When a woman approaches or enters menopause, one of the primary things which needs to be adjusted is her diet. The biggest issue is weight gain which is very prominent during this time of life, so we must address both the quantities and types of food being consumed. The average weight gain is around 5 pounds, but about 20 percent or more of women gain more than 10 pounds within a few years of menopause. Why does this happen? There are multiple factors including hormonal changes, loss of muscle mass, lifestyle changes, and genetic factors.
The first thing to consider at this time is the need to eat a better diet in general. Before menopause, many women enjoy the luxury of a high metabolism and can eat most of what they want and still maintain their normal weight or gain small amounts. Even so, it is not uncommon due to the average American diet to gain several pounds per decade of life before menopause. To avoid this, it is more important than ever to get our diets under control before the weight gain gets out of hand. There are many diets which allow us to maintain or lose weight, so pick one of them (such as the Mediterranean diet) and make it your new habit. Avoid “fad diets” which are not sustainable. One specific food to consider for menopause would be soy for its plant estrogen components. While it is a mild effect, some women will have reduced vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes/night sweats from soy. It is also important to get enough magnesium, because this is a critical nutrient for bones, blood pressure, heart regulation, and a myriad of various functions in the body. Additionally, magnesium before bedtime can help sleep. There are many foods high in magnesium with the most prominent being various nuts like almonds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Another factor in weight gain is loss of muscle mass. This occurs because of adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle and loss of testosterone. Testosterone is directly involved in preservation and formation of muscle, so when we lose testosterone we lose muscle at the same time. Muscle is a primary factor in our metabolic rate, which is how many calories we burn in a day. On average, a woman needs 200 fewer calories per day in her 50’s compared to her 20’s and 30’s. Unless we account for this, there will be a significant weight gain. The other angle on this is the lower amount of physical activity in general as we age. We need to make more of an effort to get physical exercise when we are older or risk becoming couch potatoes in our later years.
For women approaching or in menopause, the diet is critical to our health as always. The big difference is that it is more important than ever to eat right and keep active.