Thursday, September 11, 2008
Managing Menopause through Your Diet
As a woman enters perimenopause she begins to experience a variety of symptoms. She might have hot flashes or night sweats, feel irritable, anxious or have headaches. Other symptoms include low libido, depression and dry skin. Whatever the symptoms are, it usually has to do with fluctuations in a woman’s hormone levels which cause all sorts of problems as a women goes through menopause. Some women seem to breeze through menopause with a few mild problems, while others are so debilitated with major symptoms, they suffer for many years as they go through this change. For many women, symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes can last well into their sixties.
Recently there's been much research done on foods that help to ease menopausal symptoms. Certain foods and lifestyle changes hold promise as natural remedies for menopausal symptoms. By eating the right foods and increasing exercise, women can keep their bodies healthy as well as control many of those pesky menopausal issues.
To understand what might help, let’s examine some of these diet and lifestyle changes.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Naturally fruits and vegetables offer many health benefits that we are already familiar with… lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, but there also seem to be menopausal reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables. The phytoestrogens in plants are chemicals that mimic estrogen, and may act as weak estrogen in our bodies. Phytoestrogens can potentially help ease some of the discomforts caused by lower estrogen levels during menopause.
The mineral boron is an especially helpful element found in many fruits and vegetables. Boron seems to increase the body's ability to hold onto estrogen. It also helps keep our bones strong by decreasing the amount of calcium we excrete each day. The foods below contain both Boron and phytoestrogens. Try to include at least two of these foods in each meal. It’s easy to add fruit to your cereal and a glass of juice to your breakfast. Have a big salad at lunch with all kinds of vegetables. Add a serving of baked sweet potato and steamed vegetables to your dinner. With these simple changes you are adding 6 servings per day of phytoestrogens.
• Bell peppers
• Broccoli stems
• Sweet potatoes
• Red raspberries
Consume More Cooked Dry Beans
There are many varieties of beans… lentils, kidney, navy, pinto and black to name a few. Beans are a nutritionally efficient food because they offer so many health benefits. They seem to slow the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, thus curbing your appetite longer. They're full of fiber and contain phytoestrogens. They're good sources of many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, folic acid and vitamin B-6. And they are a low-fat source of protein. To increase your bean consumption, add them to burritos, wraps, soups, chili, salads and dips.
Eat More Soy and Soy products
There are many benefits to consuming soy and soy products. Some research indicates that it might help with hot flashes and night sweats, as well as protect our heart and arteries by lowering bad cholesterol. Try eating two servings a day to start. Eat more tofu, smoothies with soy protein, soy milk, edaname beans, soy protein bars, soy butter.
Eat More of the Right Fats
It is important to avoid eating a diet that is high in fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in meats and high fat dairy products. Trans fats are found in many types of junk foods. Due to all the negative publicity surrounding transfats, many fast food companies are beginning to make changes in the type of oil they use in food preparation. High-fat foods are usually high in calories and low in nutrients, exactly the opposite of what a woman in or past menopause needs. But it's even more important to get the right fats in your diet -- fats that may protect against heart disease and cancer. The healthy fats are the fats high in omega 3 fatty acids like fish oil, olive oil and canola oil.
Increase your healthy fat consumption by using olive and canola oil in cooking and salad dressings, eating more fish, eating less meat, reading labels and avoiding packaged products with transfats or hydrogenated fats. If you consume margarine, use only those that list liquid canola or olive oil as the first ingredient.
Eat More Whole Grains
The complex carbohydrates found in whole grains provide the body with the energy it needs to operate at peak levels. Whole grains fill you up with the fiber they contain. Lastly complex carbs found in whole grains help to boost serotonin levels which are the key components to a healthy mental state. Eat low sugar, whole grain cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole grain breads. Avoid white bread, regular pasta and white rice and pastries.
Eat More Calcium-Rich Foods
Calcium is essential to every woman’s health. Women require at least 1200 mg of calcium each day to keep their bones and joints healthy. Increase your calcium consumption by having cereal with skim milk for breakfast, calcium fortified orange juice, switch to lattes rather than regular coffee, eat lots of leafy greens which contain calcium, eat yogurt, cottage cheese or low fat hard cheeses. Try to include at least 3-4 servings of calcium rich foods each day.
Eat fruit and nuts instead of high fat/high sugar desserts.
Weight gain is common during menopause, so it is important to watch the amount of desserts and sweets that you consume. Too much sugar in your diet can cause blood sugar to spike, which stimulates the pancreas to release more insulin. Excess insulin speeds the conversion of calories into fats in the blood. . And it stimulates the uptake of fat from the bloodstream into fat in the body's cells.
It is hard to give up the chocolate, so if you can’t resist stick to a small square of really good dark antioxidant filled chocolate when you have the craving. Otherwise, try to replace your sweet cravings with dried fruit, a handful of nuts, or a piece of fresh fruit which all have nutritional value to give the body the energy that it needs to function.
Add Omega 3 fish oils or flaxseed to Your Diet
Some research indicates that omega 3 fish oils can help ease depression as well as a host of other menopausal symptoms. Try it to see if it helps with your menopause symptoms, not to mention the wonderful benefits of the antioxidants contained in fish oils and flaxseed. Fish oils are available in tablet form at any health food store. You can add ground flax seed to your daily cereal, but remember to keep the whole seeds in the refrigerator and grind just before you use since flax seeds lose their beneficial antioxidants rather quickly once they are ground.
Don’t waste your precious calories on soda or other sweet drinks. There is no nutritional benefit gained by drinking either regular or diet sodas. Try to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day. Water helps to keep our kidneys flushed and healthy, thus allowing the body to work at a peak level.
Eat at Least 3-6 times a day
Your body needs energy throughout the day, so feed the body to avoid low energy slumps. Try to avoid consuming your biggest meal at the end of the day. Remember what grandma used to say, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper”. If you are eating 6 times a day by adding snacks between meals, make sure that you eat healthy, low fat snacks which include the foods described earlier in this article. Low fat yogurt, fresh fruit, sliced raw vegetables and whole grain toast or crackers are all excellent snack choices.
Add Omega 3 fish oils or flaxseed to Your Diet
Some research indicates that omega 3 fish oils can help ease depression as well as a host of other menopausal symptoms. By adding these supplements to your diet, you’ll also realize the wonderful benefits of the antioxidants. Antioxidants help to keep your immune system strong if they are taken on a daily basis. Fish oils are available in tablet form at any health food store. You can add ground flax seed to your daily cereal, but remember to keep it in the refrigerator and grind just before you use to prevent spoilage.
Last But Not Least….Exercise Every Day
Exercise should be an important part of each and every day. Not only does exercise keep your body healthy, but it does wonders for your mental state. By exercising every day for at least 1 hour you will decrease blood cholesterol levels, decrease bone loss, improve your ability to deal with stress, improves circulation , can help improve memory , improve heart function and improve your body's ability to use oxygen and nutrients and most importantly help to manage weight that is so easy to gain during menopause. Try walking/hiking, running, biking, rowing, yoga or Pilates . Remember there are no right or wrong types of exercise. If it is something you enjoy and it gets your body moving, it’s a good thing.
Photo by Beezy