Menopause: eating your way to health

Menopause: eating your way to health

Author -  Vicki Martin, Nutritionist and Naturopath

Fed up with those pesky hot flushes and flinging the duvet on and off at night? Is your period surprising you with its unpredictability? Are your family getting tired of moody outbursts?

Is menopause making you miserable?

Fed up with those pesky hot flushes and flinging the duvet on and off at night? Is your period surprising you with its unpredictability? Are your family getting tired of moody outbursts?

With lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone, menopause can make your body and emotions act in erratic and embarrassing ways that are hard to deal with.

If your life consists of skipped meals, chocolate bars, unworn jogging shoes, an espresso machine that works overtime, and a pile of empty chardonnay bottles in your bin, it’s time to begin looking after yourself as much as you do your family.

Nutritious food and regular exercise can play a surprisingly large part in how well you adjust to menopause. Research is now focusing on beneficial nutrients, herbs, and foods for this life stage. there are now plenty of strategies that may help to give you your health, energy, and good mood back.

Oestrogen Blues

With menopause, women’s main hormonal support – oestrogen – begins to decline. Oestrogen can be compared to the oil in your car engine, or the water in your radiator. Without its cooling, soothing effect, moods get ruffled easily, skin dries out, hot flushes appear, and energy levels dip. Yet in many Asian countries where women consume soy foods and drinks regularly, these symptoms are very mild or unknown.

Soy contains high quantities of a vegetable type of oestrogen called “phyto-oestrogens” – a much weaker form of oestrogen than animal, human, or synthetic oestrogens. By adding soy to your daily diet you may be able to offset lowered oestrogen levels and the annoying symptoms that result. Try a delicious soy smoothie every day: combine low-fat, calcium enriched soy milk with berries or banana and fruit juice as an afternoon snack when you get home from work. The Vitamin C and Calcium content will beat wine and chips hands down!

Adding tofu or tempeh (made from soy beans) to brown rice and salad may also help to squash those hot flushes. Don’t be put off by an initial unusual taste: tofu definitely grows on you -especially if combined with delicious sauces like peanut or pesto.

Some women find that adding soy is a really effective strategy to combat the effects of menopause, however for others the effect is minimal. Either way, the beneficial nutritional factors in soy will be a valuable addition to your diet.

Or as another option, add ground flaxseed to your cereal in the morning. It’s high in phyto-oestrogens, has a lovely nutty flavour, and helps to reduce constipation.

Kick the caffeine

If you’re hooked on caffeine kicks, it’s time to break the habit. Caffeine occurs not only in coffee, but also in tea, chocolate, cola, and energy drinks as well. It has an adverse effect on your absorption of vital nutrients such as Calcium, Iron, and the water-soluble B and C vitamins. Alcohol also has a similar effect. Nicotine in cigarettes has a stimulating effect on hot flushes.

So what can you drink instead? Start with alternatives like water, fruit juices, herbal and fruit teas – try tangy licorice tea, smooth chamomile, crisp peppermint, or a gently energising cup of ginseng tea.

Spirulina, a green plant algae, contains a wide range of nutrients. Try it as a daily drink instead of looking for chocolate or biscuits to give you that afternoon lift.

Bone Building

Concerned about osteoporosis? Make Calcium-rich foods and drinks a daily part of your life. Cottage cheese instead of jam on toast, yoghurt instead of muffins and sausage rolls for snacks, and fruit smoothies made with milk, yoghurt, or soymilk instead of coffee.

The recommended Calcium intake for menopausal/postmenopausal women is 1000mg each day. If you have difficulty getting enough Calcium in your diet, supplementing is an option. Choose a Calcium supplement that includes Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Boron – all essential nutrients that aid and abet Calcium absorption.

Does exercise matter? Bones love exercise because it stimulates Calcium absorption. Weight bearing exercise is particularly essential to the bone building process. Daily walking, jogging, or weight lifting all help to build your bones, so put those jogging shoes on and get going.

Cholesterol Counters

As women age, their cholesterol levels tend to become higher than men. Before your levels start looking unhealthy, kick saturated fat out of your life. Give your frying pan to someone you don’t like, throw out that block of tasty cheddar, and exchange those crisps for unsalted and unroasted almonds or walnuts – recommended by the Heart Foundation as great fats for heart health.

Need oil for great dressings and salads? Stick to olive, or try creamy avocado, hemp or flaxseed oils to improve your good cholesterol levels and provide essential fatty acids for dry skin.

Helping Herbs

Need extra help to fight off frequent sweats and flushes? Two herbs traditionally used for these problems are Black Cohosh and Red Clover.

Hot flushes occur due to the increased levels of luteinising hormone, which is released in response to low oestrogen levels. Black Cohosh may help to reduce this hormone and so has a direct effect on reducing the frequency and intensity of flushing and sweating.

Red Clover, on the other hand, is known for its high phyto-oestrogen levels. When your natural oestrogen levels decline during menopause, it contributes to flushing, sweating, insomnia, and irregular periods. Red Clover may help to reduce these symptoms by maintaining healthy oestrogen levels.

Nerves got the better of you?

Increased pressures and responsibilities both at work and home means mood swings can get way out of balance. Anxiety attacks, irritability, weepiness, poor memory, and insomnia are all part of the whole menopausal picture.

Getting mental balance can be a priority for those with busy schedules and lifestyles. Herbs such as St John’s Wort have been shown to have beneficial effects for all of these complaints. Try St John’s Wort as a tea, or for a stronger effect, as a supplement.

Need a lift?

Regular balanced meals can do wonders for flagging energy levels and declining hormones. Check that each meal of the day contains:

  • protein such as lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, yoghurt, or low fat cheeses
  • carbohydrate such as wholegrain bread, wholegrain cereal, brown rice, or pasta. 

Add plenty of fruit and vegetables to protect your arteries and clear your skin; and you have the recipe for some zip in your day.

Also absolutely vital for great energy levels and a balanced mood is the B complex vitamin group. Make sure that their best sources – wholegrain breads, brown rice, and green vegetables – are a regular part of your daily diet.

Try it – you’ll like it!

Ready to try a fresh start and get your healthy life back on track? Give these dietary guidelines a good go; and you and your hormones may never take a look back.

Caution: If you are on medication, consult your medical practitioner before taking herbal or nutritional supplements.


Knight DC, Eden JA. A review of the clinical effects of phytoestrogens. Obstet Gynecol 1996;87:897–904 [review].

Lieberman S. A review of the effectiveness of Cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh) for the symptoms of menopause. J Womens Health 1998;7:525–9.

van de Weijer PHM, Barentsen R. Isoflavones from red clover (Promensil®) significantly reduce menopausal hot flush symptoms compared with placebo. Maturitas 2002;42:187–93.

Grube B, Walper A, Wheatley D. St. John’s Wort extract: efficacy for menopausal symptoms of psychological origin. Adv Ther 1999;16:177–86.

[Ginseng] Bucci, Selected herbals and human exercise performance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 72(2):624S-636S, 2000.

[Cholesterol] N Z Med J. 2001 Mar 23;114(1128):131-4. Declining levels of total serum cholesterol in adult New Zealanders. Skeaff CM, Mann JI, McKenzie J, Wilson NC, Russell DG. Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, Dunedin.