Menopause Diet and Foods: What to Eat and Not to Eat
As you approach your late 40s and early 50s, your body begins to go through hormonal changes. Specifically, your ovaries begin to produce less and less progesterone and estrogen.
These changes in your hormone levels bring with it many side effects, including the dreaded hot flashes that 75 percent of women experience. Another side effect, and one that many women don’t expect is unexplained changes in their weight.
What Causes Weight Gain During Menopause?
There are several reasons why you might step onto the bathroom scale and be surprised by what you see. The first factor is how estrogen affects your metabolism.
According to researchers, estrogen is one of several hormones that help your body to regulate weight and burn calories. As your estrogen levels decrease, your metabolic rate (the speed that your body converts stored energy into working energy) begins to go down.
With a slower metabolism, your body burns fewer calories throughout the day. That might seem like not a big deal, but little snacks here or there, or an extra helping of dessert at night, might hit your waistline a lot quicker than when you were younger.
During menopause, you also begin to lose muscle mass. By some estimates, you lose anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of your muscle mass every decade after you turn 30, and depleted estrogen levels compound these aging-related changes.
Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, and losing muscle means your metabolism slows even further.
Finally, as you get older, you may become less physically active.
In summary, these compounding factors mean many women who maintain their same pre-menopause eating habits often see unexpected weight gain as their bodies change.
But it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
From foods that raise your estrogen levels to lifestyle changes that battle the bulge, you can use menopause as a time to reset and rethink your diet for a happier and healthier you.
Menopause Diet Ideas to Help With Menopause Naturally
If you want to stay slim as your hormones fluctuate, there is no one-size-fits-all option. Every woman is different, and from genetics to lifestyle, what works for you is dependent on your own body, your own needs, and your own habits.
That being said, there are several key diet patterns and ideas that women have used to maintain a healthy weight during menopause.
The Low-Carb Diet
One study followed 249 post-menopausal women for six months.
They found that going on a low-carb diet helps the women to lose an average of 21 pounds during the six-month period, including a drop of 7 percent in their body fat and a loss of 3.7 inches from around their waist.
When it comes to menopause and carbohydrates, carbohydrates are key when you’re younger to help you produce healthy levels of hormones. This is why many women find that going on a low-carb diet when they’re younger caused unwanted changes in their ovulation cycle.
Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet, especially if you’re wondering whether a keto diet (strict elimination of carbs) is good for menopause. Menopause is a unique time in your life and going on a low-carb diet may be helpful in combating menopause-related weight gain, but you need to be aware of how carbs affect hormone levels.
The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet purports to take your diet back to the caveman era, with the idea being that your body has evolved to eat certain prehistoric foods (think less to no grains, more meat, and more whole, unprocessed foods).
A two-year study found that women lost more weight on a paleo diet than on a strictly low-carb diet.
A Plant-Based Diet
Whether you go vegetarian or vegan, multiple studies have found that eliminating meat and animal products from your diet can help post-menopausal women experience significant weight loss while also improving their overall wellbeing.
If going fully plant-based seems like too extreme of a change when you’re already going through so much change, ease into it. Start with meatless Mondays (31 percent of Americans go meat-free at least one day a week). Then, as you get used to the benefits and habits of eating plant-based, add more meat-free days to your week.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods with a limited amount of poultry or fish and a focus on herbs, spices and olive oil.
In one study of women ages 55 and older, women who stuck with this eating plan saw significant weight loss, especially around their belly where women often feel the most self-conscious.
This diet has also been linked to reducing hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.
One condition that many women don’t realize is how menopause affects their cardiovascular health. As your estrogen levels go down, your body has a harder time maintaining arteries that are soft and flexible. This can affect your blood flow and, for some reason, increase their risks of heart problems.
The Mediterranean diet, as well as a vegan or vegetarian diet, has been linked to improved cardiovascular health. However, keep in mind that heart health is a serious matter. Talk to your doctor immediately if you feel dizziness, heart palpitations, and other signs of heart health problems.