By Ailsa Hichens, Registered Nutritional Therapist & Health Coach specialising in female hormonal health and weight loss at Food Fabulous. BA Hons DipION mBANT CNHC www.foodfabulous.co.uk
There are some strategic adjustments you might like to make, and there are some tactical foods you might bring in, both of which can have a huge impact on this aspect of your health. So, if you’re feeling hot and heavy – and not in the kind of way you’d like – now is the perfect time to take charge of your diet.
As a nutritionist, of course I am bound to tell you this, and it is also the truth. When it comes to diet, food is so much more than macronutrients like protein, carbohydrate and fat, and even more than the sum of its vitamin and mineral content.
Food has been used to cure and heal for millennia. Let’s not forget that all modern pharmaceutical drugs have their origins in herbs and other plant-based foods.
So let’s start with strategic changes that are going to help you. As you hit perimenopause, it’s common for women to become less sensitive to insulin, which means you can no longer deal with the same amount of carbs in your diet that you used to be able to handle. A lack of sensitivity to insulin is often lurking behind some of the more obvious symptoms linked to menopause like hot flushes, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating and weight gain.
The ‘fix’ is to move to a blood sugar balancing diet, which is not dissimilar to a Mediterranean diet. It focuses on good quality sources of protein like organic meat and wild fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas, lentils and tofu. You’ll enjoy lots of veggies and focus on fruit that typically grows in the UK (much less natural sugar than tropical fruits like mango and banana), and you’ll think carefully about the quality (think wholemeal being better than white) as well as the quantity of starchy carbs like bread, rice and pasta.
Treat foods like cakes, ice cream, chocolate, crisps and such like should be kept as occasional treats because these destabilise your blood sugar levels, requiring your body to make more insulin, which is – by the way – the fat storage hormone.
It’s a generalisation but a helpful one that the more insulin you require your body to make, the more weight you’ll put on at this time of life and, on a day-to-day basis, the more hot flushes you’ll have. This step alone can be very powerful.
When I’m working with my private clients, getting the strategy right is the first step. After that, we move on to functional foods. Functional foods are foods that ‘do stuff’ in the body. The main ones to be interested in in the run up to menopause are a group of foods called phytoestrogens. These are naturally occurring plant-based chemicals, which are structurally similar to oestrogen and exert a weak oestrogenic effect. The great news is that you can use them to gently help rebalance your hormones.
Read on for a fuller list but one of the biggest sources of phytoestrogens is soy, and this is probably the reason why women in the Far East report practically no problems transitioning to menopause while ladies in the West are much more hot and bothered.
Phytoestrogens are particularly helpful for women because they are adaptogens. This means they can either replicate or counteract the effects of oestrogen. Research shows that phytoestrogens can have a positive impact on many of the symptoms like hot flushes and sweats.
Oestrogen also plays an important role in maintaining bone mineral density. Research is ongoing in this area, but the work shows that a diet that bringing these phytoestrogens into your life may help prevent osteoporosis.
I won’t bore you with all the details but, take it from me, these are a good thing to have in your life.
The ideal situation is that you combine the strategtic approach with the tactics of eating more phytoestrogens.
Stir fry tofu with onions and garlic, broccoli and edamame – plus any other stir fry ingredients you like)
Chickpea and cauliflower curry with a little basmati rice
Lentil Bolognese with edamame pasta
You get the idea. Simply mix a few servings of these magical foods a day!