The fluctuation in hormones around menopause can cause significant emotional strain for many women. While many menopausal symptoms can pass after a few years, eating a well-balanced diet can offer much relief and it doesn’t have to be something we fear. Here, nutritionist Sorcha Dunne has compiled a list of the 6 key nutrients such as plant-based estrogens, calcium, vitamin D, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics that you can incorporate into your diet to help ease menopause and nurture your body.
1. Plant-Based Estrogens
Plant-based estrogens, also known as phytoestrogens, are compounds in foods that mimic estrogen in the body. The drop in estrogen at this time is the primary cause of many symptoms related to perimenopause, including hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Therefore, by including phytoestrogens in our diet, our body can respond as if our own estrogen were present, reducing symptoms of estrogen deficiency. Foods that naturally contain phytoestrogens include soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and berries.
A woman’s bone density begins to decrease naturally in her late thirties. However, this starts to speed up in the years leading up to menopause because of low estrogen. Estrogen plays a fundamental role in bone health in our bodies. When estrogen levels decrease, bones begin to break down faster than new bone tissue can grow. Consuming a diet rich in calcium has been shown to help reduce this risk. Food sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese, etc.), some green leafy vegetables such as curly kale and okra, and calcium-fortified products such as various plant-based milks, fruit juices and cereals.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a fundamental role by helping the body regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Research has shown that increasing vitamin D levels over time could effectively help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood issues associated with perimenopause and post-menopause. While vitamin D is naturally present in a few foods, such as the flesh of fatty fish, beef, liver, cheese and egg yolks these foods alone don’t usually provide enough vitamin D. Getting adequate vitamin D from sunlight can be a challenge so supplementing with vitamin D is the most effective way to make sure you are getting enough.
B-vitamins play an important role in our bodies such as energy production and brain function. In particular, vitamins B-6 and Vitamin B-12 support brain health and cognitive function, which can help relieve a common symptom experienced by many women called brain fog. Brain fog is described as changes in the ability to think clearly, make decisions and function well mentally. Foods rich in B-6 and B-12 include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fish oils are critical to many aspects of health. Like the above nutrients, Omega-3 is also an essential component of serotonin. Research suggests that individuals who supplement with omega-3s daily are less likely to develop a mood disorder. Moreover, individuals with a current mood disorder who start supplementing with omega-3 can potentially see an improvement in their symptoms. In addition, omega-3s have been found to inhibit bone breakdown and increase the amount of calcium absorbed from the diet by bone, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Many women suffer from bloating, cramps, and other IBS-like symptoms during menopause but the good news is probiotics can help with this! Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and yeasts which live inside the human body and are most commonly found in the gut. Consuming foods rich in probiotics can help colonise the gut with ‘good bacteria’, and fight off ‘bad bacteria’. Some rich probiotic foods include yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, sourdough bread and cheese.
Remember, It is important to make your doctor aware of all the symptoms you begin to experience in the years leading up to menopause and post-menopause and always seek health care advice from a qualified practioner.