Diet & Nutrition

Foods that ease menopause symptoms

What you can eat to keep hot flushes, mood swings and insomnia at bay.

What we eat can have a significant bearing on our health - and just as our food choices can help boost our fertility or energy levels, they can also play a part in easing menopause symptoms.
Most women begin to experience menopausal symptoms in their forties, although their period may not completely stop until they're around the age of 50. This stage is known as the perimenopausal phase and it can last five to 10 years - and even linger after your period has stopped.
The most common symptoms include hot flushes and mood swings (80 per cent of women report these).
Women can also experience insomnia; there is an increased risk to our heart health, and moving into menopause impacts our bone health.
We asked nutritionist Jessica Campbell to share her top tips on what food choices we can make to manage menopause symptoms.

Hot flushes

Unpredictable in nature, hot flushes can strike at any time, and while your core temperature remains the same it's said that the temperature of your skin can shoot up by as much as six to eight degrees - no wonder they send women running for the air conditioning vent.
Interestingly, Western women experience hot flushes more than any other culture, and in contrast women from Asia don't even have a name for them, Campbell says.
"It's believed one of the reasons Asian women don't experience hot flushes is because of their consumption of phytoestrogens. They tend to eat a lot of soy and a lot of fermented miso. And so one of the recommendations for reducing hot flushes is to include 50-100mg of isoflavones (soy) in your diet every day - you can get this in:
  • 1 - 1½ cups of soy milk
  • 2 Tablespoons of miso
  • 120-140g tofu
  • ½ cup edamame beans
Other phytoestrogen-rich foods include flax seeds, wheat flours, green teas and grains.

Mood swings

Menopause is essentially the winding down of our reproductive hormones and anything to do with hormonal change makes us more up and down emotionally - aka teary or irritable.
It's important to address any issues that might be causing you to feel upset or vulnerable, of course, and in terms of what you can eat to even out your mood, Campbell suggests the following:
  • We tend to tear through our B vitamins when we're stressed or emotional so to counter that, up your intake of grains, brown rice, buck wheat and quinoa. Eat lots of leafy greens.
  • Include dietary sources of omega 3 such as salmon, sardines and tuna - or take an omega 3 supplement.
  • Include vitamin C in your diet. That's your citrus fruits - kiwifruit is a great source of vitamin C, and so is capsicum.
  • Don't overlook the power of carbs, our gut bacteria needs them to produce seratonin, the feel-good hormone that keeps our mood buoyed. So yes, it's okay to have a little mashed potato with dinner - or rice, kumara, pasta, bread. You could also take a probiotic if you're concerned your gut may be struggling.

Heart health

With menopause comes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and interestingly, heart palpitations is the symptom most commonly reported by Asian women.
To boost heart health follow the Mediterranean pattern of eating - that's lots of fruit and veggies, vegetable oils such as olive or rice bran oils, plenty of nuts and seeds, fish and low-fat dairy.

Insomnia

"What I hear a lot from women is that apart from the hot flushes and emotional disturbances, it's insomnia that they're dealing with, and it's something that really hits them hard," says Campbell.
"Some strategies that can really help include reducing your alcohol intake," she continues.
"While it may feel like it helps to get you off to sleep, alcohol interferes with the quality of your sleep and reduces your amount of REM sleep, which is that really deep, restorative sleep."
She also suggests reducing your caffeine intake:
"Make it one really good cup of coffee that you really savour, early in the day."
Regular exercise can make a difference, and it doesn't have to mean a big change in your daily routine. If you're not already active, try "snactivity", Campbell suggests - that's incorporating five to 10-minute bursts of activity into your everyday life and it can be as simple as changing where you park at work so that it's a five-minute walk to the office.
"New evidence is showing that even short bursts of exercise throughout the day can be as effective as dedicated workouts."
Eating carbs in the evening - yes, in the evening - is Campbell's last piece of advice.
"They help with boosting those seratonin levels before bed, making it easier to sleep."

Bone health

The time to be building our bone health is already behind us by the time we're in our forties.
The window for growing strong, healthy bones is from our childhood through to our twenties - and in those years we need to be eating lots of dairy, eggs, fatty fishes (and tinned fish with bones in), fruits and leafy greens for calcium and vitamin D .
By the time we hit menopause our body is starting to draw on our bone health bank.
But we can slow the drawing process down by reviewing our physical activity and nutrition. Continue eating a varied and balanced diet and incorporate isoflavone/phytoestrogen-rich foods, advises Campbell.
And keep up the physical activity - weight-bearing activities are especially helpful for maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis in later life.
If you spend a lot of time inside, particularly during winter, you may benefit from supplementing with vitamin D.