We asked nutritionist Sonia McNaughton what food and nutrients you should give your body to support your health and hormones when going through menopause and allow menopausal women to maintain a healthy weight.
When a woman consults with me for help during menopause her main concerns are relief from weight gain and hot flushes.
I love to explain what is happening in the body and the foods and nutrients needed. Then finish by matching an easy to follow eating plan and specific supplements to help support the outcome of weight loss and reduced number and intensity of hot flushes.
Read on to find out how hormones and what you eat affect your weight during menopause.
Weight gain during menopause
Let’s start by talking about weight gain. Most menopausal women experience weight gain around their belly as hormonal changes alter the way the body uses calories.
The hormones influencing how tight clothes feel and the number on the scale include sugar-balancing insulin, energy-burning thyroid, female hormones oestrogen and progesterone and stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Easy weight loss needs all of these hormones to be in balance.
What women find so confusing is they may have eaten this way their whole lives, but from their 40s on, their body no longer tolerates it.
So an important part in managing weight is reducing simple sugars plus consuming sugar balancing minerals chromium and magnesium.
How your hormones affect your weight during menopause
Insulin and weight: Eating simple sugars like processed foods, bread, pasta, cakes, chips, soft drinks and alcohol will increase the amount of sugar in the blood which causes the hormone insulin to be released and for most menopausal women this leads to increased fat stores.
Oestrogen, Progesterone and Weight: Foods called phytoestrogens, that is palm-sized oestrogens, like those found in soybeans and flaxseeds, boost the female hormone oestrogen whilst nutrients like zinc, vitamin c and B6 help progesterone to be produced.
Thyroid and weight: 45+ is the age women are most at risk of a sluggish thyroid, which can cause weight gain, low mood, fatigue and change temperature control in the body. Eating foods containing iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and biotin is a beautiful and real way to support thyroid health.
Stress hormones and weight: Chronic ongoing stress, both mental stress as well as the physical stressors of not getting enough sleep and high inflammation levels from too many sugars in the blood, all contribute to the production of stress hormones. Unfortunately, when these stress hormones are too high they influence blood sugar levels, insulin, and can cause fat gain around the belly.
So how do you support your health goals during menopause?
The simplest way to match the nutrients needed by these different hormones is to choose a plate overflowing with fibre rich veggies, a palm-sized amount of quality protein like fish, nuts or seeds and a tablespoon of healthy fats like avocado or extra virgin olive oil at every meal. Plus adding a nutrition-packed Smoothie to make sure all the separate vitamins and minerals, so essential to not only surviving but thriving during this time of life, are in the daily diet.
How to cool hot flushes
Let’s now cover off how to cool hot flushes. Reducing the number and intensity of hot flushes means targeted remedies known to turn down the heat in the body, supporting female hormones and the organs that produce them, and avoiding the known triggers that leave women drenched in sweat.
Soybeans and flaxseeds have been found to help hot flushes by balancing the female hormone oestrogen.
After menopause, the adrenal glands take over the job of making female hormones. These amazing organs also make stress hormones. I find in my clinic women who arrive in the mid-40s to 50s feeling stressed, burnout and tired always have worse menopausal symptoms. So a key strategy is to nourish the adrenals with Vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.
The hardest step and yet the most rewarding one for most women is avoiding the triggers known to cause hot flushes: alcohol, chocolate, coffee and warming spices.
Alcohol and chocolate
Alcohol and chocolate seem to be Aussie’s favourite coping mechanisms after a stressful day! So before I even consider asking someone to take them out of their diet I like to make sure my clients are getting enough mood supportive nutrients magnesium and calcium to stay calm and help sleep without resorting to booze and the chocs.
Reducing/eliminating these hot flush triggers gives women the excuse they often need to focus on developing more healthy coping strategies that will support them not only during this time of transition but for the rest of their lives!
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