Continuing our menopause series, in this blog post we will be discussing menopause nutrition myths. It can be hard to determine what is fact and fiction with a large amount of varying nutritional advice on the internet but we’re going to dispel some myths, based on the scientific evidence.
Nutrition Myths #1 – Weight gain is inevitable.
Gaining weight is a common occurrence during menopause, with peri-menopausal women gaining an average of 1-2kg during this time. Varying oestrogen levels can increase the chances of weight gain during menopause; however, weight gain doesn’t have to be inevitable.
There are a number of ways that you can manage your weight throughout the menopause:
- Increase your physical activity – the NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Physical activity can be anything from hiking to cycling to carrying heavy shopping bags.
- Eat well – all adults should aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Try a Mediterranean-style diet – this can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. This diet consists of a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats.
- Try alternative therapies such as yoga, herbal treatments, and meditation – these treatments may help with the any negative mood symptoms you experience.
- Control portion sizes – try measuring out your snacks, check the recommended serving sizes on everyday foods, and practice mindful eating to ensure you are eating when you are hungry, not because you are bored or for comfort.
- Plan meals – this can help you to make healthy decisions when preparing meals.
- Keep yourself accountable – try exercising with friends or making healthy meals for your whole family to stay motivated.
- Don’t do too much at once – make small lifestyle changes, instead of drastic ones, to make it more likely for you to stick to the changes you have made .
To learn more about managing weight gain during menopause, click here.
Nutrition Myths #2 – Soya is bad for hormone levels.
Soya often gets a bad reputation online, as some people claim that it can disrupt hormone levels. This is untrue, however, as soya products contain isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen which can actually mimic the effects of oestrogen in females, benefitting women with low oestrogen levels.
This is beneficial for women going through menopause as it can aid in preventing symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, and reduced sex drive, caused by low oestrogen levels . Additionally, soya has been found to have some cancer-protective effects in peri-menopausal women .
Soya products can include foods like tofu and soya milk. Legumes such as chickpeas and lentils are also some good sources of isoflavones. Another type of phytoestrogen is lignans. These can be found in oats, quinoa, vegetables, and seeds . By including these foods in your diet, you could potentially reduce the likelihood of menopausal symptoms.
To learn more about phytoestrogens, click here.
Nutrition Myths #3 – Women need a lot fewer calories than men.
The common statement that women need less calories than men is untrue. Many studies express that when calculating calorie requirements for an individual there are numerous factors that effect their needs. Some common factors that need to be considered include age, ethnicity, sex, physiological state (e.g., menopause), activity levels, weight, and height .
It is important that these factors are considered when calculating calorie requirements as calories play an important part in energy balance in the body. Energy balance is the number of calories you use each day versus the calories you consume through your diet. If you consume more calories than you use you may notice weight gain, however, if you expend more calories than you consume you are likely to lose weight .
Nutrition Myths #4 – Cutting carbohydrates and fat is the only way to lose weight.
Carbohydrates and fat are usually the first things to be cut out of a diet when trying to lose weight. However, both nutrients play important roles in our body and should not be cut out completely.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy used in the body, with the average consumption being between 40 to 80% in most people’s diets . They are the sugars, starches and fibres found in products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy.
Carbohydrates are important for our body as they provide fuel for our muscles, organs, and nervous system. They are also broken down into sugar by the body meaning that their consumption regulates our blood sugar levels.
Fat is a macronutrient that provides the body with energy and helps it to absorb vitamins. There are three types of fats known as saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in the liver and has several functions in the body, like making hormones and cell walls. It is found in the blood in two forms known as low-density lipoproteins and high-density lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins are bad for us in large amounts and can increase our risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease. Saturated and trans fats can increase the levels of low-density lipoproteins in our blood. High-density lipoproteins are often described as “good” cholesterols as they help to dispose of cholesterol when levels are too high. Unsaturated fats contain this type of cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats are an important part of our diet as they help to control “bad” cholesterol levels. Some sources of unsaturated fats include avocado, olive oil, seeds, and nuts.
Nutrition Myths #5 – Osteoporosis is unavoidable during menopause.
During the menopause, women are at increased risk of osteoporosis, with ageing and low oestrogen levels contributing to this . However, there are several ways in which nutrition can be used to support bone health in menopause:
- Calcium – calcium supplementation in the diets of post-menopausal women had been shown to slow the rate of bone mineral density lost over a 1-2 year period, reinforcing the importance of an adequate calcium intake.  The recommended daily intake of calcium is 700mg per day, for adults ages 19 to 64, and 2-3 calcium rich foods should be incorporated into the diet daily.
- Phosphorus – adults need 550mg of phosphorus a day. Phosphorus is converted to phosphate in the body to be used for bone growth and mineralisation. A lack of phosphate in the body can lead to the development of rickets and osteomalacia, or bone softening .
- Magnesium – the recommended daily intake of magnesium for women aged 19 to 64 years is 270mg per day. Magnesium deficiency is said to contribute to osteoporosis by inhibiting crystal formation in bone cells, therefore an adequate intake of magnesium is suggested .
- Vitamin D – vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, essential nutrients for bone health . Furthermore, vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium, leading to a decreased risk of fracture. The recommended intake of vitamin D for adults is 10 micrograms per day.
To learn more about supporting bone health, click here.
To summarise, there are a lot of nutrition myths surrounding menopause. However, it is important to conduct your own research or ask for advice before believing what you read online. If you would like any support with making dietary changes to benefit your health during menopause, please book a FREE 15-minute introductory call here.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.