How A Nutritious Diet Can Support You in Perimenopause
With so many fad diets populating the Internet, sometimes it can feel confusing to know which foods are healthy and are not. Should your lifestyle incorporate a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet, a DASH diet, a Mediterranean diet (lots of olive oil, herbs, and lentils), a vegetarian diet, or a ketogenic diet (all lean protein and no carbohydrates)? Is spicy food good for you or bad? Should you prioritize weight loss or just eating nutrient-dense foods — and what's a healthy weight, anyway? How does caffeine actually impact the hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, and irritability many women experience during menopause? What are the side effects of estrogen hormone therapy if a diet and lifestyle changes don't help with perimenopause symptoms?
These are all excellent questions. But we can't begin to answer them until we get into the basics of how proper nutrition can help support our bodies through perimenopause and beyond. One of the things that occurs during the menopausal transition is that the body develops a stronger dependency on nutrients to regulate itself. Changes to the sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, impact other areas of the body in multiple ways, and we need proper nutritional support more than ever.
Our nutrition needs change throughout life
The body has different nutrition needs at different stages of life. For example, during childhood and puberty, our bodies need a larger amount of calories in order to maintain a healthy body fat percentage, healthy muscle mass, and maintain a steady metabolism. As we age into adulthood, we need fewer calories, though we need the same amount of nutrients, so it makes sense to seek more nutrient-dense foods.
For perimenopausal and menopausal women, hormone changes cause the body to change its nutritional needs, as well. Women need more vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium as they get older to support things like bone health, immune health, and neurological health.
By adjusting dietary guidelines to better reflect your body’s nutritional needs before and during menopause, you can help preserve the health of your body’s vital systems, lowering the risk of developing health problems like osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and more. And in some cases, adjusting your nutrition can help with symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, nausea, and insomnia.
Vitamins make sure our bodily systems run correctly
Though we all know that eating vitamin-rich foods is considered key for maintaining health, we may not know the ins and outs of exactly how vitamins maintain our bodily systems. But our bodies are dependent on a wide number of vitamins to properly maintain bodily processes.
Converting stored dietary fats into energy requires nutrients, as does building muscle mass, for example. And maintaining heart health is dependent on very specific nutrients.
Women of menopausal age have, on average, a higher risk factor for heart disease, like high blood pressure, than men of similar ages. One of the biggest dangers to women is coronary artery calcification (CAC). Coronary artery calcification is a cardiovascular disease in which calcium builds up along the arterial wall and restricts blood flow to and from the heart, resulting in heart strain and potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Vitamin K2 is a type of nutrient that helps reduce calcium deposits that get stuck to the arterial walls. It helps decrease calcium deposits that build up in blood vessels, and directs them to the bones to be used in creating new bone tissues. You can get vitamin K2 from a variety of green leafy vegetables, like kale and spinach, making them a cornerstone of a healthy diet that combats cardiovascular disease. In the absence of K2, there is no mechanism to remove calcium from blood vessels.
A healthy diet may aid fertility
For pre-menopausal and perimenopausal women who are considering pregnancy, diet can have some impact on fertility. Diets that are high in healthy fats, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fish (or Omega-3 fatty acids) have been associated with improved fertility rates in women and men. On the other hand, some foods like caffeine, alcohol, and saturated fats or oils have been associated with lower fertility rates.
It’s important to note that these are medical associations, not conclusive results, and the largest determining factor of fertility is found in an individual’s genetics. However, there are other health concerns that can affect fertility and pregnancy. Women with iron deficiencies, like certain types of anemia, have a higher risk factor for infertility, as well as adverse events during pregnancy. One way to help reduce this is by eating iron-rich foods like red meat, liver, seafood, and certain leafy greens, such as kale and spinach.
Always speak to a healthcare provider or a dietitian about implementing a new diet or if you have concerns about obesity or menopause weight gain. Also consult a healthcare provider before adding dietary supplements and herbal products to your diet.
Maintaining a healthy diet before pregnancy is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy. If you want to help improve your chances of becoming pregnant, make sure to take care of your body first with a baseline balanced diet that draws on multiple food groups.
Eating healthy foods can alleviate menstrual symptoms
There are many symptoms that can occur before, during, and after a menstrual period, including cramps, fatigue, bloating, headaches, nausea, and mood swings. However, women may be able to help reduce the severity of the symptoms by implementing a diet plan.
One of the key things to incorporate into your diet during your period is enough water. Dehydration can worsen menstrual pain, including period headaches. Drinking water can help lower the intensity of headaches and reduce bloating caused by water retention.
A healthy diet can help support menopause symptom relief
Diet can also help support menopause symptom relief.
The imbalances caused by the changes to sex hormones make it more difficult for the body to gain its nutritional needs. Healthy eating means adjusting your diet to better reflect its shifting needs, and it's the first step in preserving and protecting women's health during the menopausal transition. Increasing the amount of B-vitamins you get through your diet is the best way to help protect neurological health, support brain fog relief, and help improve your body’s ability to stabilize your mood swings. Higher calcium intake will lessen bone loss, which may limit fractures in postmenopausal women.
Eating foods high in lean protein can also help support muscle health and lower the risk of serious muscle mass loss. Poultry, seafood, and high-quality red meats can help support your body’s lean protein needs and help you improve building muscle mass through regular physical activity. If you maintain a vegetarian diet, make sure to eat plenty of eggs, fish, leafy greens (spinach and kale again), legumes, and whole grains to make up for the iron you would be getting from meats. Bear in mind that some foods that are common in a vegetarian diet, like soy or tofu, include a certain amount of estrogen which may impact hormone levels. Consuming foods rich in calcium and vitamin D can also help lower the risk of significant bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis, especially for postmenopausal women.
Implementing a "menopause diet" and changing lifestyle factors by incorporating physical activity into your daily life during the menopausal transition can help support symptom relief and maintain overall health for menopausal women and postmenopausal women alike. If you're concerned about this, it's not a bad idea to speak with a dietitian who can plan a "menopause diet" for you and keep an eye on how the nutritional content impacts hot flashes, nausea, and other menopause symptoms.