What should I be eating?
Updated: Mar 26
Different women around the world will experience menopause in varying ways – 80% of Western women will experience some form of hot flush compared with less than 20% in Asian women.
Studies have shown this could be because of the difference in diets between the two continents – for example, the Japanese tend to eat a good quantity of unsaturated fats in oils and fish whilst the typical Western diet contains high levels of saturated fats from meat and dairy foods.
Also Japanese women eat large quantities of soya bean products, including tofu, miso (soya bean paste), tamari (wheat-free soya sauce) and soya milk. Many of these soy foods are fermented, which aids digestion.
This is thought to be a major reason why Western women have more menopausal problems than Asian women. Indeed, the menopause in Asia is seen as a bit of a ‘non-event’ from a symptomatic point of view!
With this in mind, it's important to understand what you need to avoid eating and drinking and also what you need to include in your diet, to help control your menopausal symptoms. Our bodies go through significant changes at menopause, making us more susceptible to other diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.
Menopause is a good time to take stock and reassess what you eat and drink – and make healthier long-term choices to support you through the coming decades. Controlling what you eat and drink to help support yourself through your menopause is a simple and easily accessible action to take in your life.
Here are some food groups you might like to include in your diet:
Phytoestrogens: balance oestrogen levels, helping hot flushes and night sweats whilst reducing the likelihood of heart disease and breast cancer. There are many different types of phytoestrogens – isoflavones found in soya, lentils and chickpeas; lignans found in most cereals, vegetables, and seeds producing oils such as linseed; coumestans found mainly in alfalfa and mung bean sprouts.
Foods rich in phytoestrogens include:
Soya, lentils, chickpeas, aduki beans, kidney beans and peas
Garlic, celery, broccoli, carrots, potatoes
Sesame, pumpkin, (ground) linseed, poppy, caraway and sunflower seeds
Rice, oats, wheat, barley, rye grains
Apples, plums, cherries, rhubarb
Sprouts such as alfalfa and mung bean sprouts
Some herbs and spices – cinnamon, sage, red clover, fennel, hops and parsley, for example.
Try to include a variety of the above in your diet every day. If you want to make it easy, concentrate on beans because the isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen) they contain seem to be the best for the menopause. Beans are easy to use in salads, soups and casseroles. Except for lentils, all beans need soaking before cooking.
Soya: has had a mixed press over the years but looking at the research, we know that eating soya is good for menopausal women as long as you choose a traditional form such as miso, tofu or organic soya milk. Avoid soya bars and snacks unless you know they’re made from the whole bean, and even then make sure the beans are not raw or genetically modified. Remember not to boil when cooking with miso and soya milk as it loses its nutritional value.
Fibre: with enough fluids is needed for regular eliminations which will help bloating and wind, two symptoms that are particularly common during menopause. Fibre also plays an important role in keeping blood sugar levels stable by regulating the absorption of sugars from the food we eat and so cravings are reduced. Also, the bulk from fibre makes us feel full after meals, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
There are two types of fibre:
Soluble (whole oats, brown rice, beans, fruit with skins on where possible) – which is very important for those on HRT as it mops up ‘old’ oestrogen residues, rather than recycling it back into the bloodstream
Insoluble (whole grains – wholemeal bread, Ryvita, spelt bread, wholewheat pasta, quinoa & vegetables with skins on)
Don’t use bran on your food to increase fibre, as it is a refined food and contains phytates that bind to essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, making them less easy to absorb. If you like eating a bran-based, muesli breakfast cereal, then soak it overnight beforehand to break down the phytates. If you want a simple remedy, use linseeds – soak a tablespoon in water/fruit juice for about 20 minutes and swallow whole at breakfast time.
Fats and oils: we do need ‘good’ oils in our diet. Essential fatty acids are needed by the body to lubricate the joints, skin and vagina and are a vital part of every human cell. They help to balance hormones, insulate nerve cells, keep skin and arteries supple and the body warm – they can also boost your metabolism and even help in weight loss. Before menopause, oestrogen protects against heart disease. The risk of heart disease doubles between the ages of 45 and 65, but can be treated with dietary changes (reducing ‘bad’ fats – saturated fats – and increase ‘good’ fats – poly and mono-unsaturated fats), along with increasing exercise and stopping smoking.
Our bodies can’t make essential fatty acids naturally so the only source is food. These fats come in three types:
Omega 3 (poly-unsaturated) – found in oily fish (mackerel, sardines, tuna, herrings, salmon) and to some extent in linseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dark green vegetables.
Omega 6 (poly-unsaturated) – nuts (walnuts) and seeds (sunflower) plus soya and linseed which are also rich in phytoestrogens. Also found in evening primrose oil, starflower and borage oil
Omega 9 (mono-unsaturated) – found in olive oil
Incorporating the above into your existing diet is a quick and easy way of managing your menopausal symptoms whilst increasing the health and happiness of you and your family. Don't worry if you can't fathom changing your eating habits overnight (and be sure to add in the occasional treat!). Consider adding in more of each category every week. For specific symptoms, we have information on which dietary changes to make here.
At alina, our team of nutritionists would be delighted to work out a plan with you to support your mind and body during the menopause, so you can get back to being you. Pre-register for early access here.