Nutrition for women in midlife

When it comes to women’s health, menopause is something every women has to deal with in midlife. Natural Menopause is confirmed 12 months after your last menstrual period in a women who has not had a hysterectomy. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average being around 51.

Menopause a natural event which happens when your ovaries stop producing two important female hormones, namely oestrogen and progesterone. As a result of fluctuations of these female hormones, women may experience a range of different symptoms. The most common symptoms across the menopause transition include hot flushes, night sweats, psychological symptoms such as depression or anxiety, sleep disturbance and joint pain. While not every women finds the symptoms affect their quality of life, about 60% of women have mild symptoms and another 20% that find their life to be severely affected, with symptoms continuing into their 60’s or later.

However, going through menopause does not mean life has taken a turn for the worse. Indeed, menopause can be seen as a new beginning: it is a great opportunity to have a better focus on yourself and re-assess your overall health. So how will your health be effected by menopause?

  • Increase in waist size – the loss of oestrogen at menopause leads to redistribution of fat in our body – from pear shape to apple shape. This increase in waist size may occur without any change in body weight.
  • Increase in diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk – the increase in the fat mass around your belly is linked with insulin resistance and the build-up of cholesterol on artery walls.

Insulin resistance means your body can’t respond properly to insulin when the blood sugar level increases. Type 2 diabetes usually starts with insulin resistance.

  • Bones density loss – menopause is associated with loss of bone mass. This loss begins about two years before a women has her final period and reaches the peak two years after the final period. The loss of bone mass puts women at risk for osteoporosis which is a condition that causes your bones to become and brittle and break easily.

However, some simple changes in your diet may make this important transition in life easier. It may also be helpful reducing health risks that are related to menopause.

What foods should you eat more of?

Low fat dairy product

Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese or calcium fortified soy milk and almond milk containing calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. These nutrients play an essential role for bone health. Research shows around 87% women over 40 years old are not meeting the recommended intake for calcium. Try to add in an extra serve of dairy to look after your bones.

Phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are compounds that can be found naturally in legumes, soybeans, beans, nuts and flaxseeds. They have a similar chemical structure to oestrogen. Including phytoestrogen-rich food as part of a healthy diet may have some beneficial effects on hot flushes.

Fibre

Fibre is the indigestible part of plant food that is found in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and legumes. Research shows that women who include more vegetables, fibres and wholegrains in their diet have a reduction in hot flushes. In addition, fibre intake is known to be beneficial in reducing the risks of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

While it is important to know what to include in your diet, it is also crucial to understand what to limit. Studies have shown that caffeine and alcohol can trigger hot flushes and caffeine will also decrease calcium absorption and contribute to bone loss.  So it is important to choose these drinks in moderation.

Bottom line

Menopause is linked to changes in body fat redistribution, reduced bone density and increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can a great opportunity to develop a healthier lifestyle towards better quality of life in the mature years. Including fire-rich whole foods as well as calcium-containing dairy products may reduce menopause symptoms and reduce menopause-related health risks.

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