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10 foods for a healthy menopause and beyond

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As a menopause nutritionist, here is what I recommend as the top 10 foods for a healthy menopause.

Menopause is a time of transition where hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone decrease and the reproductive years come to an end. Just like any other significant biological change (eg puberty), nutritional needs are altered in order to support the changing body.

During perimenopause and menopause there are a few changes that require different nutritional management. These include a decrease in muscle mass and bone density and an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

A focus on nutrition during the midlife years can support you to feel your best and have the energy to live the life you want. It is also an opportunity to prevent or delay diseases that may arise as you move into old age.

This post highlights 10 foods you may consider including in your diet to improve your health now and into the future.

1. Oily fish

Oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are a good source of omega-3 fats which have been shown to reduce inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

The Australian Heart Foundation recommends 2-3 serves of fish per week. This can be in the form of fresh fish but canned fish is also a good option and is often more budget friendly.

Tips to eat more oily fish:

  • Have fish as your protein source for your main meal 1-2 times a week
  • Add canned salmon or tuna to pasta, salads or sandwiches
  • Sardines on toast as a quick lunch
  • Make tuna or salmon patties and freeze for a quick meal

2. Nuts

Nuts are high in monounsaturated fats that help keep cholesterol down. Some nuts, like walnuts, also contain omega-3 fats. Research has shown that eating a small handful of nuts each day reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Nuts also contain protein and fiber which makes them a well-rounded food to include daily. Vitamins and minerals found in nuts include zinc, magnesium, folate, vitamin E and selenium.

Tips to eat more nuts:

  • Add nuts to cereal at breakfast
  • Use nut butters as spreads, in smoothies or in cooking
  • Sprinkle nuts on yogurt
  • Pack a handful of nuts in a small container or zip-lock bag for a nutritious snack on the go

3. Dairy

Dairy foods include milk, cheese and yogurt and are high in calcium and protein. Calcium is an important nutrient for menopausal women as decreased estrogen levels lead to lower bone density. Adequate calcium in the diet is important for replenishing calcium lost from the bones.

Calcium requirements increase at menopause and can be achieved by including 3-4 serves of dairy each day. A serving of dairy is 250ml milk, 30-40g cheese, 200g yogurt.

Tips to eat more dairy:

  • Add cheese to sandwiches, wraps and salads
  • Drink a glass of milk as a snack
  • Add yogurt to cereal, oats and fruit
  • Snack on cheese, yogurt or a smoothie

4. Legumes

Legumes are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are high in protein and a good source of iron making them an excellent food for vegetarian and vegan diets. 

Legumes are high in fiber, particularly soluble fiber which can help reduce cholesterol and improve blood glucose levels. The fiber in legumes contributes to good gut health which has many benefits for the body. See my blog post for more information about gut health and menopause.

Tips to eat more legumes:

  • Have baked beans on toast for a hearty breakfast or quick lunch/dinner. Check out my smoky baked beans recipe for a homemade version.
  • Reduce the amount of meat in casserole and mince dishes and replace with kidney beans, lentils or cannellini beans
  • Add canned beans/lentils to salads, wraps and soup.

5. Soy

Soy can be eaten as tofu, soy milk, tempeh or edamame beans (baby soy beans). It is high in phytoestrogens (particularly isoflavones) which are plant hormones that are similar in structure to human estrogen however they have a weaker effect in the body.

Studies have shown that eating phytoestrogens may help reduce some of the symptoms of menopause like hot flushes. In addition, phytoestrogens in menopausal women improve bone mineral density and markers of cardiovascular risk.

Tips for eating more soy:

  • Use soy milk in smoothies, on cereal or in cooking
  • Try some recipes that include tofu like my midlife nourish bowl.
  • Add edamame beans to salads and stir fry

6. Wholegrains

Eating grains that have been minimally processed and include the outer husk of the grain contain more nutrients and fiber. Eating a variety of different wholegrains can improve gut health as different microbes in our gut prefer different types of fiber.

Wholegrains include brown rice, wholemeal and wholegrain breads and cereals, oats, wholemeal pasta, quinoa and popcorn.

People who eat wholegrains have a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Click here for more information about wholegrains.

Tips for eating more wholegrains

  • Choose wholemeal and wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Snack on popcorn
  • Choose wholemeal, grainy crackers
  • Add oats to homemade burgers, meatballs and meatloaf
  • Swap white rice for brown rice or have half of each

7. Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which have benefits for health like decreasing cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat and have been shown to have numerous cardiovascular benefits such as reducing blood pressure, triglycerides and the risk of clotting.

Foods high in unsaturated fats include avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil, other vegetable oils and oily fish.

Tips to eat more unsaturated fats

  • Use olive oil or vegetables oils in cooking and salads
  • Add avocado to sandwiches, toast, salads and smoothies
  • Eat oily fish regularly
  • Add nuts to snacks and cereal

8. Vegetables

Most people in Western countries don’t eat enough vegetables. The recommendation is to aim for 5 serves a day with a serve equal to:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup leafy salad vegetables
  • 1 medium potato
  • ½ cup cooked legumes

People who eat more vegetables have a lower incidence of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Eating a wide variety of vegetables will ensure you are gaining the benefits of the different vitamins and minerals that they contain.

Tips for eating more vegetables

  • Add grated to meals such as pasta, mince dishes, and casseroles
  • Cook extra roast vegetables to add to meals in the coming days
  • Have a salad with meals that have less vegetables like pasta and pizza
  • Add vegetables to breakfast and lunch. For example, tomato and mushrooms on toast, salad in a wrap, leftover vegetable soup.

9. Fruit

Like vegetables, fruit has many health benefits and nutrients to keep our body healthy. Some people may shy away from fruit because they have been told by diet culture that it is “too high in sugar”. Although fruit has some sugar, it is paired with fiber (which makes it more slowly digested) and a significant range of vitamins and minerals.

The recommended amount of fruit per day is 2 serves. This includes a medium piece of fruit or 2 small pieces (apricots or plums) or 1 cup diced or canned fruit.

Tips to eat more fruit

  • Have fruit as a snack – add something high in protein like yogurt or nuts to make it more filling
  • Add fruit to cereal
  • Have fruit salad or a plate of fruit after your main meal
  • Add fruit to smoothies

10. Lean meat/poultry and eggs

Meat, poultry and eggs are an important source of protein. Protein requirements increase slightly at menopause as muscle mass tends to decrease at this age. Keeping muscles strong during the midlife years will set you up for a better quality of life as you age as it will decrease your risk of falls and allow you to keep your independence and live the life you want in old age.

Red meat is high in iron which is essential for many functions in the body including the formation of hemoglobin which transports oxygen around the body. Poultry and eggs also contain iron but in smaller amounts.

From menopause onwards, the risk of iron deficiency decreases as there is no longer a loss of iron in menstrual bleeding. During perimenopause though, the risk can be higher if menstrual bleeding increases. Read my blog post on anemia and perimenopause for more information. Women following a vegan or vegetarian diet are at risk of iron deficiency at any stage.

Tips to eat more meat/poultry and eggs

  • Cook extra meat/chicken to add to your lunch or buy a rotisserie chicken to shred and keep handy in the fridge
  • Boil up eggs and keep them refrigerated to make it easy to add to meals and snacks

Summary

Focusing on nutrition at perimenopause and menopause can not only benefit you here and now but also set you up for a healthier older age. Nutritious foods can reduce the risk of chronic diseases as you get older and can be an important way to have a better quality of life in old age. Take the time now to work on nourishing your body so that aging is not something to fear but to embrace.

 

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