Around 13 million women in the UK are either peri- or post-menopausal and yet, according to a Nuffield Health Study, two thirds of women feel that there is a general lack of support and understanding of the condition among GPs.
Getting your nutrition right as you enter the peri-menopause won’t relieve all your symptoms but it can help to promote your long term health. Here are the 4 nutrients you should prioritise during the menopause.
Calcium is needed to support normal bones, which is important during and after the menopause.
You can find calcium in a wide range of foods:
- Dairy foods like yoghurt, cheese and milk are a great source of calcium
- If you use alternative milks, make sure they have added calcium and vitamin D (ideally vitamin B12 and iodine too, if you don’t eat dairy)
- Canned fish with edible bones like sardines, salmon and mackerel are a brilliant source of calcium
- Soy beans and soy products (tofu often has added calcium)
- Green vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage but not spinach
- Nuts and sesame seeds
- Foods fortified with calcium – go for those with at least 30% of the nutrient reference value, which can claim “high in calcium”
Known as the sunshine vitamin, we make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun’s rays (or more specifically the UV light from the sun). Unfortunately, if you live in the UK or any high latitude county, between the months of October and March, the sun is too low in the sky for enough UV rays to penetrate the atmosphere.
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, helps support bones and muscles and also supports the immune system so is important all round health.
However, there are a few sources of vitamin D in the diet. Oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon, red meat and eggs contain some vitamin D, as do foods with added vitamin D like margarine, breakfast cereals and some plant-based milks. You can also buy special mushrooms grown under UV lamps, that contain vitamin D.
However, the Department of Health advises taking a supplement that provides 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day in those dark winter months. For post-menopausal ladies, you might want to increase this to 15 micrograms from a supplement. During the sunnier months, if you’re fair skinned, try to get 20-30 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen (more if you’re darker skinned). Obviously, if you’re out for longer, then be sun-safe and get some cream on.
Doing resistance exercise (like lifting weights or bodyweight exercises, including pilates) and eating around 25-35g protein per meal (depending on your body weight) can help to maintain muscle and bone as we age.
Here’s how you can get 25-30g protein in a meal:
- A chicken breast with veg and pasta
- A standard can of tuna and mayo with a baked potato and salad
- A 3 egg omelette with veg or a 2 egg omelette with 2 slices of ham
- 100g tofu with either 200g lentils or chickpeas, half a can of baked beans or 200g cooked quinoa
- A bowl of porridge oats made with semi-skimmed milk with 2 tablespoons of flax seeds and a tablespoon of peanut butter
- A smoothie made with milk, nut butter, fruit, oats and a scoop of protein powder such as Tempo Active Nutrition
Or you can find 10g protein in the following snacks:
- 200g pot of natural yoghurt
- 100g cottage cheese
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- Half a pint of cows’ milk
- 50g nuts
As we go through the menopause it’s important to get the right balance of fats, so try to eat less saturated fat from meat, cheese and butter and eat more unsaturated fats from foods like avocado, seed oils, nuts and olive oil, as well as omega 3 fats from oily fish and flax or chia seeds. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of heart disease.
Menopausal symptoms can really affect your day to day life and it’s important that you speak with a GP, particularly one specialising in women’s health, for advice on how you manage your peri-menopause. Nutrition can support you through your journey but it’s not a replacement for medical advice.
Finally, make sure any dietary changes are part of a balanced diet, with exercise, moderate alcohol intake and no smoking. A Mediterranean style diet is a great choice for all round nutritional balance.