Menopause is a lifestyle change, a shift in the body and mind that requires attention, care and adjustment. As a woman ages, her body reflects the cellular aging, coming to a moment when it no longer needs to sustain the cycles of elevated progesterone and estrogen. Menopause starts as those estrogen levels begin o naturally fall. Along with symptoms like hot flashes, lack of sleep, reduced bone density and changes in mood, the body has to learn how to regulate without that constant level of hormones. This can sometimes result in changes to how the body metabolizes carbohydrates as well as how the body regulates cholesterol levels. A healthy, responsive diet to menopause is a great place to begin when those initial symptoms of perimenopause come on.
The Dairy Diet
In the United States, lactose intolerance has been on the rise. Between 30 and 50 million people report various levels of intolerance, and that number is much higher for African Americans, indigenous peoples, and Asian Americans. Researchers believe that white people of European descent have lower levels of lactose intolerance as they descended from European communities where dairy has been consumed for generations. The genetic mutation to digest lactase was passed on through those lineages.
While there are varying studies on the pros and cons of lactose, it has been proven that milk can increase bone density. As women go through menopause and age in general, their bone density can decrease significantly, and a study has found that consuming lactose has helped replenish that strength. Drinking milk or eating cheese before sleep also can help with sleeplessness due to the amino acid glycine, a building block for protein, which has also been used to treat people with schizophrenia, stroke, sleep problems, metabolic disorders, and other illnesses.
Possible Assistance from Fatty Acids
In studies done looking at the effect of fatty acids on regulating the menopausal symptoms of women, results were not always conclusive but still left room for encouraging experimentation. In one study, women who consumed omega-3 fatty acids did experience relief of symptoms. Scientists note women can experiment with and document intake of omega-3 fatty acids to see if there is an effect. Such foods would include fish like mackerel and salmon, as well as flax, chia and hemp seeds.
General Healthy Eating Tips during Menopause
Consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and quality proteins are all methods of boosting the body’s overall strength, muscle mass, and bone density. Studies looking at the consumption of whole grains compared to processed flours and sugars have found correlation between heart health and diet. The healthier the heart, and other organs, the stronger the body can maneuver hormone shifts. Some studies recommend avoiding spicy food, hot food, alcohol, and caffeine, as these can be triggering for some women during menopause who are prone to hot flashes.
The greatest take-aways when it comes to a healthy diet during menopauseare to focus on what works for you. By recording what you eat and any side effects, as well as focusing on healthy eating habits, you can better understand what your body needs. Food is, of course, one of the greatest determinants of health, and access to healthy food is linked to socioeconomic status, region (where one lives), race, ethnicity, and many other factors. Therefore, the intentionality involved in finding and preparing healthy foods is not always easy, especially for women working multiple jobs, taking care of a family, and living in a food desert. To the best of one’s ability, for a woman going through menopause, trying to prioritize a healthy diet can ease a lot of the symptoms.
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