I hadn’t given much thought to my diet when I first started menopause. I had been following a whole food, plant-based nutrition plan since I was 41 years old, in 2012. For me, menopause started five years later. That’s younger than most of my friends, but my mom also started menopause around age 46—so I wasn’t too surprised.
Menopause is defined as a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period. For most women, it starts between age 45 and 55. For me, menopause was confirmed by a simple blood test: my doctor measured my follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol (E2) levels.
When I started menopause, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My mom had mentioned menopause to me, but she didn’t share her symptoms or what I might experience. Now that I’m 50 years old and well into my menopausal years, I’m happy to report that it does not mean life is over.
Many women experience unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause. This, I believe, has caused a lot of us to think menopause is a disease condition. But it is not. Menopause is a natural stage in life.
Typical symptoms include:
- Hot flashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Pain during sex
- Weight gain
But the good news is that your diet—a whole food, plant-based diet—can alleviate many of these symptoms. While my personal experience can attest to this, most importantly the science supports it.
A recently published study shows that those consuming a low-fat whole food, plant-based diet with ½ cup of soybeans daily reduced moderate to severe hot flashes by 84% over a 12-week period.
Hormonal shifts (changes in mood regulating neurotransmitters in the brain) of menopause can lead to depression. One study used the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS), and Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaires among 138 healthy vegetarians and omnivores. They found that those following a vegetarian diet reported “significantly less negative emotion than omnivores.”
Menopause, Diet, and Weight
Eating a whole food, plant-based diet can also help keep weight gain at bay—especially when plant fats are low. People following a whole food, plant-based diet are less likely to have obesity and the chronic conditions associated with carrying excessive body fat.
Excessive body fat produces estrogens, which increase the risk of breast cancer. It can also impair insulin function, which could lead to type 2 diabetes. For many women, weight gain can lead to a depressed mood. Finally, carrying excessive body fat can lead to cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure and cholesterol.
The solution to combating the weight gain associated with menopause is to adopt a low-fat, whole food, plant-based nutrition plan. To learn more, check out How Can I Reduce My Weight Naturally, How Much Weight Can You Lose on the Daniel Fast, and What’s the Fastest Way to Lose Stomach Fat.
My Menu for Menopause
As a nutritionist and athlete, I focus on eating a variety of whole plant foods to meet my energy needs. Because I’m predisposed to weight gain, I eat an abundance of low-calorie dense foods and minimize (or portion-control) plant fats like nuts, seeds and avocado. Low calorie dense foods include vegetables (both non-starchy and starchy), fruits, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), herbs and spices. Below is a sample menu of what I’d eat on any given day:
- 1 cup of cooked oatmeal (or oat groats), quinoa or millet with 1 to 1½ cups of in season fruit and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seeds.
- ½ cup unsweetened plain soymilk
- Large Rainbow Salad topped with 1 cup of legumes (e.g., chickpeas, edamame, lentils or black beans)
- Fresh in-season fruit
- Baked sweet potato with cinnamon
To learn more about the role of diet in menopause, I recommend Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, Your Body in Balance.*
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