Managing Menopause Part 3: Foods for Menopause
Foods to eat and foods to avoid during Menopause
Written by Teagan Evans, University of Alberta Student in the Nutrition and Food Sciences program and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team
Welcome back to Managing Menopause! In Part 1: What is It? and Part 2: Estrogen & Your Health, we discussed the hormonal changes occurring during menopause and some of the associated long-term health effects. In this blog post we will explore some key foods you need to know about for menopause.
Nutrition has a large influence on our body’s response to biological changes and research has shown that menopausal symptoms can be affected by the foods we consume. Every woman is unique and will experience menopause and reactions to certain foods differently. This blog post goes over three foods that may be beneficial to consume and three foods to avoid in order to help manage menopausal symptoms.
3 Foods to Enjoy more of while Managing Menopause
Soy is one of the most commonly discussed and controversial foods relative to menopause. Soy and soy products contain isoflavones – naturally produced compounds found in the plant structure. Many of these isoflavones are called phytoestrogens and they have a similar chemical structure to estrogen, the female sex hormone. As menopause results in a decrease of estrogen production, consuming phytoestrogens can potentially reduce menopausal symptoms because they can mimic estrogen and reduce symptoms associated with decreased hormone levels.
Soy food sources include:
- Edamame (young soybeans)
Dietitians of Canada states that incorporating a few servings of soy daily into a balanced diet can help manage hot flashes if consumed in moderation. The American Institute for Cancer Research states that a moderate consumption of soy is defined as 1-2 servings of soy products, or up to 100mg of isoflavones every day. For a full list of soy servings sizes, click here.
Breast cancer can be caused by many factors including our genetics, environment, and estrogen levels. Researchers are still trying to determine the role of estrogen levels in breast cancer development. Many individuals worry that consumption of soy can lead to increased risk of developing breast cancer because of the mimicking nature of phytoestrogen. It is important to remember that soy does not contain human estrogen and phytoestrogens are not identical to estrogen.
Numerous studies have been conducted to determine the influence soy has on breast cancer risk, especially on women who are breast cancer survivors. Evidence found that women who consumed soy foods did not have an increased risk of developing breast cancer and concluded that soy foods are safe for consumption.
Soy foods may provide benefits to managing menopausal symptoms and can potentially reduce the risk of estrogen-caused cancers. However, soy supplements are not recommended because they contain drastically higher amounts of phytoestrogens and the health risk are unclear.
Foods rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits and are now being used to help women control their menopausal symptoms. Researchers have found positive results from utilizing omega-3 fatty acids to reduce mood swings and hot flashes in menopausal women. Omega-3 fatty acids also keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, something that you are at an increased risk of developing during menopause.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). All three of these omega-3 fatty acids contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system and can be found in our everyday food.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid food sources include:
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines)
- Nuts & Seeds (Ground flax, chia, walnuts, pecans, and hemp hearts)
- Vegetable oils (soybean, flaxseed, and canola).
Alberta Health Services recommends that all adults should be consuming 200-500mg of EPA and DHA and 1100-1600mg of ALA daily. Research is ongoing to determine omega-3 fatty acid consumption levels for managing menopausal symptoms.
Calcium is an essential mineral for maintaining strong bone structure and preventing bone fractures and bone loss. Women going through menopause are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis because of increasing age and the reduced protective effects of estrogen.
Health Canada recommends women over 50 years of age consume 1200 mg of calcium per day to help counteract their increased risk of osteoporosis.
Calcium food sources include:
- Dairy products
- Fortified soy products
- Dark leafy greens
For more information on calcium check out our previous article on our blog here:
Calcium in Foods & How to Choose a Supplement
3 Foods to Reduce while Managing Menopause
Caffeine is a stimulant that we all love to consume in the form of coffee, tea, and sodas or energy drinks. However, caffeine can increase the severity of hot flashes in menopausal women. Researchers found that when compared to women who had no or limited caffeine intake, women who had a high consumption of caffeinated beverages experienced increased menopausal symptoms. Reducing caffeine intake can potentially minimize the severity of symptoms. As well, avoiding caffeine prior to bed can help reduce menopausal insomnia and help you get a more restful sleep.
You might also want to check out this full article on caffeine on our blog here:
Caffeine 101 – how much is too much?
There has been research indicating that alcohol can increase the severity or incidence of hot flashes and night sweats during menopause. The amount of alcohol consumed influences the effects on menopausal symptoms. Studies have found that the more alcohol consumed, the higher the incidence of menopausal hot flashes and night sweats.
Limiting your alcohol intake to less than one drink a day can help manage uncomfortable menopausal symptoms and potentially reduce symptom severity.
The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Addiction defines the following as what constitutes “one drink”:
- 341ml (12 oz) beer with 5% alcohol content
- 341ml (12 oz) cider or cooler with 5% alcohol content
- 142ml (5 oz) wine with 12% alcohol content
- 43ml (1.5 oz) any distilled or hard alcohol (whiskey, rum, rye, vodka etc.) with 40% alcohol content
For a more detailed list of alcohol limits and information, click here.
One type of food that has been correlated with triggering increased hot flashes is spicy foods. Hot and spicy dishes can cause us to sweat, feel flushed, and experience hot flashes even without menopause. Women experiencing menopausal hot flashes and night sweats might have increased severity and incidence of symptoms when they consume spicy foods. Being cautious about the amount of spice you consume can have positive effects on your menopausal symptoms.
While all of these foods can help you manage your menopausal symptoms, every woman is unique and effects may not be the same for every person. While caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods may increase your symptoms, they do not need to be eliminated completely and should be enjoyed in moderation if they are part of your diet. The best strategy you can have to manage your menopausal symptoms with nutrition is to have a well-balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and foods that make you feel your best.
You may also want to check out these previous blog posts:
- Nutrition for women after 40: healthy eating for perimenopause and menopause
- Managing Menopause Part 1: What is it?
- Managing Menopause Part 2: Estrogen & Your Health
If you need nutrition for menopause support please reach out for help. Our Registered Dietitian team can assist you with your health and nutrition goals and help you to achieve your personal best weight (still eating foods you love). For more information please visit our personal nutrition counseling services by our Calgary Dietitian / Online Nutritionist team.
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