Dietitian Emma Caldwell
As a dietitian, I often get asked about what to eat during menopause and postmenopause. It is a time in a woman’s life where nutrition plays such an important role. In fact, menopause is associated with increased prevalence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. During the menopausal transition, lowering estrogen levels have been associated with loss of lean body mass and increase in fat mass1. For these reasons, it is important that healthy dietary strategies and exercise are incorporated into day to day life to ensure primary prevention of bone, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases during the postmenopausal period1.
The Mediterranean diet pattern, as well as other healthy habits, has been shown to help in preventing metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. The Mediterranean diet consists of healthy foods that have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In fact, the Mediterranean style of eating has proven to decrease blood pressure, fat mass and improvement in cholesterol levels1.
So what does Mediterranean-style eating include?
The focus is on dietary antioxidants – namely Beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, Selenium and Polyphenols. This includes consumption of whole grain breads and cereals, nuts, fruits, pulses, a moderate consumption of fish, olive oil and a lower consumption of red meat and sweetened drinks. Specifically, dietary antioxidants have been found to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, beta-carotene has been shown to increase bone formation and magnesium has been found to improve muscle performance and energy metabolism. The overall benefit of the mediterranean diet is it has the ability to combine weight loss, reduction in cardiovascular disease risk and positive changes in insulin resistance2.
Specifically, my Top Tips for post-menopausal women:
- Include 3 serves of fish a week to increase consumption of omega 3’s
- Swap to wholegrain breads and cereals to incorporate low glycemic index foods
- Choose a good quality extra virgin oil for cooking & consumption
- Meet the 2 fruit + 5 veg recommendation as these foods are packed with fibre and antioxidants
- Incorporate more plant based proteins – beans, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds – over animal based sources
- Focus on movement – resistance exercise is beneficial to help maintain muscle mass for strength, posture & balance.
What about calcium needs?
The last two nutrients we don’t want to forget about during the postmenopausal period is Calcium & Vitamin D. Women need an extra serve of dairy after menopause due to the increased rate of bone breakdown. At this time, it is important to include 4 serves of dairy and/or calcium rich foods every day. To put this recommendation into practice, it is important to understand what a serve is.
1 serve = 200g yoghurt
1 serve = 40g hard cheese (cheddar, tasty)
1 serve = 250ml milk
1 serve = ½ cup of ricotta cheese
1 cup soy/rice/alternative milk with at least *100mg of added calcium per 100ml* (fortified)
Dark leafy green vegetables (broccoli, kale), tinned fish with edible bones and calcium fortified drinks are other good sources of calcium.
So, how can you improve your nutrition and lifestyle factors during the postmenopausal period? What change will you make this week to have a positive impact on your health?