But do the experts buy it?

Isadora Baum
June 28, 2019

Photo: FortyForks / Getty

Menopause stinks, as most women who've gone through it can attest, but can something as simple as diet really be a magical cure for the symptoms? According to Daily Mail, Maria Borelius, 58, from Sweden, had perimenopause symptoms and claims to have eliminated them by sticking with anti-inflammatory foods. She says she feels healthier than at age 35, which says a lot!

Yet, is it easy enough to say that avoiding certain foods will get rid of menopause problems stat? "What research shows is that the Mediterranean diet is the closest thing to an 'anti-inflammatory diet' and is an overall healthy eating patten to follow at all stages of life. When you're eating plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy fats, and making the shift over to lean protein and plant-based options, rather than red meat, you get more of the good-for-you nutrients and phytochemicals that can help quell inflammation so you can feel your best at any age," says Victoria Seaver, M.S., R.D., Digital Meal Plan Editor at Eating Well.

However, the list of foods and the reasons for not eating them in this article isn't on par with what research tells us about eating to beat inflammation and menopause symptoms, she says. What's more, "the main problem with believing that this woman's improvements in energy and pain levels were due to specific 'anti-inflammatory foods' is that we don't know exactly what her diet looked like before," adds Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

"If her dietary intake was mostly the foods she is saying to avoid all-together, and contained little to no fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, her poor symptoms may have been due to lack of adequate intake of essential fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals as well as high intakes of sodium and processed fats," she says.

Here's the break down of the foods Borelius listed:

Bread, Pasta, and Pizza

Unless you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten, there's no research that says you need to cut it from your diet. "What you can do is choose whole-grain versions more often that contain the fiber and nutrients that otherwise get stripped away when making refined counterparts. Rice cakes she suggests don't have much too them-they're low in calories and contain little fiber," says Seaver. There are also holes in her statements, says "Rye bread is ok but gluten is not? Rye bread has gluten," she says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC. And sweet potato, quinoa, and brown rice are all healthy complex carbohydrates to add to your diet, but you don't need to use them in place of pasta, says Seaver. There's nothing wrong with eating pasta in moderation.

Putting such a focus on gluten being bad can actual be harmful since gluten containing grains can provide much more fiber, vitamins, and minerals that non-gluten containing grains, says Jones. "We wouldn't tell someone without an almond allergy to avoid almonds, so we should use that same thought process with other foods as well," she adds.

"Crisps" or Chips

True, a lot of commercially produced chips are made with trans fats, an ingredient that doesn't do the body any good, but not all of them. "Nowadays, you can find so many crunchy, just salty enough alternatives to chips that are made with healthier oils, like canola oil or avocado oil, so go for those instead and keep it to one serving," says Seaver. You can also make your own at home with wholesome ingredients and enjoy with ease.

Biscuits and Sweets

Referring to a cookie as a "triple-inflammation bomb" is a little dramatic, says Seaver. "Just keep it to one serving when it comes to cookies and other sweets to keep your added sugar intake in check and if your sweet tooth needs more, go for a fruit forward treat that's naturally sweet," she explains. Or have some dark chocolate for its health benefits, but keep it to a square or two. You can also make a sorbet for a fruity treat and to sneak in another serving in the day.

Dairy

There are some problems with this one. "She says to cut dairy but links to lactose issues which many people don't have," says White. Only if you have a sensitivity or allergy do you need to get a dairy alternative. "And yogurt and kefir also contain lactose but she says those are ok," which doesn't make sense, adds White. What's more, if you are lactose intolerant, you may still be able to have dairy items if you take lactase (an enzyme that will break down the lactose in the food for you) before eating, says Seaver. "Plus, as estrogen levels decrease during menopause, the risk of osteoporosis and bone breaks increases, so the calcium and other nutrients you find in milk helps to offset that," Seaver adds.

She almost may not have had a good diet and chose super fattening grains and cheeses. "In her case, if she ate high amounts of refined grains and cheeses, her body likely didn't have a good variety of fibers and nutrients from whole grains and was getting excess saturated fat and sodium," says Jones. It's hard to pinpoint dairy based on this woman's single experience, for sure.

Alcohol

"This is one I do agree with-moderation is important with alcohol. Keep it to one drink a day for women and two for men and if it can be red wine, you'll get some added benefit," says Seaver.

Burgers

There's no need to ditch burgers, as they can be an excellent source of lean, clean protein as long as they don't come from a fast food joint. "Skip the fast-food options and make a healthier version at home," says Seaver. Try recipes that use leaner meat (like these Greek Turkey Burgers) and give plant-based burgers made with beans a try.

The Takeaway

It doesn't hurt to lower intake of processed foods, sweets, and fast foods, but you don't need to get rid of all of these things cold turkey for menopause relief. "I am not aware of any data connecting inflammation and menopause but I would agree that cleaning up the diet in the fashion that she reported and/or a diet high in anti inflammatory foods would certainly improve how anyone feels," says White.

Plus, a few of her statements are factually inaccurate, so don't treat her like a doctor. "By aiming for gradual increases in vegetable, fruit, whole grain, legume, nut and seed intake, it will be easier to incorporate a healthful diet for the long term and likely be better for mental health," says Jones. "It's okay to still eat bread, pasta, and cheese, but having a higher intake of the other whole plant foods may in turn reduce your intake of more refined foods, leading to overall higher nutrient intake and better levels of satiety throughout the day, too," she adds. And that means fewer menopausal symptoms are likely just from feeling more at ease.

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