Find out what foods might help make menopause easier.

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.

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 to help make menopause easier.

-Cheryl Forberg, R.D. and Anna Roufos

Protect Your Bone Health

1. Protect Your Bone Health

How to Eat: Up your intake of calcium and vitamin D. Although we 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: in one large study, postmenopausal women who took calcium and vitamin D supplements regularly had fewer hip fractures. Calcium and vitamin D may also help with weight management-possibly stimulating the breakdown of fat cells and suppressing the development of new ones.

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). 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.

Battle Mood Swings

2. 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-rich foods 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-rich foods 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.

Stave Off Weight Gain

3. Stave Off Weight Gain

How to Eat: Boost fiber. Most of us need to work hard not to gain weight during and after menopause. 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. 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).

4. Soothe Hot Flashes

How to Eat: The Mediterranean diet-which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and even a daily glass of red wine-is associated with healthier hearts and slimmer waists. Additionally, new research shows that menopausal women who eat a Mediterranean-style diet are about 20 percent less likely to report hot flashes and night sweats. In contrast, women eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet are more likely to experience those symptoms. Researchers believe that the high fiber content of a Mediterranean diet may stabilize estrogen levels, which in turn can lessen symptoms. The diet also helps keep blood sugar in an optimal range, which may be a factor in relieving menopause discomfort as well.

More Foods to Eat Well for Life

More Foods to Eat Well for Life