Take a Bite Out of Menopause
The idea that food and hormones are intertwined probably isn’t shocking — after all, it’s a rare woman who has not reached for a piece of chocolate and blamed it on PMS at least once. But many foods do more than ease a cranky mood during menopause: Various nutrients and compounds can help reduce menopausal discomfort and some of the associated health issues. And what you don’t eat can be just as important as what you do. Certain foods are known triggers and reducing or removing them from your diet can lead to a “Change” for the better.
What should your menopause-friendly meals include (and leave out)? Read on to find out!
Fill up on Fruits and Vegetables
You already know that eating fruits and vegetables is critical for your overall well-being. Well, here’s an extra push to get your five a day: They may ease menopausal symptoms. Fruits and vegetables containing phytoestrogens — plant-based compounds that mimic the body’s own hormone — are thought to reduce hot flashes and other physical effects of your body’s fluctuating hormonal levels. Additionally, such varieties as plums, strawberries, apples, tomatoes, grapes, grapefruit, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, onions and sweet potatoes contain boron, a trace mineral that appears to help the body hold on to both estrogen and vitamin D (which is critical for calcium absorption).
Bite into Beans
Given what legumes can do for your health, the only thing “lowly” about beans is their cost. Jam-packed with low-fat protein and fiber (which can help relieve constipation, a condition not uncommon during menopause), beans also contain nutrients that contribute to heart health. Women’s risk of heart disease dramatically increases after menopause (earlier in life, estrogen provides a protective effect against arterial plaque), but the potassium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids found in beans can help offset that risk and keep your cardiovascular system functioning at its best.
While soy is no longer considered the menopause miracle it once was, researchers have been examining soy and its components to better clarify its potential benefits and the ways it works. Soy contains isoflavones, plant compounds that have a similar structure to the body’s estrogen, which may be beneficial in reducing symptoms. For now, experts believe it can’t hurt: As Elizabeth Ricanati, MD, medical director of Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program says, “Even though the data on soy is not conclusive, it’s worth trying.” If you want to add it to your diet in delicious ways, try pouring soy milk over your whole-grain cereal in the morning, or order a steaming bowl of edamame the next you’re out for Japanese.
Milk Your Dairy Products for All They’re Worth
While hot flashes and night sweats are uncomfortable, they do eventually pass. The risk of osteoporosis stays with you for good. Estrogen helps maintain strong bones; once hormonal levels drop, you need to boost calcium intake for good skeletal health. Holly Thacker, MD, FACP, CCD, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health, recommends that menopausal women get 1,200 mg of calcium a day; women over 55 who are not taking estrogen need 1,500 mg daily. Calcium-rich foods — which include such leafy greens as kale, bok choy and collard greens as well as low- and nonfat dairy products — can help you meet that requirement.
Be Grateful for Grains
Brown rice and other whole grains are low-fat, high-fiber sources of certain B vitamins, which can help keep your mind sharp during the midlife years. (Refined, or “white,” starches have had their outer bran — which is where the B-complex vitamins reside — removed.) Two recent studies from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Massachusetts indicate that older people, such as menopausal and postmenopausal women, tend to be deficient in B vitamins and that deficiency in B vitamins may impair cognitive abilities. Other studies have linked a lack of B vitamins to depression, anxiety, irritability and inability to concentrate. So “B” prepared — and get your whole grains in!
Think about Your Drink
Love your cup of java? You may want to rethink the amount you drink. The caffeine that perks you up can also trigger hot flashes. Another beverage you really should do without: cola. Whether they’re diet or regular, mounting evidence points to these drinks as reducing bone-mineral density and contributing to osteoporosis, most likely due to the phosphoric acid in their formulations. Need some bubbly stuff? Have a glass of carbonated mineral water instead.
Take the Spice Out of Life
Foods containing chili powder or hot peppers can trigger or worsen hot flashes. Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their heat, causes blood vessels to dilate and produces the feeling of being warm. If you’re already frequently flushing due to hormonal changes, you may not want to add any fuel to that fire. Choose mild versions of low-fat chilis, salsas and other typically spicy foods; skip the hot sauce as a condiment; and try spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric to give your foods flavor without the kick.
Make a Menopause-Friendly Meal
Rinse and chop 3 cups of bok choy; toss with ½ cup shredded carrots, ½ cup cooked soybeans, ½ cup cooked chopped chicken and 1 tablespoon chopped almonds. For the dressing: Combine 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce and ¼ teaspoon minced shallots. Drizzle with dressing; toss again and serve.
For dessert, enjoy ½ cup of strawberries with 1 cup of nonfat yogurt!