Sara Negron, RD, is a registered dietitian at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. Read about Inova Fair Oaks Hospital.
Menopause is marked primarily by hormonal changes: decreased estrogen and progesterone production. These hormonal changes can lead to fatigue, hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, appetite changes and decreased metabolism. Women also tend to become less active when entering this phase and begin to lose muscle mass. So, what exactly should the diet look like for menopausal women?
Timing meals and portion size
The most important thing women entering this phase can do is to set a meal schedule and monitor portion sizes. This means, eating around the same times every day; whether that is 3 meals/day, or 2 meals/day with a snack between meals. Portion sizes should be the same with each meal. The MyPlate tool works well in learning how to portion meals: making half our plate fruits and vegetables, and the remaining quarters of our plate consisting of protein (lean meat, fish, or vegetarian source) and carbohydrate (rice, pasta, quinoa, bread, etc.- preferably whole grains). Setting a meal schedule and sticking with the same portions with each meal helps to curb appetite, maintain metabolism, and prevent over-consumption. Sticking to a meal schedule for regular meals and snacks may also help to prevent grazing in the middle of the night for those who have difficulty sleeping.
Keeping an eye on sodium, saturated fat and calcium
Other diet components to be mindful of are sodium, saturated fat, and calcium. Women entering into menopause should limit sodium and choose foods low and/or free of saturated fat in order to lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. A diet rich in calcium is important to prevent osteoporosis in this stage of life. In addition to low fat dairy, calcium can also be found in dark leafy greens, enriched dairy alternative beverages, and tofu.
Lastly, it is important to stay as active as possible. Being active does not mean going to the gym every day. Being active can be as simple as taking the stairs, parking your car farther away, gardening, and taking a walk in the park. Aim for 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity activities (example: brisk walking, swimming) to help burn fat, stimulate metabolism, and preserve muscle mass.
In summary, there is no diet regimen or supplement that helps to reverse menopause. A balanced diet that is low in sodium/saturated fat, and high in fiber and calcium is the recommendation.