Is there such a thing as a menopause diet?
If there is one question I am asked a lot it's whether there is an actual diet plan you can follow to rid yourself of the ills of midlife. You know what I’m talking about – something that will fix your hot flushes, your night sweats, lift your brain fog and help you lose weight. I appreciate that you want a quick answer so I will try to help you out here – but the true and honest answer is that it’s a bit more complicated so bear with me. *Rolls up sleeves*
What should I eat during menopause?
The quick answer is that if midlife women ate a Mediterranean diet, most of the time that would be very helpful and healthful. That is the kind of nutrition based on good quality protein (whether wild or organic sources of meat and fish or veggie alternatives like tofu, nuts, seeds, eggs, lentils, chickpeas and so on) and lots of veggies, and by that I mean focus on the types of veg that grow above the ground rather than those that grow below.
Definitely have good fats, and by that I mean stop having the no-fat products that have been cooked up in the kitchens of ICI or some other chemical plant. Celebrate a good olive oil, avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds. These are super-nourishing for your hormones and, contrary to the brainwashing from Big Food (the food giants who have a vested interest in your continuing to eat their processed rubbish ahead of real food).
Do I need to give up carbs?
This question rumbles on and on. I want to answer this in two parts. Firstly, there are some vociferous critics of a ‘low carb diet’ but when you look closely at the kinds of foods they recommend… what a surprise, they are – strictly speaking – low carb.
Turns out that what they are really against is the demonising of certain food groups and the perpetuation of the ‘diet culture’. Which is fired by Big Food and their desire to have us all eat their rubbish when eating lovely, real food would be so much better for everyone. I’m against that, too. I don’t believe that any food is inherently good or bad.
But… so much of what happens in our health (as in life) is based on what we do most of the time rather than what we do some of the time. Having treats is no problem. Today’s eating culture is a lot different compared to that of a few generations ago. What have always been treat foods are now eaten too frequently.
It is my clinical experience working with midlife women who want to lose weight and get their hormones back on the straight and narrow and the current science, that eating less starchy foods like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, couscous, plus all the cakes and biscuits and other treats is going to be very beneficial at this stage in your life.
It is a scientific fact that there are metabolic changes as you head into perimenopause and beyond. In fact, this is a time of major metabolic upheaval with significant impacts on your long-term health.
Moving to a low-carb Mediterranean-style diet is a good idea since a great many of the peskiest symptoms of perimenopause are linked one way or another to declining sensitivity to insulin. Do you need to go really strict and get into ketosis? Almost certainly not but for some women it might not be a bad idea.
Should I be eating specific foods?
There are some specific foods that can be very beneficial for women. Functional foods are foods that ‘do stuff’ in the body. Food is so much more than fuel. What’s to know here is that different foods contain different components that can help (and sometimes hinder) the quality of your health. Some of the most helpful in midlife are phytoestrogens, which are weak plant sources of oestrogen. It’s thought these specific foods are the reason women in the Far East (who eat way more of them than we do in the West) have far fewer symptoms.
Phytoestrogens are found in soy (think tofu, miso, tempeh, natto and so on), flaxseeds/ linseeds, a variety of beans and chickpeas, and some fruits and veggies like cauliflower, onions, garlic, fennel, apples, pears and such.
The extra complications
You might be wondering at this stage whether you could just go low carb and throw in a bunch of phytoestrogens. Yes, that would be a good idea but the true solution to your midlife woes is much more complicated.
True personalised nutrition is a marvel at this time in your life because it takes a jolly good look at all of the factors that impact what it takes to be in great health at this time of your life. These include how toxic your body is and how well it gets rid of waste, and your microbiome, that’s the gut environment and this is really important even if you don’t feel like you’re the kind of person who has digestive health problems. Personalised nutrition takes into account how much booze you drink (so sorry and also not judging), your levels of inflammation, how much and how well you sleep, how you move and how you de-stress.
As you can imagine, there are so many different permutations. Even among your closest circle of friends, you can see how different behaviours and habits – not to mention different genes – make the picture of what to eat a much more complicated affair. Yes, there are different functional foods for all kinds of things, from those that support the body’s detox process to those that help kill inflammation.
As a woman in her forties or fifties, you would need to account for all of these things if you wanted to reach that state nutritional therapists like me mysteriously called ‘optimal health’. For the avoidance of doubt and because I cannot stand that term since it is conceptual and almost entirely meaningless for most people to understand, I’m talking about you experiencing your best ever health: being the kind of weight you want (let’s call it your ‘happy weight’), ditching any annoying symptoms, sleeping well, feeling energised most of the time… Insert anything that seems relevant.
Working with a nutritionist
There are nutrition strategies and tactics (think the specific, functional foods) for all of the above. That’s why people like me have spent four years training so we know all this stuff and, importantly, some of us are further trained in coaching to help our clients get the ‘ideal’ foods into their actual lives.
When you think about this, it does make perimenopause nutrition sound super complicated. If you’ve ever spent a night quizzing Doctor Google on what to eat, you’ll also know that there’s a lot of information on the internet, a good deal of it peddled by people with questionable knowledge or ulterior motives and, therefore, much of it contradictory.
On one level it is complicated. It is a science. The wider medical community has taken to calling it nutrition and lifestyle medicine. It’s where what you eat and how you live meets medicine. But it’s the application of this for real live people that is the skill.
If you are fed up feeling the way you do and you’re wondering whether personalised nutrition is the answer, please do reach out. I’d love to help.