Managing Menopause Symptoms Through Diet and Exercise

March 23, 2012 6 min read

  • As a woman enters perimenopause she begins to experience a variety of symptoms. She might have hot flashes or night sweats, feel irritable, anxious or have headaches. Other symptoms include low libido, depression and dry skin. Whatever the symptoms are, it usually has to do with fluctuations in a woman’s hormone levels which cause all sorts of problems during the menopausal years. Some women seem to breeze through menopause with a few mild problems, while others are so debilitated with major symptoms, they have difficulty maneuvering through life. For many women, symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes can last well into their sixties.Recently there's been much research done on foods that help to ease menopausal symptoms. Certain foods and lifestyle changes hold promise as natural remedies for combating the problems associated with menopause. By eating the right foods and increasing exercise, science has shown that women can keep their bodies healthy and their minds happy well into their golden years. Let’s examine some of these diet and lifestyle changes to understand what might help.
  • Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Naturally fruits and vegetables offer many health benefits that we are already familiar with… lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, but there also seem to be menopausal reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables. In fact, the phytoestrogens in plants are chemicals that mimic estrogen, and may act as weak estrogen in our bodies. Phytoestrogens can potentially help ease some of the discomforts caused by lower estrogen levels during menopause.The mineral boron is an especially helpful element found in many of fruits and vegetables. Boron seems to increase the body's ability to hold onto estrogen. It also helps keep our bones strong by decreasing the amount of calcium we excrete each day. The following foods contain both Boron and phytoestrogens. Try to include at least two of these foods in each meal. It’s easy to add fruit to your cereal and a glass of juice to your breakfast. Have a big salad at lunch with all kinds of vegetables. Add a serving of baked sweet potato and steamed vegetables to your dinner. With these simple changes you are adding 6 servings per day of phytoestrogens. Below are some of the fruits and vegetables high in Boron and Phytoestrogens.FRUITS: Plums , strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, red grapes, grapefruit, peach, bananas, dates, prunes, raisins, avocado and oranges. VEGETABLES: Beets, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, soybeans, sweet potatoes, white potatoes Turnips, asparagus, tomatoes, garbanzo beans NUTS AND GRAINS: brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, hazel nuts, wheat and wheat bran
  • Consume More Cooked Dry Beans: There are many varieties of beans… lentils, kidney, navy, pinto, black to name a few. Beans are a nutritionally efficient food because they offer so many health benefits. They slow the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, thus curbing your appetite for a longer period of time. They're full of fiber and contain phytoestrogens. Beans are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, folic acid and vitamin B-6 and are a low-fat source of protein. To increase your bean consumption, add them to burritos, wraps, soups, chili, salads and dips.
  • Eat More Soy and Soy products: There are many benefits to consuming soy and soy protects. Some research indicates that it might help with hot flashes and night sweats, as well as protect our heart and arteries by lowering bad cholesterol. Try eating two servings a day to start. Consume soy by adding tofu to stir fried vegetables, smoothies with soy protein, soy milk, edaname beans, soy protein bars, soy butter.
  • Eat More of the Right Fats: It is important to avoid eating a diet that is high in fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in meats and high fat dairy products. Trans fats are found in many types of junk foods. Due to all the negative publicity surrounding trans fats, many fast food companies are beginning to make changes in the type of oil they use in food preparation. High-fat foods are usually high in calories and low in nutrients, exactly the opposite of what a menopausal women needs. It's even more important to get the right fats in your diet -- fats that may protect against heart disease and cancer. The healthy fats are the fats high in omega 3 fatty acids like fish oil, olive oil and canola oil. Increase your healthy fat consumption by using olive and canola oil in cooking and salad dressings, eating more fish, eating less meat, reading labels and avoiding packaged products with trans fats or hydrogenated fats. If you consume margarine, use only those that list liquid canola or olive oil as the first ingredient.
  • Eat More Whole Grains: The complex carbohydrates found in whole grains provide the body with the energy it needs to operate at peak levels. Whole grains fill you up with the fiber they contain. The Complex carbs found in whole grains help to boost serotonin levels which are the key components to a healthy mental state. Eat low sugar whole grain cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and whole grain breads. Avoid white bread, regular pasta and white rice and pastries.
  • Eat More Calcium-Rich Foods: Calcium is essential to every woman’s health. Women require at least 1200 mg of calcium each day to keep their bones and joints healthy. Increase your calcium consumption by having cereal with skim milk for breakfast, calcium fortified orange juice, switch to lattes rather than regular coffee, eat lots of leafy greens which contain calcium, eat yogurt, cottage cheese or low fat hard cheeses. Try to include at least 3-4 servings of calcium rich foods each day.
  • Eat fruit and nuts instead of high fat/high sugar desserts:Weight gain is common during menopause, so it is important to watch the amount of desserts and sweets that you consume. Too much sugar in your diet can cause blood sugar to spike, which stimulates the pancreas to release more insulin. Excess insulin speeds the conversion of calories into fats in the blood. . And it stimulates the uptake of fat from the bloodstream into fat in the body's cells.It is hard to give up the sweets completely, so if you can’t resist stick to a small square of really good dark antioxidant filled chocolate when you have the craving. Otherwise, try to replace your sweet cravings with dried fruit, a handful of nuts, or a piece of fresh fruit which all have nutritional value to give the body the energy that it needs to function.
  • Drink Water: Don’t waste your precious calories on soda or other sweet drinks. There is no nutritional benefit gained by drinking either regular or diet sodas. Try to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day. Water helps to keep our kidneys flushed and healthy, thus allowing your body to work at a peak level.
  • Eat at Least 3-6 times a day:Your body needs energy throughout the day, so feed the body to avoid low energy slumps. Try to avoid consuming your biggest meal at the end of the day. Remember what grandma used to say, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper”. If you are eating 6 times a day by adding snacks between meals, make sure that you eat healthy, low fat snacks which include the foods described above. Low fat yogurt, fresh fruit, sliced raw vegetables and whole grain toast or crackers are all excellent snack choices.
  • Add Omega 3 fish oils or flax seed to Your Diet: Some research indicates that omega 3 fish oils or flax seed( rich in omega 3) can help ease depression as well as a host of other menopausal symptoms. By adding these supplements to your diet, you’ll also realize the wonderful benefits of the antioxidants. Antioxidants help to keep your immune system strong if they are taken on a daily basis. Fish oils are available in tablet form at any health food store. You can add ground flax seed to your daily cereal, but remember to keep it in the refrigerator and grind just before you use to prevent spoilage.
Exercise Every Day: Exercise should be an important part of each and every day. Not only does exercise keep your body healthy, but it does wonders for your mental state. By exercising every day for at least 1 hour you will decrease blood cholesterol levels, decrease bone loss, improve your ability to deal with stress, improves circulation , can help improve memory , improve heart function and improve your body's ability to use oxygen and nutrients and most importantly help to manage weight that is so easy to gain during menopause. Try walking/hiking, running, biking, rowing, yoga or Pilates . Remember there are no right or wrong types of exercise. If it is something you enjoy and it gets your body moving, it’s a good thing.