cohosh did not improve menopausal
symptoms. Safety of these therapies is still questionable. To date, they
are still being studied for their efficacy and safety, which has yet to
be proven. Once again, it is always best to consult with you doctor
before you take any supplement, even if it is natural.
We cannot talk about a healthy diet without mentioning exercise. In
menopause, exercise is just as important as eating right. Women who
participate in regular aerobic activity (biking, running, jogging,
swimming) or strength training (use of weights, resistance bands, yoga),
along with a balanced diet, are less likely to develop heart disease,
obesity, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis. Active menopausal women
tend to maintain better strength, flexibility, mood, and overall energy.
Regular exercise has also been found to reduce some common symptoms,
such as hot flashes, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and joint pain.
Make sure you talk to your doctor first before starting any rigorous
exercise program so together you can find which exercises are best for
This article is part of the Menopause and You library,
a Web-based program sponsored by Women’s Health Source.
It is intended as an information resource providing guidelines for
women. As always, check with your own healthcare practitioner with your
specific concerns and questions.
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