Menopause. That not-so-eagerly anticipated, but inevitable time in a woman’s life when our estrogen and progesterone hormones take a downward dive and those hot flashes sneak up on us. I look forward to entering this phase of my life. My friends and clients have been talking about menopause for years now and they're finding plenty to like about it. What's not to love about not having periods anymore?
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Understanding what's really going on in our bodies can help us find natural solutions to the health challenges this phase of life brings us. Because estrogen levels decrease, our risk for heart disease and osteoporosis increases. Menopause is also linked to high blood pressure and weight gain, as well as a higher risk for breast cancer. While hormone replacement therapy can help, we can also battle these negative forces with proper nutrition. Here are some tips:
Health Goal: Protect your bone health.
How to Eat:Up your intake of calcium and vitamin D. Although I believe that we should get the bulk of our nutrients from the foods we eat, most women, especially those watching their weight (hence, cutting back on calories), are often not getting enough calcium or vitamin D in their daily diets. After menopause, women should aim to get 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. Women aged 19 to 50 need a little less: 1,000 mg a day.
Research shows that calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong: based on data provided by some 36,000 Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) participants, postmenopausal women who took calcium and vitamin D supplements regularly had fewer hip fractures. Also, in the WHI studies, researchers noted that calcium and vitamin D may help with weight management—possibly stimulating the breakdown of fat cells and suppressing the development of new ones. Postmenopausal women who took calcium and vitamin D supplements over a 7-year period weighed an average of 0.28 pound less than those taking placebos.
Calcium-rich foods you should try to work into your diet: low-fat yogurt (1 cup = 415 mg), low-fat milk (1 cup = 295 mg), calcium-fortified orange juice (1 cup = 500 mg), sardines (3 ounces with bones = 270 mg), canned salmon (3 ounces = 270 mg), broccoli (1 cup, cooked = 60 mg), firm tofu (1/2 cup = 227 mg). You can also try my Kiwi-Kefir Shake recipe below, which delivers some calcium. If you’re not getting enough calcium from food, talk to your doctor about a supplement that contains calcium and vitamin D, as D helps you absorb calcium.
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Health Goal: Battle mood swings
How to Eat: Up your intake of B vitamins and omega-3 fats. We all experience mood swings from time to time, but during menopause these swings can seem worse and more difficult to handle. Many women report increased feelings of depression and/or anxiety during menopause. Not getting enough B vitamins and omega-3s may contribute to depression.
Vitamin-B-richfoods you should try to work into your diet: Whole, unprocessed foods like lean meat and poultry, liver, whole grains and lentils are all rich in B vitamins.
Omega-3-richfoods you should try to work into your diet: Up your intake by working oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), flaxseeds and/or flaxseed oil into your diet.
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Top Food Sources of Omega-3s
Health Goal: Stave off weight gain
How to Eat: Boost fiber. Most of us need to work hard not to gain weight during and after menopause—and I’m pretty confident that no one enjoys seeing those pounds sneak up. Gaining weight during and after menopause can increase your risk for heart disease and some forms of cancer. Fortunately, eating fiber-rich foods can help: fiber helps us feel full on less and also has the benefit of keeping our GI tract running smoothly. It helps protect us from colorectal cancer (common among women over 50) and also helps lower cholesterol, which in turn may reduce risk of heart disease. Aim to eat between 25 and 35 grams of fiber each day.
The best sources of fiber: whole grains like quinoa (1/2 cup = 3 grams), barley (1/2 cup cooked = 3g) and air-popped popcorn (3 1/2 cups = 4g). You can also get fiber from lentils (1/2 cup cooked = 8 grams), fruits (for example, 1 large apple = 5g or 1/2 cup raspberries = 4g) and veggies (for example, 1 cup cooked spinach = 4g).
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Kiwi Kefir Shake
Makes 2 (3/4-cup) servings
Like yogurt, kefir is a fermented dairy product—but unlike yogurt, kefir is fermented with a greater variety of bacteria and yeast, resulting in a higher concentration of probiotics to help aid digestion. This protein-rich shake makes for a great breakfast on the go.Each serving has 150mg Calcium, and is also high in the B vitamin Folate.
1 cup low-fat plain kefir
1 medium kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons almond butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 very ripe medium banana, frozen and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons agave nectar, honey or maple syrup to taste (optional)
Combine the kefir, kiwi, almond butter, vanilla extract, and banana in a blender and puree until
smooth. Taste and add sweetener of your choice to taste, if desired. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 170 calories, 5 g total fat (1 g saturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium, 29 g total carbohydrates (19 g sugars), 3 g fiber, 6 g protein
What Is Kefir?
Kefir, which originated in the Middle East, was traditionally made with camel’s milk. Today it is commercially produced using cow’s milk. The fermentation process gives it a tangy, yogurtlike taste and a texture that’s both smooth and slightly fizzy. Kefir is sold in low-fat and fat-free varieties in cartons or bottles and should be kept refrigerated.
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