07 Apr 2021 • 10 min read
Although it may be tempting to eat or drink your way through the menopause, there are some foods that are better – and worse – for menopausal symptoms
Going through the menopause isn’t exactly a picnic, but – ironically – there’s plenty of evidence to show that eating certain foods can help support your body, while others can make menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, feel much worse.
Find out which foods to choose – and which ones to steer well clear of.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential for a reason, especially during the menopause. A 2011 study by Harvard Medical School found that regular consumption of oily fish, which is rich in omega-3, can ease certain menopause symptoms such as low mood and hot flushes. It’s thought that omega-3 promotes the transmission of the happy hormone serotonin, impacting how the brain manages hot flushes.1
We also know that omega-3 is needed to make a type of hormone – eicosanoids – that play a key role in regulating inflammation in the body.2 This may be beneficial for hormone balance, helping to keep hot flushes under control. Good sources of omega-3 include flaxseeds, oily fish (also a good source of vitamin D, which can support bone health after the menopause)3, almonds, walnuts and tofu.
Here’s another reason to smash your five a day: plant foods are an important source of antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation throughout the body, and – in turn – help maintain hormonal balance during menopause.
In fact, a 2018 study of more than 400 women, published in the journal Menopause, found that those who ate the most fruit and veg experienced the fewest hot flushes and night sweats.4,5
Soya foods and drinks – for example tofu, edamame beans and soya milk – contain plant compounds called isoflavones that mimic the effect of oestrogen in the body.6 While a 2013 Cochrane review found no firm evidence that soy helped menopause symptoms,7 other studies have reported otherwise: a 2015 review in Climacteric found that plant oestrogens, like soy, can help cut the number of hot flushes during the menopause.8 It’s also known that women in Asia, for whom soy is a diet staple, experience fewer negative menopause symptoms.9
If you’re not a fan of soya, try supplements: a 2012 Japanese review of studies concluded soy isoflavone supplements reduced the severity of hot flashes by more than 25% compared with a placebo.10
These are another form of plant oestrogen, found in flaxseeds (linseeds), sesame seeds, wholegrains, and legumes, like pulses. Lignans can help ease the effects of falling oestrogen levels by binding to oestrogen receptors in the body.11 Eating more lignans is as simple as eating toast. The 2015 Climacteric review reported that women who ate two slices of bread containing 25g of flaxseed daily for 12 weeks experienced fewer hot flushes than the control group eating their normal bread.12 You can also add a tablespoon of milled flaxseed to your porridge or smoothies
Limit ‘fast release’ starchy carbs like white pasta, white bread, mashed potatoes, chips, cake and biscuits: women who eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates go through the menopause earlier.13 Over-doing these foods may interfere with blood-glucose control which can lead to insulin resistance and increased oestrogen production.14 Diets high in refined carbohydrates can also lead to blood sugar spikes. A 2017 study by the University of Texas reported that drops in blood sugar levels can trigger hot flushes.15 Switch to ‘slow release’ carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, root vegetables and oats, instead.16
Pouring yourself a large glass of wine at the end of the day could make you feel worse in the long run. A 2006 study in the Annals Of Human Biology found that daily drinking increased the chance of hot flushes and night sweats.17 One theory is that alcohol causes blood vessels in the body to dilate, which tells your brain that you’re too hot.18 Don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week – one 175ml glass of 14% wine is 2.4 units – and have at least three drink-free days every week.19
Not sure what’s causing your symptoms? Try recording them and your daily diet in a diary to spot any triggers, and then you can to avoid them. Making a few simple tweaks to what you eat could turn your menopause into a piece of cake.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.