Menopause refers to the cessation of the menstrual cycle
due to natural depletion of ovarian follicles and marks the permanent end of a women’s fertility
. It can take place anywhere between the age of 45-55 years, although the average age is 51 years. Menopause can be diagnosed when a woman has skipped her menses for 12 consecutive months. Elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and low estrogen levels also indicate menopause
The symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, depression, vaginal dryness, insomnia, memory loss, reduced sex drive and urinary incontinence
The hormonal changes during this period, especially lowered estrogen levels increase the risk of bone fractures, osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.
A healthy lifestyle revolving around a balanced diet, regular exercise and cutting down on alcohol consumption and smoking can help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
As the estrogen levels decline, women often lose muscle and gain fat, mainly in the abdomen region. Women tend to lead a sedentary lifestyle and eat more calories than they need, leading to weight gain
. Healthy food choices along with eating in controlled portion hold the key to a healthy menopause
It is interesting to know that a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
demonstrated that following a Mediterranean-style diet
, which consists of eating wholegrain cereals and healthy fats in moderation i.e. unsaturated fats found in nuts, oilseeds and cooking oils lowered the incidence of hot flashes and night sweats by 20%.
Calcium, Vitamin D and iron supplementation are usually advised during menopause to ease the symptoms.
Foods to Eat During Menopause
Some foods that must be eaten during menopause include:
- Phytoestrogens (isoflavones and lignans) are plant-based estrogens which mimic the action of estrogen. Lignans in flaxseeds, sesame seeds, nuts; isoflavones in soy products, legumes and coumestans in beans help reduce hot flashes and night sweats along with lowering cholesterol levels.
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, tuna act as a precursor toprostaglandin PGE1 which regulates hormonal balance and alleviates menopausal symptoms.Vitamin C, zinc and niacin are essential nutrients required for the conversion of Omega-3 fatty acids to prostaglandin PGE1. Hence, it is imperative to consume citrus fruits, vegetables, dairy products, pulses, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds.
- Calcium-rich foods like low-fat dairy products, finger millets, white sesame seeds, sardines are important since decreased estrogen levels are associated with low bone-mineral density and risk of osteoporosis. Exposure to sunlight along with incorporating eggs, chicken and oily fish boost the Vitamin D uptake which plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium.
- Consuming green leafy vegetables, eggs, nuts and wholegrain cereals provides magnesium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which help combat mood swings.
- Drinking 10-12 glasses of water in a day helps treat vaginal dryness and dry skin.
- Weight gain during menopause invites cardiovascular troubles. It is important to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and pulses to up fiber uptake, which promotes satiety. Additionally, fiber lowers absorption of cholesterol which further reduces the incidence of heart-related ailments.
Foods to Avoid During Menopause
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread, refined flour, bakery products and desserts cause a spike in blood sugar levels followed by an immediate crash leading to mood swings and irritability. Additionally, since they are low in fiber they do not promote satiety and result in overeating.
- High-sodium containing foods like papads, pickles, cheese, ketchup and commercial salad dressings can result in abdominal bloating and water retention, leading to edema.
- Alcohol triggers hot flashes as well as contributes towards weight gain and mood swings.
- The caffeine content in tea, coffee and cocoa triggers hot flashes and
results in insomnia. Switch to herbal tea or green tea instead.
- Saturated fats in egg yolk, butter, ghee and red meat along with trans fats found in bakery products and commercially fried foods increase cholesterol levels contributing towards cardiovascular ailments.