Menopausal women who are experiencing weight gain or other menopausal symptoms may start to look at their diets more closely. Carbohydrates or carbs for short have become the new health demon and many women may feel that the best diet is one that reduces or eliminates carbohydrates.
Why you need carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have a purpose. They are the preferred source of energy for the body and the brain. Without carbohydrates, you will likely feel sluggish and suffer from brain fog. You will also be missing out on many essential nutrients. Carbohydrates are also necessary for hormone balance. The key is eating the right kind of carbohydrates.
Not all carbs are created equal
When choosing carbohydrate foods, choose foods that are mostly unprocessed. Choose vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, and whole grains. These foods are more slowly digested and will not raise blood sugar as quickly as foods like white bread, cookies, breakfast cereal, and fruit juice. For breakfast ideas with healthy carbs (and protein and healthy fats) check out my 5 Hormone Balancing Breakfast Ideas.
The foods listed above also have other reasons for eating them. They all contain protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. For example, leafy green vegetables are nutrient superstars
On the other hand foods like white bread, cookies, chocolate bars, and chips have little nutritional value. Breakfast cereals try to look healthy by including added vitamins.
What’s the fuss about grains and gluten?
Grains, even whole grains, have been given a bad rap. Many women are turning to gluten free and even grain free diets to improve their health. If you are celiac or gluten intolerant, then eliminating foods with gluten is essential. I discussed gluten free diets in this article in depth.
There are also other types of grain intolerance. If you have a FODMAP sensitivity you may be sensitive to wheat, barley and rye. FODMAP sensitivities are under diagnosed, but are linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Often women self diagnose themselves as gluten intolerant, when in fact they are FODMAP intolerant. If you suffer from IBS, it is worth checking out a low FODMAP diet.
Another problem with grains is how they are prepared. Many foods with grains are heavily processed and the grains are refined so they have had the healthy parts of the grain removed. Even whole wheat flour can be unbleached white flour with some bran and germ added back in. Look for 100% whole grain flour if you want real whole wheat flour.
Modern commercial bread is usually not made with 100% whole grains. Breads are also usually made with yeast and additional leavening agents. The sourdough bread of the past was much healthier and easily tolerated than the modern preserved and yeast made breads.
Proponents of the paleo diet, feel that we should not eat anything that wasn’t part of our diet in palaeolithic times. This includes grains. My personal feeling is that this is too restrictive and not necessary. But grains should be chosen carefully and should not be the centre of the meal. Try a spinach salad with a small serving of quinoa (a pseudo grain) mixed in instead of a sandwich with 2 thick slices of bread for lunch.
Do low carb diets work?
Many women have been eating too many carbs, especially refined carbs, for a long time. Prior to menopause they may have gotten away with it, but with the changes in menopause they can no longer afford empty calories. For many women reducing carbohydrates has a positive effect on menopause weight loss.
Strict diets such as the ketogenic (keto) diet may work in the short term, but are usually difficult to maintain. They may also have some adverse effects for menopausal women. Check out this article to understand if the ketogenic diet is right for you.
Portion control is key
Aside from choosing the wrong carbohydrates, many of us eat too many carbohydrates. We fill our plates with pasta or rice. We eat several slices of bread, or giant bagels. Past versions of the Canada food guide and the US food pyramid placed heavy emphasis on carbohydrates.
Unless you are an athlete with a heavy training schedule, you can probably eat fewer carbohydrates. An appropriate portion for women is a cupped handful of carbohydrates at eat meal. This does not include vegetables. Eat as many vegetables as you like.
Carbohydrate needs are individual
Some people need more carbohydrates than others. We each have a unique metabolism and unique carbohydrate needs. Your needs will depend on how active you are and on other factors. If you reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat, then pay attention to how you are feeling.
We tend to eat mostly carbohydrates in the morning, but this might not be the best time. Carbohydrates seem to be best digested in the evening or after exercise. At breakfast we are better off concentrating on protein. Protein at breakfast will help to build and maintain muscle and to keep blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day. Eating carbohydrates at night will help to replenish stores of glucose in the muscles and bring the body into a more relaxed state.
You don’t need to give up on carbohydrates completely. But, if you are menopausal and are gaining weight, you likely need to reduce the carbohydrates that you are consuming.