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Published on September 13, 2022

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Want to Feel Better Throughout Menopause? Try Diet Changes

During menopause, estrogen levels decrease, affecting how your body works in ways you would not expect.

In fact, menopause affects the body’s ability to metabolize carbs. Dropping estrogen levels cause the body to work harder to metabolize carbs.

Theories suggest estrogen helps transport glucose to the brain, too.

“As those levels drop, the lack of glucose in the brain can trigger hot flashes and cause brain fog,” said Annie Ailts, MS, RDN, LN, a registered dietitian with Avera Medical Group Functional Medicine program.

How Diet Impacts Menopause Symptoms

Menopause includes many not-so-pleasant symptoms, like hot flashes, mood swings and low energy. A decrease of estrogen can affect your bones, muscle mass and metabolism.

A well-balanced diet helps at any stage of life.

  • Add a variety of vegetables, protein and calcium into your diet.
  • The Mediterranean diet is recommended as a good all-in-one meal plan that focuses on lean proteins, whole grains and plenty of plant-based foods.
  • Don’t push your body too hard with any extreme diets.

Understand Carbs and Menopause Symptoms

When we eat carbs by themselves, blood sugars can spike. In an hour or two, those levels crash, leading to fatigue, irritability, brain fog and sugar cravings.

Hormone imbalance and thyroid dysfunction can also accompany crashes. We’ve probably all experienced it: come mid-morning or mid-afternoon, you just want a nap or you can’t resist the donut in the breakroom.

“You might feel like you’ll only be able to function if you have a sugary coffee drink,” she said. “A high-carb breakfast or lunch leads to the crash.”

To stop this cycle, eat meals and snacks that are primarily protein and healthy fats. Keep carbs to a minimum – less than 100 grams a day.

“When you do, you’ll have stable blood sugars, long-lasting energy, mental clarity and feel ‘full’ longer,” Ailts said. “You’re less likely to experience carb and sugar cravings, too.”

Avoiding carb spikes and crashes enables your hormones and thyroid to function better, which will help minimize menopausal symptoms and allow you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Skim milk, along with yogurt or other lower-fat dairy products, can help add the calcium you need. Shoot to include 1,200-1,500 milligrams daily from your food. If you’re not a dairy fan, you can get calcium from:

  • Oatmeal and orange juice concentrate at breakfast
  • Leafy greens at lunch, or
  • Cooked and seasoned tofu for supper

Know the Good from Bad in Carbs, Fat and Proteins

Ailts said these groups of food can be divided into two camps. Try to focus on the healthy and if you can skip the others.

  • Carbohydrates
    • Unhealthy: Bread, pasta, cereal, bagels, muffins, crackers, chips, cookies, baked goods, sweets
    • Healthy: Starchy vegetables, fruit and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats
  • Fats
    • Unhealthy: Greasy fried foods like fries, cheeseballs, as well as fats from processed meats like bacon or those that come from dairy cheese
    • Healthy: Avocado; butter made from nuts or seeds; olives; healthy oils such as olive, avocado and coconut; grass-fed butter; ghee. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna offer both healthy fat and protein.
  • Proteins
    • Unhealthy: Breaded and fried meats or fish and bacon
    • Healthy: Baked or grilled meat or fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes and collagen powder

Be Mindful of Bone Health

Estrogen is important for maintaining bone density. During menopause, estrogen levels drop, and that can lead to significant bone loss.

Calcium can help you fight back.

“It’s an essential mineral for bone health and helps prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis,” Ailts said. You should aim for 1,200-1,500 milligrams daily from your food.

“If you tolerate dairy, organic milk, plain yogurt, cheese and grass-fed butter are good sources of calcium,” she added. “If you don’t tolerate dairy, canned salmon and sardines with the bones can help.”

Calcium-fortified milk alternatives, sesame seeds, tahini, chia seeds, almonds, broccoli, and leafy greens also are good sources of calcium, Ailts said. Make sure you get plenty of vitamin D, vitamin K2 and magnesium for better bone health.

Avera nutrition experts help many women reduce the severity of their menopause symptoms.

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