Menopause symptoms can negatively impact a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, especially when unmanaged. One lesser-known way to help is by making dietary changes. In addition to potentially improving symptoms like hot flashes, nutrition can also help reduce some of the other health risks associated with menopause. People going through menopause often have an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, bone loss, and other health issues. Research shows that diets that include whole foods, plant-based meals, and calcium and soy-rich foods can reduce those risks.
As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve worked with many people experiencing perimenopause and menopause. Here are a few facts to keep in mind if you’re also on that journey and are thinking about how nutrition plays a role in your symptom management.
1. Soy may reduce menopause symptoms
At Carrot, we take an evidence-based approach to nutrition, and research has shown that isoflavones can impact menopause symptoms, specifically hot flashes. Isoflavones are compounds known as phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen in the body. Research has shown that ingestion of an average of 54mg isoflavones daily decreased hot flashes by 20% compared to a placebo. As soybeans offer the most robust source of phytoestrogens — namely, the isoflavones we have been discussing — including soybeans in the diet can be a powerful agent in reducing hot flash symptoms.
Here are some good ways to incorporate more phytoestrogens into your diet:
*It is important to note that isoflavone content varies among different brands of foods, so this is a guide with estimated values.
2. Vitamins support bone health
Vitamin D is essential to an individual's overall health. It’s critical to calcium absorption, which helps you maintain strong bones. Osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones, is the most prevalent disease in menopausal people since it is closely related to estrogen deficiency. Vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods, but your body does make vitamin D by converting sunlight. However, 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. If you work in an office, wear long sleeves, or live in a colder environment, you aren’t getting the unfiltered sunlight your body needs to convert it into vitamin D. Doctors recommend 1,000 – 1,200 mg of calcium and 1,000 – 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
3. Sleep plays a role in nutrition, too
Sleep significantly impacts your diet because when you’re sleep deprived, it can change your hunger cues. Research shows that there is an increased risk of obesity among “short sleepers” compared with those who are well rested. Essentially, sleep deprivation can lead to increased feelings of hunger and diminished feelings of fullness. According to Carrot’s Menopause in the Workplace survey of 1,000 U.S. women currently going through perimenopause or menopause or who completed menopause within the last five years, 77% of had trouble sleeping. Improving your sleep hygiene can help: create a routine by going to sleep and waking up at the same time and limiting exposure to stimuli before bed.
4. Your body may change
Many experience changes in weight and body composition during menopause. During perimenopause, you may see fat accumulating in the stomach more than thighs because as estrogen decreases, fat shifts in your body just as it did during puberty when estrogen increased. Changes in your body can also be attributed to aging in general or genetics. Either way, your body looking different in your 50s than it did in your 20s is a natural part of life. Adding lean protein, beans, tofu, fish, olive oil, fruits, and veggies to your diet and limiting saturated fats and processed foods can help with weight management, improve overall health, and reduce your risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Regular exercise also helps improve overall health and may impact menopause symptoms, as well. One study found that women who were sedentary –— meaning they exercised fewer than three times a week — were 28% more likely to report having severe menopause symptoms than those who exercised more.
There’s no one food, supplement, or exercise that will solve all menopause symptoms. But increasing plant-based foods, decreasing processed foods, and moving your body daily all contribute to your overall health and can make your experience with menopause more manageable.
Resources for Carrot members
Carrot supports members experiencing menopause symptoms through expert chats with registered dietitians. Members can get suggestions for their diets, recommendations for supplements, and have their questions about how nutrition can affect their menopause journey answered.
If you’re a Carrot member, sign in to your account to learn more about your options.