Supercharge Your Lifestyle with Menopause-Fighting Food And Habits
Did you know that following a Mediterranean Diet and staying committed to regular exercise can help lessen or deter menopausal symptoms? We talk to health and nutrition experts for more tips!
Menopause has always felt like that scariest and most unpleasant moment in every woman’s life, but in reality, this transition period is just another part of our constantly changing lives—just like puberty or pregnancy.
In fact, nowadays, so much research and studies have been done regarding menopause that people and doctors are generally more equipped to prepare for and respond to negative menopausal experiences. So instead of just waiting for symptoms to show up, we, women, can now intentionally prepare our minds and bodies for the natural changes that are bound to happen with the loss of estrogen.
Metro.style talks to two food and nutrition specialists to understand better what our bodies need during the menopausal stage, and what are the best ways to prepare for and remedy menopause-related symptoms.
Preparing for menopause
On average, around the age of 50-51, women begin to see the onset of menopause. This is the time when the body produces less of the important hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are both essential in reproductive functions and regulation of the body’s metabolism.
“Unfortunately, the experiences come with uncomfortable symptoms such hot flashes, hot flushes, night sweats, uterine bleeding, vulvovaginal atrophy, mood changes, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, and an increased risk of certain diseases like osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular diseases,” said Albei Keith Tolete, a food technician and research specialist from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
On top of this, the hard reality is that while menopause itself should not take too long, symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause can last for years.
This is why as the age-old adage says, “Prevention is better than cure.” To prevent these diseases and lessen the pain and duration brought by these menopausal symptoms, Julianne Stefani Malong, the official nutrition and wellness coach of health and fitness app Rebel, says that there is a lot a woman can do to prepare for these changes.
“Nutrition counselling for menopausal transition would emphasize lifestyle assessment, stress management, and emotion coaching,” said Julianne. “The things to consider include: Is your current diet able to minimize the risk of menopause-linked diseases? Is your current workload affecting your mental health? Is your current physical activity adequate for maintaining bone density and lean body mass? Taking all of these into account will allow women to plan accordingly and would therefore give them a sense of comfort and certainty.”
Julianne also emphasizes that during this process, building good nutritional and lifestyle habits are essential because they greatly impact not just your well-being during menopause, but general longevity and quality of life.
Good nutritional habits to combat menopause
Over the years, hormonal supplementation has been utilized as a common treatment for menopausal symptoms in most women. But before we turn to these supplementations, it’s good to know that there are dietary habits that we can turn to that can help provide good nutrition and comfort during menopause.
“Phytoestrogen, for example, is a plant-derived and nonsteroidal variant of estrogen, which have been showed promising results in preclinical studies,” added Albei. “Food such as soy products (e.g. soy milk, tofu, tempeh, etc.) and other legumes, and fiber-rich items including berries, seeds, grains, nuts and fruits, are high in these phytoestrogens.”
Apart from these food, a proper diet should also include items that contain the following vitamins and minerals, which have been found to have a positive effect on menopausal symptoms: Vitamin A, B Vitamins especially B6 and B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Calcium, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Magnesium, Selenium, and Zinc. Generally, adequate consumption of the right nutrients will keep the body functions up and running while coping with the changes that we experience as we age.
Both Albei and Julianne recommend the Mediterranean Diet as one of the best nutritional diets to follow when dealing with oxidative stress, inflammation, cardiovascular events, and obesity—which are usually associated with menopause.
“The Mediterranean diet is a micronutrient-rich, antioxidant-rich, and anti-inflammatory diet, perfect for adults, especially for women transitioning into menopause. It is rich in plant-based foods, with most of its energy coming from whole grains, plant oils, fruits, and vegetables. It recommends the intake of protein from nuts, legumes, fish, poultry, and eggs. And it suggests that we refrain from the regular consumption of red meat, butter, processed carbohydrates, sugary drinks and sweets, and salt,” said Julianne.
If you’re looking for specific dishes to prepare, the Rebel app has amazing recipes of Chicken Fajitas, Tuna & Green Bean Salad, Red Curry Tofu, Okoy na Kalabasa, and Strawberry Chia Pudding for your menopause cravings.
Albei also warns that everybody’s body is different, and at this point, further study is still needed to cement the dos and don’ts of menopausal diet. But to keep it simple, just maintain a balanced and healthy diet.
“When we talk about the role of food in women at menopause, there are a lot of factors that are needed to be considered, and it should be known that there is no medically or clinically-proven diet for menopausal women. However, what’s important is to have everything in moderation, to have a balanced intake of macro- and micronutrients, and to properly consult your diet and nutrition with duly-licensed health specialists,” said Albei.
Good lifestyle habits to combat menopause
On top of a good diet, good lifestyle habits will not just bring a more comfortable menstrual transition, but also a better and longer quality of life. While a lot of things are genetic or arbitrary when it comes to what makes a “good lifestyle,” there are two things that Julianne and Albei both agree do not characterize as healthy life choices: smoking and stress.
“During menopause, you will realize a sense of certainty when you intentionally improve your lifestyle. If you smoke, get help to quit smoking; this habit is giving your cells unnecessary stress and is making you age faster. Explore techniques for stress relief such as meditation, journaling, gardening, or crafting. A home-spa corner might also be a good project! Do these so that you don’t rely on emotional eating,” said Julianne.
Good quality sleep is also very helpful in alleviating menopausal symptoms. Getting in the mood for sleep, an hour before your bedtime, will help you achieve good sleep hygiene. This includes saying goodbye to your gadgets, doing calm activities like reading or crocheting, and setting up aromatherapy.
“The best way to manage menopause is to approach and address each woman’s unique constitution and needs,” said Albei. However, it’s good to note that “physical activity contributes in better management of our later part in life.”
For general health, Julianna recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. It’s also good to vary the exercises and have a weekly exercise checklist that includes cardio, flexibility, core-strengthening, and strength-building.
“Strength training is essential for women transitioning into menopause so it is best to do 2-3 sessions of these exercises per week. These are beneficial for the maintenance of lean muscle mass and bone mineral density,” said Julianne.
While these sound intimidating, especially for those who live a sedentary lifestyle, it’s actually not a requirement to have a gym membership or a training coach—although those would certainly not hurt—to start or stay active. The Rebel app offers a free 4-week program called Rebel Life to help people who are just starting, coming back to, or maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. The program is low-impact, high-energy, and can be done anywhere and anytime through the in-app on-demand videos.
Julianne adds: “Rebel Life is guaranteed beginner-friendly and is easy on the joints, but you would still have to pace yourself and listen to the limits of your body, especially if it’s your first time working out.”