Can nutrition impact your menopause?
As part of our Lunch and Learn series of webinars, we’re delighted that Jackie Lynch, registered nutritional therapist and author, joined us to talk about all things nutrition and menopause.
Henpicked: Firstly and essentially, many of us simply want to know how nutrition can make a difference during menopause.
Jackie Lynch: It makes a difference in so many ways. We need to see it as a building block for good health. The choices you’re making in your 40s and 50s won’t just make a difference to your menopause, but into your 60s and beyond.
One of the things we often don’t think of around the menopause is that loss of hormones can lead to other issues such as bone density and risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating the right foods now will make sure as you move beyond midlife you’re setting yourself up for the best possible version of you. It’s about not just living longer but living healthier.
Henpicked: Can diet affect symptoms?
Jackie Lynch: Yes. It can make them better or worse, as what you eat directly affects your hormone levels. Stress hormones can interfere with sex hormones. The more stressed you are the more likely you are to have worse hot flushes and other symptoms. Making sure you have a diet that helps you regulate your body’s response to stress can make a huge difference with menopause symptoms.
Henpicked: There are a lot of diets out there. Can you give us any dos and don’ts?
Jackie Lynch: Yes, don’t be suckered into some weird diet! This is a time in life that you need real food that contains all the macronutrients like proteins, fats and carbs, and micronutrients that support us. This is your time for you. Go for a good, broad balanced diet, not radical diets where you’re cutting out food groups.
Henpicked: We see a lot about reducing carbs. What’s your advice?
Jackie Lynch: Carbs are horribly demonised. They’re not just pasta, bread and potatoes. Fruit and veg, lentils, chickpeas and beans are complex carbs full of fibre, which keep you going and support healthy digestion. Swap from white to brown for your bread, rice and pasta. These are slow release, so will help to keep your blood sugar balanced. This will help to prevent those crashes where you crave sugary food.
They also support digestion, which plays a key part in hormone balance. Fibre will bind to old hormones and make sure they’re excreted rather than being reabsorbed into your bloodstream. So don’t lose the carbs, as you need them for energy. But eat the right ones. And however much veg you eat, double it.
Henpicked: Is there any particular veg we should go for?
Jackie Lynch: Eating the rainbow is important as different colours contain different antioxidants. But there’s no doubt for menopause the big winners are leafy green veg. Spinach, kale, watercress, cabbage, broccoli – they’re packed with nutrients we need. Magnesium is nature’s calmer, and helps with stress, as well as absorption of calcium, which we need for bone health. These veg are a surprisingly good source of iron as well. There’s a reason our grannies used to tell us to eat our greens.
Henpicked: What about protein?
Jackie Lynch: This is the silver bullet. Women are very poor at eating enough protein. I recommend eating protein with every meal and snack as it will keep you stronger. We need protein for strength and stamina and to regulate blood sugar. It also supports bone health and muscle tone, as well as our neurotransmitter function, so if you’re struggling with classic symptoms like poor memory or loss of motivation, then plenty of protein in your diet is key. It’s not just about meat – fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, beans and houmous are also great.
Henpicked: In reality, when you’re stressed and tired and time poor it’s easy to fall into bad habits. Any tips there?
Jackie Lynch: This is why I bang on about protein. If you can get into the habit of protein with each meal you’ll be feeling stronger. When you get to your next meal you’ll be hungry but not desperate. That desperate feeling signifies low blood sugar and high stress hormones, and that’s when your hormones dictate what you eat. So plan ahead to get your protein.
There are two things to focus on. Get breakfast right and the rest of the day is likely to follow. If you like toast make it wholemeal and don’t add marmite, jam or honey. Instead go for unsweetened nut butter, egg or cottage cheese to boost the protein.
With cereal, you can add spoon of flax seed, which is packed with protein and omega 3 fats. It also contains phytoestrogens – plant compounds which mimic oestrogen. Some studies say this may help to reduce hot flushes in some women. It doesn’t work for everyone but there are so many good reasons to eat flax you might as well give it a try.
Then think about snacks. It’s not so much about the calories, but about the nutrition. Try to replicate your favourite comfort foods. Roasted chickpeas have the same moreishness that a packet of crips might have. Or try mini bags of mixed nuts with an apple. Try to think cleverly about what you love and finding something that has similar effect. If you’re a sweet snacker, think about which fruits you could take out in a pot, like strawberries.
Henpicked: Are there any supplements which would benefit us?
Jackie Lynch: I get a bit impatient when people say you can get everything you need from a balanced diet. Of course you can, but it’s really really hard to get a truly balanced diet. We’re busy, working, and there are so many factors that deplete nutrients, like cooking methods and storage. Most of us would benefit from a good quality multivitamin and mineral.
Henpicked: What about vitamin D?
Jackie Lynch: With vitamin D you might want more than your multivitamin gives you, so you could supplement this. I recommend 1000iu a day. It’s in microscopic quanties in food, unless you’re planning on eating huge amounts of liver! Menopausal women should be taking vitamin D all year round. There’s no point stuffing yourself with calcium if you’re not having vitamin D, as the calcium won’t absorb. It can end up deposited in places like your kidneys, arteries or joints.
Henpicked: Can bloating and irritable bowel syndrome be exacerbated by menopause?
Jackie Lynch: A reduction in oestrogen can cause symptoms of bloating and discomfort. Some people find certain foods are too harsh for their gut, such as wheat or pulses. I often recommend 100 percent rye bread, it’s easier on the gut. Stress also slows down the gut – you might have no trouble eating bread on holiday but at home it’s not so great. Be body literate about what’s happening.
Henpicked: Is there a best way to prep veg to retain nutrients?
Jackie Lynch: B vitamins and vitamin C are water soluble, so if you boil too much you’re sending them down the sink. Steaming is better. Or try steam frying. Add a bit of oil and a dash of water to your pan and put a cover on it. It’s healthier than frying but more interesting than steaming.
Also microwaving packs of green veg has been shown to retain nutrients better than boiling. It might go against the grain but that’s what the science says.
Henpicked: Is there a natural way to manage hot flushes?
Jackie Lynch: If hot flushes are big problem you need to lose the booze. Alcohol has big impact, and cutting it out will make a big difference. Caffeine can also really exacerbate hot flushes.