Menopause comes with plenty of unpleasant symptoms, from hot flashes and brain fog to insomnia and mood swings. But what exactly defines your menopausal years, and what can you do to make the transition as seamless as possible? Typically in your early 50s, menopause occurs when you’ve gone a full year without a period. (The exact time frame varies greatly, with an average range of 45-55). There are so many things you can do to help your body through this change even years in advance. One of the best ways to take charge of your hormonal health is through your diet. Let’s explore the specific hormonal changes that occur during this time and the best foods to eat during your perimenopausal and menopausal years.
Perimenopause vs. Menopause
Few people actually talk about the difference between perimenopause and menopause, often lumping them together under the umbrella term as menopause. But the truth is, you go through two distinct changes during each of these times. Perimenopause—known as the change before the change—is when you’re most likely to start noticing some of the symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, and it can start as early as 10 years prior to menopause. Your body is ending its fertile years, on the way to menopause your estrogen and progesterone can fluctuate and play crazy games on you. Furthermore, once you do hit menopause—the all-time low levels of all hormones can put you at risk for health conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease.
That might sound scary, but “by making some changes to your eating habits you might be able to ease a lot of the discomfort and keep your body healthier as you age,” says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Here are five dietary moves worth making when menopause is on the horizon.
The Best Foods To Eat During Menopause
The following are key nutrients that can help bring your body back into balance during the transition to menopause and specific foods that fall under each category. You’ll notice that all of these foods are generally healthy and many are plant-based. Eating a plant-based diet is the best nutrition advice we can give anyone, no matter their age. Here are the best foods to eat during menopause for a more balanced, healthy life:
Eating a high fiber diet can help you with menopause-related digestion issues such as bloating or irregularity. Getting enough fiber with every meal also helps you feel fuller longer, which can prevent unwanted menopausal weight gain. It’s extremely common for women to gain weight in their menopausal years, but by incorporating more fiber into your diet (combined with cardio and plenty of strength training to keep muscle on your body and your metabolism working!) you can help manage your weight.
Foods high in fiber include:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Steel-cut oats
Related: Are You Getting Enough Fiber?
Omega-3 fats are an essential part of any diet, but particularly during menopause, they can help stabilize mood swings and improve anxiety and depression. One of the best sources of omega-3s are oily fish, so you’ll notice they dominate the list below.
The following are omega-3-rich foods to eat more of:
- Grass-fed beef
- Flax seeds
One thing nearly every doctor can agree on is the importance of calcium as you age. Getting enough calcium during menopause helps you maintain strong bones and avoid osteoporosis. To stay healthy and prevent injury, you need to make sure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet each day.
Below are a list of calcium-rich foods:
- Greek yogurt
- Leafy greens
- Bok Choy
Be sure you’re also getting enough Vitamin D while eating calcium-rich foods, too, because Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium! Getting enough vitamin D helps protect your bones and can also help with mood swings during menopause. Check out the list of foods rich in Vitamin D below or consider taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter or if you live in a cold, non-sunny climate. Most doctors recommend 1,000 to 2,000 units of vitamin D a day if you’re taking it in supplement form.
Foods rich in Vitamin D include:
- Fortified Milk
Knowledge is power, and knowing what foods can help your perimenopausal and menopausal years be better should leave you feeling empowered! Try to incorporate these foods into your diet, get plenty of exercise, 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and manage stress. It may sound like simple advice, but it’s truly the best way to stay healthy, happy, and hormonally balanced as you age.