Healthy Eating During Menopause

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
Eating Right During Menopause

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Menopause can be a reality check that your body is changing. This is a time to take care of yourself by making healthy lifestyle choices. Eating well and being physically active can make this midlife transition easier.

About Menopause

This "change of life" happens a year after an individual reaches their last menstrual period. On average, people in the United States reach menopause at age 52, but it can happen earlier or later. Menopausal symptoms vary with every person. Common symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, especially around the middle section, sleep disturbances and mood changes. However, some people go through menopause with no real symptoms.

What causes menopause? Hormones. As the female body ages, the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone, two of the main hormones for reproduction. As estrogen levels go down, one of the first signs of "menopausal transition" is irregular periods in which bleeding is unusually heavy or light; the time between periods also may become longer.

Weight Gain with Menopause

Due to changes in hormone levels and the natural aging process, many people find it harder to keep extra pounds off in their 40s and 50s. This can result in losing muscle and gaining fat mass, often in the belly area. Lifestyle factors come into play, too — less activity is common during this life stage and individuals may eat more calories than they need.

After menopause, weight gain may also increase the risk of certain health issues, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance (a condition in which your body cannot use insulin correctly, which can lead to diabetes), as well as reduced self-esteem. 

Avoiding a "Midlife Metabolic Crisis"

Plan for your body's natural metabolic slowdown. As with any time in life, there are no quick fixes when it comes to weight loss. There are, however, ways to avoid a midlife crisis when it comes to a slowing metabolism.

  • Be physically active. Adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. Being active doesn't have to mean a trip to the gym. You can be active doing daily activities. Take the stairs; park further away from your destination and walk; garden; or dance. Aim for strength-building activities at least twice per week. Not only will strength training help build back your lost muscle mass, but it also helps to slow mineral loss in your bones which may lead to osteoporosis. Most importantly, being active should be fun. Pick activities you enjoy and get moving with friends and family.
  • Eat well. Foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need and should make up the majority of your meals and snacks. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink a day on the days that alcohol is consumed. If you suffer from hot flashes, try cutting back on caffeine and spicy foods, which could trigger hot flashes in some people. Watch your sodium intake and aim to cook most of your meals at home rather than eating out.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water keeps you hydrated and may help manage hot flashes. It also helps move dietary fiber through the body, which is especially important if you’re working on increasing your fruit and vegetable intake.

When menopause has you down, remember it's a temporary state. Healthy eating and physical activity habits you put in place during menopause can help keep you feeling great after the hot flashes, mood swings and sleepless nights pass.

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