In a woman’s life, menopause is a period that is nothing less than a rollercoaster of emotions, confusion, and frustration. Unwanted suggestions and incorrect information about what to eat and what to avoid further complicate it sometimes. Thus, in this article, we’re going to talk about everything relating to menopause and the menopause diet.
Menopause is the natural termination of the menstrual cycle that’s accompanied by a lot of bothersome symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, and reduced sex drive. Menopause marks the end of fertility and, to make it worse, it increases the risk of certain diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
If you search the internet about the relationship between carbs and menopause, you will be left totally confused. There are sources that will tell you that carbohydrates are pivotal as they’re the primary source of energy. Others are going to say you should totally cut your carb intake while going through menopause.
So what’s true?
Stick around to the end and you will get all the answers relating to this much-contemplated topic of carbs and menopause.
What Happens During Menopause?
Menopause is confirmed 12 months after a woman’s last cycle, and the years leading up to this point are called perimenopause or menopausal transition.
This menopausal transition is the period where women experience changes in their monthly cycle accompanied by other symptoms. These symptoms generally include hot flashes, night sweats, and difficulty sleeping. This often happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
The main culprit behind pre and post-menopause is the hormone estrogen. The declining levels of estrogen disrupt the normal pattern of estrogen and progesterone that’s required for a normal cycle.
This decline in estrogen also slows down the metabolism and sometimes results in post-menopause weight gain. This in turn leads to disrupted cholesterol levels and the body’s ability to digest carbs.
Your Ageing Mitochondria and Menopause Brain Fog
Mitochondria are membrane-bound cell organelles that are often referred to as the “powerhouse of the cell“. Their major role is to convert energy from the food we take into ATP, the energy that cells can use. These organelles play a crucial role in cell survival, maintenance, and well-being.
One of the primary reasons behind the disruption in the functioning of our brain mitochondria is menopause hormonal changes, among other factors.
The declining levels of estrogen during menopause cause inflammation in brain mitochondrial cells. This inflammation further leads to symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, depression, poor sleep, etc.
Estrogen is released from the ovaries and is circulated throughout the body. This hormone also has a number of important roles in the brain, including preservation and maintenance of nerve transmission as well as helping with cerebral blood flow. Furthermore, estrogen also operates as an anti-inflammatory agent.
In the brain, estrogen directly acts upon the mitochondria. During menopause, the declining levels of this hormone cause disruption to our brain function in ways that promote inflammatory changes.
This mitochondrial dysfunction is apparent during many brain or health disorders but is also common during menopause. Thus, mitochondria, estrogen, and female brain aging are all interlinked.
Menopause Sugar Cravings and Heightened Emotions
Stress or heightened emotions are one of the symptoms of menopause that almost all women complain about. Sadly, it sometimes triggers sugar cravings that increase the risk of obesity and, in turn, many diseases.
As we have learned by now, menopause causes changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. This imbalance also leads to changes in the stress hormone, cortisol.
As a result of the imbalance in cortisol, an imbalance (increase in production) is caused in other hormones produced by the adrenal gland. This exhausts the adrenal gland, causing issues like sugar cravings, fatigue, resistance to weight loss, and shakiness between meals.
Poor sleep is another symptom linked to the imbalance in cortisol, which can also act as a culprit behind increased sugar cravings. The simple reason behind this is that poor sleep affects the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
Besides, progesterone and estrogen levels also affect our body’s response to insulin, which is accountable for regulating our blood sugar levels. This imbalanced sugar level then causes sugar cravings.
You see, when it comes to our bodies, everything is interlinked. Disruption or imbalance in one thing can cause a domino effect.
Foods To Consume During Menopause
Your diet can relieve or worsen certain symptoms of menopause, so managing your menopause nutrition intake is important.
These are the foods to consume during menopause.
1. Foods High in Phytoestrogen
Compounds found in food that act as weak estrogens in the body are called phytoestrogens. Soybeans, peanuts, grapes, chickpeas, barley, flax seeds, berries, and tea (black and green) are some of the foods containing phytoestrogens.
Some studies have suggested that phytoestrogen-rich foods may benefit the health of women going through menopause.
2. Lean Protein
Menopausal women often experience a decrease in bone strength and muscle mass. This is also often linked to a decline in estrogen in the body. Therefore, it’s often advised to eat more protein for women going through menopause.
The recommended dietary allowance for protein per meal should be up to 0.45-0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 20-25 grams of high protein/meal.
3. Foods High in Calcium
You might have heard that women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis with age than men. Once again, the main culprit is the hormonal imbalance caused by menopause, which is said to directly affect bone density.
Therefore, it becomes important to have around 1,200mg of recommended calcium intake daily for women over 50 and 1,000mg for women under 50.
Consuming calcium-fortified products and calcium-rich dairy products will reduce your risk of bone loss and fractures.
4. Dairy Goods
During menopause, dairy products such as cheese, milk, or yogurt should be consumed as they’re a good source of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamins D and K.
Dairy products also contain the amino acid glycine, which is said to promote deeper sleep. Interestingly, a study also found that dairy consumption may even decrease the risk of early menopause.
5. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids are good for decreasing the severity of night sweats and the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and anchovies have the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids.
6. Whole Grains
A diet high in whole grains (a great source of vitamin B and fiber) is said to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or even premature death. According to this study, in comparison to people who ate refined carbs, those who ate three or more servings of whole grains daily showed a 20-30% lower risk of diabetes and heart disease.
7. Vegetables and Fruits
In a study conducted over 17,000 women, researchers found that those who ate more fruits and vegetables experienced a decline in hot flashes by 19%. The reason is that veggies and fruits are loaded with fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Cruciferous vegetables, dark berries, and grape seeds are especially good for menopausal women.
Foods to Avoid During Menopause
1. Foods High in Salt
High dietary sodium intake is linked to lower bone density, so postmenopausal women should limit their intake of high-salt foods. It’s because, post menopause, the risk of developing high blood pressure increases with the declining levels of estrogen. A study showed sodium intake of more than 2g per day in menopausal women increased their risk of low bone mineral density by 28%.
2. Sugars and Processed Carbohydrates
Processed carbohydrates and added sugars raise blood sugar levels rapidly. In menopausal women, high blood sugar levels are associated with higher and more frequent incidences of hot flashes. If you ever experienced a hot flash after eating carbs, now you know the reason.
Because of this, a low-carb diet for menopause is often recommended for women going through menopause, especially one that’s low in processed carbs.
In order to reduce the incidence of hot flashes, it becomes essential to limit the intake of baked goods and other processed foods such as crackers or white bread.
As per US guidelines, your added sugar intake should be less than 10% of your daily calorie intake.
3. Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol have been noted to increase the severity of hot flashes in many menopausal women. These are also linked to disrupting sleep, so it is worth avoiding the consumption of both beverages during bedtime.
4. Foods That Are Spicy
Intake of spicy foods may also increase hot flashes in menopausal women. Thus, it’s often said to avoid spicy foods while going through menopause.
What’s the Connection Between Fatigue and Carb Cravings?
Unexplained fatigue or exhaustion is one common symptom of menopause that troubles most women. Some days you may feel fatigued for no apparent reason, while other days you may feel energized like your normal self. This unexplainable fatigue is common as it’s the result of fluctuating hormone levels in the body.
As a result of this fatigue, the body’s need for energy increases, hence increasing carb cravings.
When tired, your body might crave more sugar and carbs to convert them into fuel as they provide a short-term boost in serotonin, “the feel-good hormone.” But this effect is momentary and is soon followed by a “crash” to a low serotonin level. The low serotonin state then further leads you to the vicious cycle of more cravings.
It’s important to note that sugary foods can even deplete your B vitamin levels. Therefore, increasing the consumption of vitamins B12, B6, B2, B1, biotin, and folic acid becomes imperative to support energy levels and reduce fatigue and tiredness during this time.
10 Tips for Controlling Menopausal Hunger and Cravings
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t skip meals while making sure to eat healthy foods.
- Avoid sugary beverages and drink lots of water, at least one to two liters a day.
- Eat more fiber, it will help you feel fuller for longer and curb your appetite.
- Eat a sugar-free version of your favorite sweets when you can’t avoid the urge.
- Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods completely, instead learn to eat in moderation.
- Replace processed and sugary foods like cookies and cakes with healthier options like fruits and nuts.
- Swap refined carbs like pasta, rice, and white bread with whole grains like whole grain pasta, brown rice, and brown bread.
- Take enough protein and increase the intake of complex carbohydrates. This will make you feel more satisfied and avoid unhealthy snacking.
How Many Carbs Should a Woman Have in a Day?
According to American dietary guidelines, carbohydrates should make up 45% to 65% of your total daily calorie intake.
For example, if you consume 2,000 calories daily, then no more than 900 to 1,300 should be from carbohydrates, which is around 225 to 325 gm of carbs daily.
Thus, how many carbs a woman should have in a day is purely based on factors such as her individual daily calorie requirement as well as her physical activity level. But the minimum requirement is set at 130 gm of carbs a day.
A few simple changes in your diet, paired with hiit workout for menopause, can make a lot of difference.
Frequently Asked Questions About Carbs And Menopause
Yes, simple carbs can sometimes make your menopause symptoms worse.
These refined or processed carbs, such as pasta, white rice, white bread, and potatoes, are linked to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels and increase the frequency of hot flashes. The problem is that your body processes these carbs differently during menopause due to slowed metabolism. This also answers what causes belly fat in females during menopause.
Yes, a low-carb diet, especially one low in simple carbs, is good for menopause. Decreasing your refined carb intake can’t only relieve many symptoms but may also help you prevent post menopause weight gain.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, high-quality protein, dairy products, and whole grains is the best for menopausal women. A healthy diet such as this will reduce menopausal symptoms and help maintain a healthy weight.
Foods high in salt, sugar, spices, processed foods, fatty meats, caffeine, and alcohol can make menopause worse. You should avoid this as much as possible.
In a nutshell, the hormonal imbalance during menopause causes problems such as changes in metabolism, reduced bone density, weight gain, and also increases the risk of heart disease.
A healthy diet is the best approach to managing these health issues and reducing the unpleasant symptoms associated with them. A whole-food diet, as mentioned above, can help you navigate through this tough period of your life with ease.
In case you have already gained some unwanted weight, there’s no need to worry. Here are some amazing natural remedies for menopause weight gain that can help you shed those extra pounds successfully.
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