Diet and menopause: what dietitians need to know
Menopause is something that all women experience, but did you know that diet and menopause are closely correlated? Here’s how dietitians can help women reduce symptoms and feel their best during this transition phase.
While menopause is a natural process, it can wreak havoc on a woman’s body, as many people suffer from symptoms such as hot flashes, hormone imbalances, weight gain, insomnia, and hair loss. While hormone therapy can be helpful for some, nutrition also plays an important role when it comes to reducing the severity of symptoms.
Before discussing how diet and menopause are related and how dietitians can help, let’s first understand what menopause is and some symptoms associated with it.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural process that happens when menstrual cycles haven’t occurred in 12 consecutive months.
This usually happens between 45 and 55 years of age, but some women may experience it before or after this age range. In fact, the average age for menopause in the United States is approximately 52 years.
Symptoms of menopause
As women’s ovaries age, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone hormone levels start to decrease, which can lead to a variety of symptoms. Some of these include:
- Hot flashes (this can affect up to 75 percent of women)
- Night sweats and/or cold flashes
- Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
- Urinary urgency
- Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression)
- Dry skin, dry eyes, or dry mouth
The symptoms of menopause will vary for each woman, but some of these symptoms can last for years after menopause. As a dietitian, it’s important to monitor your clients carefully to ensure the best nutrition care.
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Understanding diet and menopause
While hormone therapy can be helpful, nutrition is another important factor for managing symptoms of menopause. Certain foods can exacerbate symptoms, whereas others can mitigate them, so here’s what you need to know about diet and menopause.
Focus on calcium and vitamin D
Research shows that bone strength reduces as estrogen levels decline. This can lead to an increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.
To keep your client’s bones strong, you can incorporate more calcium and vitamin D-rich foods into their meal plan. However, depending on each client’s needs, supplementation may also be necessary.
Learn more about helping your osteoporosis nutrition clients in this article.
Load up on omega-3 fatty acids
Studies suggest that adequate omega-3 consumption may reduce the occurrence of hot flashes. These fatty acids are also anti-inflammatory, which can help with overall health.
The adequate intake for ALA is 1.1 g/day for females and 1.9 g/day for males.
Since omega-3s are found mainly in fatty fish, people on a plant-based diet may find it difficult to get enough in their diet. If this is the case, you can help your vegan clients meet their omega-3 needs through supplementation or with dietary sources such as soybeans, flax seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds.
Consume more fruits and veggies
It is no secret that eating enough fruits and veggies will greatly benefit health. Research continues to show that adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is correlated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. It may also improve symptoms of menopause and help with weight loss.
Despite the benefits, it’s found that only 10% of Americans consume the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Some ways you can help your clients eat more produce might include:
- Adding spinach into a morning smoothie
- Topping yogurt with fresh or frozen berries
- Incorporating extra vegetables into sauces, eggs, casseroles, and tacos
- Prepping produce ahead of time
- Eating frozen, canned, and fresh produce items
Discover some tips on how to encourage your clients to eat more plants.
Limit processed foods and added sugars
Foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, processed packaged items, and white bread often contain high amounts of added sugar. In turn, this will increase glucose levels, which may result in a higher incidence of hot flashes.
To keep blood sugar levels in check, you can encourage your clients to reduce their overall intake of processed foods and focus on eating more whole foods.
As a nutrition professional, you can help educate your clients on the harmful effects of excess sugar consumption, while also explaining ways to identify hidden sugar in foods.
Cut back on alcohol
Studies indicate that alcohol can increase the risk of hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal women. However, these symptoms can vary from person to person, so you should work with each client individually to find what works best for her.
Diet and menopause are closely linked. As a dietitian, you can help your clients feel their best by limiting processed foods, increasing their calcium intake, and focusing on eating enough produce.
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