Following a healthy, well-balanced diet is a good idea in general, but it’s especially true for women who are nearing or have just passed through menopause, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist in Cleveland.
“Good nutrition can make a big change in how you feel with regard to menopause symptoms like mood swings, hot flashes, and exhaustion, as well as bloating and possible weight gain,” Jamieson-Petonic says. Women of menopausal age should make sure to eat plenty of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein for optimal health, she says.
That advice is backed up by a survey of 400 post-menopausal women documented in an article published in April 2019 in journal Menopause, which found that women who ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables were less likely to report having experienced menopausal symptoms than women whose diets contained more fatty foods and sweets. Decreasing your consumption of these and certain other foods may be able to ease a lot of the discomfort linked to this natural transition and help you stay healthy in the years to come.
Foods That May Worsen Menopausal Symptoms
Potato chips and cookies might taste good, but they’re usually high in sodium, loaded with added sugars, or both, which can make you retain water and feel bloated, Jamieson-Petonic says. If you’re craving a snack, try a healthier alternative, like string cheese, carrots dipped in hummus, or a few whole-grain crackers with peanut butter — they’ll satisfy your need to nibble without filling you up with the symptom-trigger stuff.
Think twice before you add that extra-hot salsa to your taco. Foods that rate high on the heat scale can trigger sweating, flushing, and other symptoms of hot flashes, according to the National Institute on Aging. If you’re looking to add some kick to a bland dish, Jamieson-Petonic suggests skipping the jalapeños and sprinkling on spices that provide flavor without as much heat, like cumin, curry, turmeric, and basil.
In a rush? Drive-through restaurants may be convenient when you’re short on time, but their meals often serve up a massive amount of fat, Jamieson-Petonic says. Fatty foods can increase your risk for heart disease, a condition that women are already at greater risk for after passing through menopause, according to the American Heart Association. “These foods also tend to promote weight gain, which can exacerbate menopause symptoms as well,” Jamieson-Petonic says. The better solution? Have quick, healthy foods on hand by freezing leftovers at home or packing a lunch. If you have to eat a meal on the fly, skip the cheeseburger and choose healthier menu options. A grilled chicken sandwich on a whole-grain bun with lettuce and tomato is a good alternative, she says.
Although it may not be necessary to swear off all cocktails and wine, there are plenty of good reasons to keep your alcohol consumption moderate. As suggested in the 2015–2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking for women is defined as one drink per day or less. Women who have two to five drinks a day have 1.5 times the risk for breast cancer as those who don’t drink at all, and heavy drinking can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, according to the North American Menopause Society. Plus, some women find that alcohol makes them more susceptible to hot flashes, Jamieson-Petonic says.
“I tell women to listen to their bodies,” she says. “If alcohol aggravates their menopause symptoms they should try to avoid it.” If you still want to indulge occasionally, Jamieson-Petonic suggests trying a white wine spritzer with fruit, which is lower in alcohol than most standard drinks.
Love your morning cup of joe? It could be worsening your menopause symptoms. A Mayo Clinic study published in February 2015 in the journal Menopause found that menopausal women who consumed caffeine were more likely to have hot flashes than women who didn’t consume caffeine. If you’re craving a warm drink, try a cup of hot ginger or peppermint tea — both caffeine-free — Jamieson-Petonic says. Or if you’re in need of some extra energy, try going for a quick walk instead of relying on caffeine for a kick.
Besides being high in saturated fat, foods like brisket and bacon can lower the body’s serotonin levels, Jamieson-Petonic says. “When serotonin drops, we feel angry, grumpy, and irritable,” she says. When you’re shopping for meats, skip the greasy, marbled cuts in favor of trimmer alternatives, like chicken, turkey, and ground beef that’s 90 percent lean or better.
The foods that are good for you during menopause are good for you at any stage in your life. Build healthy eating habits now and you’ll enjoy better health for years to come, including through menopause.