Healthy Eating for Women’s Health: Menopause

by Jessica Odyjewski

When you hear menopause, you might get anxious or feel a sense of dread, but menopause doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Getting the correct information about menopause can help you prepare for this next stage of life.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is when the body’s production of estrogen slows, and menstruation stops. You are said to have reached menopause when you have not had your period for 12 months without being on hormonal contraceptives. Menopause is a naturally occurring process in women and typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.

What happens to your metabolism and the rest of your body during Menopause?

During menopause, your body undergoes many changes. The most obvious change is the lack of a period every month. Another change is that your metabolism slows down. This means that your energy expenditure decreases, and thus you can be more susceptible to gaining weight. The decrease in metabolism is due to the reduction in estrogen in your body, which also changes how your body uses, breaks down, and stores fat. This may result in a different distribution of fat.

Healthy Eating for Women’s Health

Menopause can also be linked to increased fat mass and decreased lean body mass (muscle mass, bone, and bodily fluid). You may also experience symptoms like hot flashes due to reduced estrogen.  Additionally, studies show that during menopause, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases.

Healthy Eating During Menopause

Your nutrition needs to change as you go through menopause:

Iron: Without your period, your iron needs decrease because you no longer lose iron through menstrual blood each month. The needs of a menopausal woman drop from 18mg to 8mg of dietary iron per day. Your risk for iron deficiency may decrease (which is actually a good thing).

Protein:  As you age, your requirements for dietary protein increase. Getting enough protein is important to prevent muscle mass loss and frailty as you age. Easy ways to include more protein in your diet are by consuming lean meats, low-fat dairy or soy products, nuts, or seeds.

Studies suggest that the recommended amount of protein is 1.0 – 1.2g/kg for post-menopausal women (your weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = 1 kg). You can leave the calculator at home and efficiently meet your protein requirements by making a quarter of your plate protein foods.

Calcium & Vitamin D: After menopause, it’s possible to lose up to 20% of bone mass. It is important to ensure you consume enough calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health and prevent osteoporosis.

Some good calcium sources include dairy, soy, nuts, and seeds. You can get vitamin D from your diet by consuming fatty fish, fortified foods like milk, or by taking a supplement containing 400 IU of vitamin D per day.

Physical Activity: During menopause, you should try to engage in physical activity each day. Doing so can prevent weight gain and lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week to maintain a healthy weight. You should also try to add muscle-strengthening activities twice weekly.

Physical Activity During Menopause
Physical Activity During Menopause

Hydration: It is essential that you drink enough fluids! Drinking fluids can help manage hot flashes and will help you avoid dehydration.

Here are a few key points to remember when it comes to optimal health during menopause.

  1. Menopause slows down your metabolism and changes your nutritional needs.
  2. Your iron needs decrease when you reach menopause because you no longer have a period.
  3.  It is important to make sure you are getting enough protein, calcium, vitamin D and physical activity.

To learn more about menopause and how you can eat well and thrive as you transition to the next stage of your life, contact a Registered Dietitian. You can find the right Registered Dietitian for you on the Dietitian Directory.

About the Author: Jessica Odyjewski is a third-year Dietetic student at the University of Alberta.

Reviewed by: Lindsey McGregor, RD and Hannah Jackson

Images from Unsplash and Pexels

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