Around menopause hormone levels rise and fall unevenly, and symptoms may be experienced like hot flushes, disrupted sleep, low energy and mood swings. A good diet, and regular physical activity, can help you to feel your best and maintain optimal health as your body changes.
What about soy?
Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals similar in structure to the hormone oestrogen. The level of oestrogen in the body decreases in menopause, causing the unpleasant side effects. There is some evidence that plant oestrogens, if eaten regularly and in sufficient quantities, can have mild oestrogen-like effects in the body, and may help to alleviate some of the symptoms, particularly hot flushes.
Phytoestrogens are actually found in a range of plants, including soyabeans, lentils, chickpeas, cereals, linseeds, fruit and vegetables.
It is worth knowing that:
- high-phytoestrogen foods seem to work better for some women than others, which might be down to differences in gut bacteria (eating a healthy, high-fibre diet boosts beneficial gut bacteria);
- it can take 2-3 months for benefits of plant oestrogens to be seen;
- consuming plant oestrogens several times a day appears to be more effective compared to one larger dose.
Even if they do not help with menopausal symptoms, there’s no evidence that high-phytoestrogen foods like soyabeans are harmful, and as they are healthy foods that are high in fibre, you may still want to include them in your diet anyway.*
*If you have had breast cancer, talk to your doctor before adding soy or linseed to your diet.
What should I avoid?
- Caffeine can make hot flushes worse for some people so you might find limiting coffee, tea and colas, or choosing decaffeinated drinks, may help.
- Alcohol can make symptoms worse, so stick to the recommendations no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
- High blood sugar, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been linked to higher incidence of hot flushes in menopausal women, so limit added sugars and refined carbohydrates foods.
Diet and post-menopausal women
During the menopause muscle mass reduces, which means you may need fewer calories. Over time this can lead to weight gain, so it’s worth investing more time in having a high quality diet and adequate exercise.
After menopause, your risk of heart disease increases. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and limit saturated fat, added sugars, processed food and salt.
Oestrogen is protective against bone loss, so after menopause you should increase your intake of calcium, and also ensure you’re getting adequate vitamin D, to minimise the risk of loss of bone density. Good food sources of calcium include milk, yogurt and cheese, fortified plant milks, fish canned with the bones, leafy greens, and some nuts, seeds and legumes. Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish like salmon, eggs and fortified foods.
Also, try not to have a lot of salt in your diet, as this has been linked to lower bone density in postmenopausal women.