Nutrition, Wellbeing and Menopause

Someone once said to me, “If only they had told me about the weight gain that can occur
as a result of menopause, then I would have done something earlier”. 

It becomes a battle for women, particularly between the ages of 45 and 55 when they unwillingly ‘climb’ through the symptoms of menopause. As a Nutritionist, I am hopefully aware of my diet and lifestyle a little more than most and that this battle will not greatly affect me (fingers crossed). So, as a health professional and I am willing to impart some evidence-based knowledge that I have learned throughout my nutrition degree and relevant work experience that will hopefully prepare every woman during this juncture in life. 

I extremely dislike the word ‘menopause’. I understand that ‘meno’ pertains to menstruation and pause indicates ‘to stop’, so aside from being a literal explanation, I believe a more appropriate phrase could be ‘Positive Life Change’. Yes, I have been told it can be a difficult stage, but I can offer some sound advice – watch your diet now and the battle ahead may not be so bad. A diet consisting of nutrient dense foods, controlled carbohydrates, quality protein and healthy fats have proven to help with many symptoms of this life change, while also assisting in sustaining an efficient metabolism and successful management of weight. 

What are the symptoms and why?

The Royal Women’s Hospital report some of the common symptoms as being hot flushes, night sweats, changes in mood and memory, dry skin, muscle loss and weight gain. These are influenced by the gradual changes in the levels of oestrogen and testosterone hormones. These hormones also naturally support protein synthesis, therefore when levels are low, muscle loss and a decline in metabolism can occur.

What causes women
to gain weight?

Oestrogen plays an important role in regulating fat metabolism, particularly around the abdominal region. Lower levels of oestrogen, a natural decline in physical activity and often a consistent calorie intake can contribute to gradual weight gain. As we age our calorie needs decline, however our macronutrient needs remain the same or in some cases, increase. Let’s take a look at some of those needs.  

Nutrient Needs

Women may experience a decrease in bone density due to the low oestrogen levels. In addition, weight loss can also contribute to bone loss and this can increase as you age. To preserve bone mass, it is important to maintain slow and steady weight loss, and consume foods that contain adequate calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and Vitamin D. 

Plant and animal proteins play an important role in helping to stabilise muscle mass and stimulate protein synthesis. Recommended dietary intake for menopausal women is approximately 0.8gm / kg of body weight and these can be sourced from lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, low fat dairy and legumes. There are also certain foods that contain phytochemicals that can mimic human oestrogen and effectively help to ease menopause-related symptoms. A recent journal article, ‘Phytoestrogens and their health effects’ demonstrated positive effects including reduction in fat accumulation, appetite suppression, and their antioxidant activity may help with cognition, skin health and overall immunity. Good sources include alfalfa, apples, barley, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, corn, cucumber, flaxseeds, garlic, beans, legumes, squash, oats, olives, parsley, peas, potatoes, rice, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and nuts. These represent excellent sources of whole plant-based foods that should make a regular contribution to any diet. 

The ‘Australian Menopause Centre’ have created a free recipe e-book that contains delicious recipes full of nutrients and fibre that are perfect for any diet. The recipe, ‘Figs, Walnuts and Spinach Salad’ would be perfect paired with 100g of grilled salmon per person, or with some added freshly cooked lean meat and legumes to make a warm protein filled salad. Sprinkle some flax seeds over the top and you have a perfectly balanced meal for any occasion. 

You will notice that throughout this article, I recommend vitamin and mineral sources via the consumption of foods, rather than supplements. If an individual is severely lacking in nutrients, then supplements may benefit in the short term. However, if an individual is consuming a diet that is well balanced with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats, lean dairy, fibre and healthy essential fats then there is no need for additional supplements.

What about exercise?

Brisk walking can be beneficial for cardiovascular health and circulation and actively helps to burn fat. Mild strength and weight bearing exercise can help to improve muscle tone and bone density. Flexibility and stretching exercises such as Yoga can help improve agility and balance as well as movement of joints. In addition to these benefits, exercise helps to reduce anxiety, lower LDL’s and boost HDL’s and assist in controlling blood pressure. A combination of regular consistent activity over the day and a well-balanced diet are both crucial to managing the health and longevity of any individual, not just those experiencing the symptoms of the ‘change of life’.

Looking after yourself physically, mentally and soulfully is important at any and every age. Nutritionists believe in the old adage ‘Prevention rather than cure’ and we strongly advise that your health becomes a priority in the present. Maintaining your health now protects and reduces your risk of developing hormone and diet related chronic disease that may develop later in life. So for now, eat well, sleep well and dance like no one is watching. 

Cate Keen

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