Managing menopause with: Dietary changes

Modifying your diet can significantly improve your menopausal symptoms and decrease your risk of serious disease. Consider making the following changes.

Adjust your intake of:

  • Caffeine.Reducing or eliminating caffeine can significantly help relieve insomnia. "However, green and black tea may reduce your risk of heart disease, with green tea possibly being more beneficial than black," Dr. Hassell says. "Green and black tea also have benefit for overall immunity and reduction in osteoporosis risk." And, three cups of green tea daily may reduce your risk of breast cancer. The bottom line: if you continue to drink caffeine, it may be beneficial to drink tea more often than coffee.
  • Spicy dishes. Avoid altogether any foods that trigger a hot flash.
  • Alcohol. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of including alcohol in your diet. Alcohol aggravates many symptoms of menopause, but low-level intake offers benefits for your heart. One drink a day is associated with a 20-50 percent reduced risk of heart disease. Greater intake does not offer additional benefit for the heart, and may increase your risk of other serious diseases.
  • Supplements. Start getting your nutrients from whole foods. “There is no good substitute for optimal nutrition, Dr. Hassell says. “If you take supplements because you don’t have time to eat right, you’re making a big mistake.”

Increase your intake of:

  • Calcium. Increase your intake of calcium and vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Be sure to get 1200-1500 mg calcium and 400 international units (IU) vitamin D daily. Dietary sources are best, but supplements may be used if necessary.  “Take steps now to reduce your risk of osteoporosis,” says Dr. Ferrier. “Once bone is lost, it’s gone for good.”
  • Fiber. Water-soluble fibers in whole fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains help lower cholesterol and slow digestion so you snack less. “With grains, the more rough and primitive looking, the better,” Dr. Hassell says. “Think steel cut oatmeal vs. Cheerios.”
  • Vitamin E. Dietary vitamin E reduces the risk of heart disease. Vitamin E supplements don’t. Get vitamin E from sources like vegetable oils, wheat germ, whole-grain products, avocados and nuts. “If you concentrate on getting most of your nutrients from whole foods, you’re likely to obtain beneficial amounts of both fiber and vitamin E,” Dr. Hassell says.
  • Chocolate. Your weakness for chocolate may actually do you good. Eating less than 1 oz. (20gm) of dark chocolate daily is associated with 25 percent less heart disease.
  • Nuts. Hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts are rich sources of calcium. Eating 5 oz. weekly of these nuts, as well as pecans, is associated with 35 percent less heart disease.
  • Oat bran. Eating 2-3 tablespoons of oat bran daily can decrease your bad cholesterol by 10-25 percent, and increase your good cholesterol.
  • Fruit and Veggies. Whole fruits and vegetables help lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke – "Just about every disease under the sun," Dr. Hassell says. Get a minimum of 5 servings of whole fruits and veggies – not juices – daily.
  • Good Fats. Extra virgin olive oil and omega 3 fats (found in fish oil, flaxseeds walnuts, canola, soy) are associated with significantly reduced heart disease risk. Have two servings of oily fish weekly (choose from wild salmon, herring, trout or water-packed tuna) or 2000mg fish oil daily.

Use “condiment fats,” or fats that make other foods taste good – such as cheese, meat and butter – sparingly. Avoid altogether fats that are high in trans-fatty acids, which increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. These “bad fats” are found in partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils, used as ingredients in many pre-packaged foods. Check food labels on all store-bought items, and avoid restaurant foods as much as possible.

Managing menopause with: