Once women reach menopause there are plenty of reasons that the diet that worked in the past doesn’t work any more. The following foods should be avoided as much as possible during menopause because they either cause menopause symptoms, health issues or contribute to weight gain.
Whether you are perimenopausal or post menopausal you probably need to eat differently than you could in your 20s and 30s.
Foods with Added Sugar
Sugar is one of the most important foods to avoid during menopause. It has no nutritional value aside from simple carbohydrates and energy. And it contributes to hot flashes, weight gain, and anxiety and is linked to diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Foods with added sugar raise blood sugar and the resulting drop in blood sugar can lead to cravings,
Replace foods with added sugar with whole fruit or vegetables. Fruits contain sugar, but they also contain vitamins, minerals, and fibre and are digested more slowly causing less of a blood sugar spike than foods with added sugar.
Foods made with refined grains
They are not quite as bad as foods with added sugar, but refined grains should still be avoided. Refined grains have much of the good parts of the grain removed. They contain less fibre than their whole grain counterpart so they are more likely to cause blood sugar spikes and can contribute to menopause symptoms including belly fat. Refined grains like white flour or white bread often have added vitamins and minerals, but these don’t make up for the nutrients removed in the refining process.
Replace refined grains with whole grains or legumes. Look for the whole grain symbol or read the label to make sure the grains are not refined. In some cases vegetables can also replace refined grains – think cauliflower rice or spaghetti squash.
If you are looking for some low sugar and refined carbohydrate ideas for breakfast, download this free guide.
Heavily Processed Foods
Many processed foods are made with added sugar and refined grains so this should be enough of a reason to avoid most processed foods. But even if they don’t contain sugar or refined grains processed foods are not the best choice for menopausal women. Foods are processed to make money for the manufacturer, not to increase nutritional quality.
Aside from sugar and refined grains, processed foods may contain unhealthy types of fats like refined oils or transfers, artificial colours or flavours, and excess salt. Processed foods are also designed to make you eat more of them. And the nutritional quality of most processed foods is low, making them poor choices for women going through menopause who need to make every calorie count.
Processed meats may contribute to hot flashes and are also linked to several chronic diseases. Processed meats include bacon, most lunchmeat and precooked sausages.
Most foods we eat are processed in some way. Try to eat foods that are minimally processed as much as you can. This means whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, unprocessed meats, beans and lentils.
A moderate amount of alcohol can be part of a healthy diet for menopausal women. But there are several things to keep in mind concerning consuming alcohol:
- Alcoholic beverages are not calorie free. They can contribute to weight gain
- They may increase menopause symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings and anxiety
- Consuming alcohol is linked to diseases like cancer, heart disease, liver disease and osteoporosis.
Consuming moderate amounts (1 drink per day) or alcohol can lower risks of type 2 diabetes, dementia, stroke and obesity. A glass of wine with dinner is OK, but your binge drinking days should be over.
Many women find that their caffeine tolerance decreases during menopause. Caffeine consumption can contribute to hot flashes, anxiety and poor sleep. Women who used to drink coffee all day often find that just a cup or two makes them jittery, causes hot flashes or keeps them up at night.
Specialty coffee that contains lots of sugar should definitely be limited. The combination of caffeine and sugar will likely contribute to anxiety, cause blood sugar spikes and probably has more calories than you think.
On the other hand, coffee has some health benefits: lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
If you find your tolerance to caffeine has dropped, try replacing some of all of your coffee with lower caffeine choices like tea or caffeine free choices like herbal teas.
This has mostly been covered in the sections on heavily processed foods, but this can apply to any food that is salty, even naturally salty foods. Too much salt causes your body to hold onto water. For some people salty foods contribute to higher blood pressure and heart disease. They can also contribute to bone loss because you lose more calcium in your urine when you eat salty foods.
Salt is found in foods like potato chips, salted nuts, smoked and cured meats, canned foods with salt added, commercial salad dressings, cottage cheese and tomato juice are all high in salt.
Here are a few ways to eat less salt:
- Choose less processed or low sodium options.
- Make your own salad dressing
- Eat raw nuts or nuts with no salt added
- Replace salty snacks with raw vegetables, dehydrator vegetable chips or fruit.
Anything that contributes to digestive issues
One thing that surprises women in their 40s and 50s is that food intolerances can develop. Sometimes this can be temporary and can develop after being sick or having an infection. Or one food intolerance can cause inflammation in the gut which can lead to trouble digesting many foods.
The changing hormones that happen with menopause can lead to food intolerances for some women.
If you think you may have developed a food intolerance, you can start with a food diary, also listing any intolerance symptoms. You can also try an elimination diet.
Once you reach midlife, you may not be able to eat the same foods you did in the past. They may be too calorie dense, too low in nutrients or contribute to menopause symptoms or food intolerance. To start making healthy changes to your diet, join the Healthy Changes Program.