Published: 23 May 2022. Written by: Keris Marsden, Peppy’s Director of Nutrition and Weight Management
If you’re suddenly feeling as though your body is changing in ways you don’t recognise or can’t control, you’re not alone. The advice here will help you feel like you again. Here are some ways that can keep you healthy during menopause.
Something many women notice as they approach or go through the menopause is their body shape changing. You might be eating the same diet and exercising just as often but your body is no longer responding in the same way.
It’s also very common. One of the main reasons for this is that the hormonal changes that take place during the menopause mean you’re more prone to losing muscle mass, which in turn has a knock-on effect on how your body burns calories and regulates energy levels. This means your body doesn’t respond to hormones like insulin as well as it used to.
Insulin helps to balance your blood sugar levels and keeps your energy levels stable. A disrupted response to it means you’re more likely to feel tired, crave sweet foods, feel starving all the time and sleep badly.
Add to this the fact that none of these things are likely to make you feel as though you want to exercise and it’s easy to see how you’d move less and struggle to put the same effort into your usual activities.
As if this wasn’t enough, weight distribution also changes with menopause. Any extra pounds have a tendency to settle around the middle and water retention is more common too, both of which can make your clothes feel more snug.
So, what can you do?
A great first step is to take another look at your daily diet. Applying some simple nutrition principles alongside regular exercise can help you get back on track.
The following foods will help you manage your weight while also increasing your muscle mass, improving your bone density and helping you feel mentally clear and strong.
Protein, protein and more protein
Eating more protein is a simple and effective way to combat lots of common symptoms of menopause.
Protein helps to regulate your appetite (helping you stay at your healthy weight), creates stronger bones and strengthens your joints, all of which makes movement and exercise feel easier and more enjoyable.
How much protein should you eat?
Aim to have a palm-sized serving with your main meals. This could be a chicken breast, 2-3 eggs, a fillet of fish or 120g of tofu or tempeh. You can opt for protein-based snacks, too.
Try natural yogurt, boiled eggs, peanut butter on slices of apple or sticks of celery or a protein smoothie (simply add a dollop of your preferred nut butter to your usual ingredients).
Or you could try protein powder – these are a convenient way to help you add a good 20-30g serving of protein to your smoothie or porridge. You can use whey, rice, hemp or pea protein.
Consume the right carbs
You don’t need eliminate carbohydrates from your diet completely to manage your weight through menopause. You need carbs for energy, healthy joints, a strong immune system and efficient digestion. They’re also really important for keeping your mood stable and balanced – avoid at your peril!
What is important is to look at the types of carbs you eat and introduce more wholefood, high-fibre options like brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats, lentils, chickpeas and potatoes.
Try to limit processed and refined carbohydrates like biscuits, cakes, crackers, bread and pasta. You don’t have to cut them out completely but have these more occasionally.
It may also help to adapt your portion sizes and reduce starchy carbohydrates to around a fist size serving at every meal. Fill the extra space on your plate with veggies to really feed your body well. You can cut your carbs to one or two servings daily if this works for you – everyone’s different and only you know how your body functions at its best, when you feel strong, energised and mentally clear. Experiment to find a balance that works for you.
Eat calcium-rich foods
With an increased risk of osteopenia (the stage before osteoporosis) and osteoporosis during menopause it’s important you consume enough calcium for your bone health.
It’s recommended women consume 800-1000mg daily. Milk, yogurt, cheese, tinned sardines or salmon with bones, tofu, nuts and seeds are all good options.
You can find details of the calcium content in food per serving here.
Choose Mediterranean fats – but watch your portion sizes for healthy weight management
Healthy fats are essential for your brain, joint health and to balance inflammation in the body.
Prioritise the Mediterranean fats like olive oil, avocados, eggs, nuts, seeds and full fat dairy as these are also loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Sensible portion sizes are 1 tbsp oil for cooking, a small handful of nuts or half a medium avocado.
S.M.A.S.H a few servings of oily fish every week
Oily fish is rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Your body can’t make these fats, so you need to eat them in your diet to make sure you get the anti-inflammatory effects they have on the body (long term inflammation in the body contributes to conditions such as heart disease and cancer).
Omega 3s have been shown to have positive effects on many symptoms that occur during menopause and may help with weight management by supporting healthy blood sugar regulation. Ideally eat around 2-3 portions a week. These can be fresh, frozen or tinned.
The acronym S.M.A.S.H is an easy way to remember the fish that are rich in omega 3 fats: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herrings.
Eat these energising foods
Certain foods have a particular ability to help your cells respond to insulin, which helps regulate appetite, energy levels, mood and sleep patterns.
Lots of these are really tasty and easy to add to your meals across the day.
- Green tea
- Fenugreek seeds
- Cocoa and dark chocolate (>70% cocoa solids)
- Pickled foods: olives, red cabbage, gherkins, sauerkraut, kimchi
- Balsamic or apple cider vinegar
- Fresh lemon or lime juice.
Have a serving of phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds that behave in a similar way to the hormone oestrogen in the body.
This means they can help to reduce some of the symptoms associated with oestrogen deficiency, which is common during menopause.
Soy foods are particularly high in these compounds and there’s plenty of options to try. Choose from tofu, tempeh, soy milk, miso, edamame beans or soy protein powder.
Flaxseed, garlic, nuts, dried fruit, sesame seeds also contain a significant amount.
Snack on movement more.
An easy win with menopause weight management is to stop snacking. Often you may not even be hungry when you reach for a snack but feel bored or stressed.
Instead, swap in a movement snack. This is where you take five minutes to do something more invigorating like a fast walk around the block, some squats, a stretch routine or dance to your favourite song.
It’s energising, burns a few calories and will lift your mood. And if it helps you avoid that mid-afternoon slump, so much the better.