Managing Menopause Symptoms Through Diet
It's a simple matter of knowing which foods to add to your meals, and which to avoid.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD
Every woman experiences different menopause symptoms. Most women have some hot flashes, some feel irritable, a smaller number of women battle headaches, nausea or night sweats.
Whatever your menopause symptoms, the following food strategies just might help make your years around menopause a little more comfortable. I've adapted them from my book Tell Me What to Eat As I Approach Menopause. They'll help you manage your menopause symptoms, while also protecting your heart and your bones.
Remember, what works for one woman may not work for another, and what works for you now may not work as well a year from now. Also, most of the following suggestions have not had the benefit of well-designed clinical trials, so it is difficult to predict how well they will work for you.
Still, the truth is that many of the diet suggestions are things we should be doing anyway -- many years before menopause. If menopause is what finally motivates someone to make important changes in her diet and lifestyle, terrific!
Food Step 1: Eat More Tofu and Soy
Soy may give relief from hot flashes, although that benefit is still being debated by researchers. However, we do know that soy may help protect our heart and arteries by lowering bad cholesterol. Many studies have suggested that this occurs because we substitute soy for meats and animal fat in our diet. So give it a try!
Eat or drink two servings of soy a day. Soy foods will take 4 to 6 weeks to show an effect. Here are some easy ways to add soy to your diet:
Choose tofu dishes instead of meat at your local Chinese restaurant. Make instant miso soup for a quick pick-me-up snack. Make fruit smoothies with soy protein powder. Drink chocolate or plain soy milk. Buy baked tofu in the supermarket and experiment at home. Add it to salads or stir-fry dishes, even try it on crackers. Buy canned soy beans and add them to soups, chili and casseroles. Next: Foods with boron and phytoestrogens to ease menopause symptoms.
Food Step 2: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables offer many health benefits -- fiber, vitamins, minerals and naturally low -fat. But there are also many menopausal reasons to eat these foods. Plants have chemicals that help protect our bodies' health and well-being. Phytoestrogens are particular plant chemicals that are very similar in structure to estrogen, and may act as weak estrogen in our bodies. Simply put, phytoestrogens may trick your body into thinking it has more estrogen than it really does -- potentially diminishing some of the discomforts caused by lower estrogen levels during menopause.
(One caveat: Researchers still don't know whether higher amounts of plant estrogens in the body increase the growth or risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers. Until more is known, if you have or recently have had estrogen-dependent cancer, it's probably best that you not consume phytoestrogen-rich food on a daily basis.)
The mineral boron is another beneficial element of fruits and vegetables. Boron seems to increase the body's ability to hold onto estrogen. It also helps keep our bones strong by decreasing the amount of calcium we excrete each day.
Here are top sources of boron that also contain phytoestrogens:
Food Step 3: Eat Beans More Often
Beans are a nutritionally efficient food because they offer so many health benefits in one little package. They may slow the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, thus curbing your appetite longer. They're full of fiber. They contain phytoestrogens. They're good sources of many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, folic acid and vitamin B-6. And they are a low-fat source of protein.
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