In my last blog 'fighting middle age spread', I wanted to get across that we don't need to fight getting older. Whether it's the menopasue or manopause, it's pretty much inevitable and hormones have a hell of a lot to answer for. At a time when they have gone AWOL, you may find your body is much more sensitive to many things, particularly the effects of caffeine, alcohol and sugar. If you can relate to being itchy, bitchy, sweaty and sleepy then read on.........
Remember that age brings intelligence, experience, wisdom and beauty. We must nourish and look after our body accordingly to bring about these benefits. Here are some simple dietary tips to help make the journey as smooth as possible!
1. Watch the booze
Alcohol in moderation is absolutely fine and if you enjoy a wee tipple (for medicinal purposes of course), then go ahead. Over-doing it however (and when I say this I mean drinking on most nights of the week or regularly having a binge at the weekend) will not only add inches to your waistline, but also increase blood pressure.
No matter what we read about the benefits of alcohol (especially red wine), it still provides empty Calories. At around 125 Cals per glass of wine or 200 Cals per pint of beer, it adds up. Rising blood pressure is commonly linked to age (as our blood vessels lose their elasticity, just like our skin) so we don't need to accelerate that process if we want to live until a ripe ol' age. Alcohol also dehydrates our skin so if you fancy less wrinkles, have a little less alcohol.
2. Slash the salt
Some people are particularly 'salt sensitive'. This means that salt causes them to retain water which can be uncomfortable and also raises blood pressure. The good thing here is that these people also respond very well to a reduced salt diet. Ready meals, sauces, condiments, cheese and bread contain much of the hidden salt we eat on a daily basis so go for reduced-salt options for processed foods and use more herbs and spices to boost flavour in meals instead.
3. Go for slow release
When it comes to carbs, you may find eating less helps combat bloating and feeling sluggish. Some carbs are vital for energy however and for the sake of your family, friends and peers, I wouldn't advise cutting them out completely if you want them to stay around. Being low on energy can play havoc with your mood so I advise you include slow release, starchy carbohydrates to help you manage any irritable, impatient or 'I could strangle you' outbreaks! The main cause of anger, anxiety and hot flushes around menopause is down to an increased sensitivity to adrenaline - our main stress hormone, so think how you can 'keep a better balance' both in terms of energy stabilising foods and managing stress more effectively..
Wholegrains rich in fbre (like brown rice, wholemeal cous cous or pasta, beans and lentils) will also keep our gut happy. Not only will these foods keep you 'regular' but the friendly bacteria in our gut feed on the fibre we eat. Recent research is suggesting that these bacteria could play a significant part in appetite control and therefore weight management. It appears (albeit in animal studies at the moment) that certain gut bacteria cause the release of hormones that suppress appetite around 20 minutes after eating - a great reason to slow down, which leads me to my next tip:
4. Eat more mindfully
Slowing down is not very conducive to today's lifestyle but actually something many of us need to do, particularly when it comes to eating. Not only does gobbling down our food lead to bloating and indigestion, but speedy, mindless eating often leads to over eating. Our gut needs a good 15-20 minutes to start kicking out signals to our brain, letting us know we may be getting full so allowing more time for meals is a good start. Somebody (not sure who) worked out it takes just 40 minutes a day to eat our breakfast, lunch AND dinner in the UK. Not long is it?
So try pausing. Tune into your senses; although we often eat with our eyes, what does your food smell like, feel like, sound like and taste like? Put your fork down between mouthfuls (no-one is going to steal it!!) and see if you can hear your gut talking to you. I bet you will feel more satisfied after eating and actually remember what you ate!
5. Pick up the protein
Cutting down on the sweet stuff is a great step in the right direction but also think about what you might have instead. You may be left 'wanting' or feel you are missing out on 'something' if you cut down too much too soon. This is where protein can come in because it can give you a strong sense of satisfaction; it helps fill you up and can be a good way to help cut down on snacking.
Recent research is also showing the benefits of upping your protein as we 'mature'. We need protein for muscles so if you want to keep active, mobile and nimble then eating protein at each meal (not just once a day) can really help. Our muscles are also one of the key determinants of our metabolism - we need to preserve our muscles if we are to keep up the rate at which we burn Calories. Good sources of healthy protein include dairy, eggs, fish, chicken, grains, pulses, lentils, seeds and nuts.
6. Hold the Caffeine
As a stimulant (hence it can be an effective pick-me-up), caffeine is not great for hot flushes. It will enhance the effects of adrenaline (see no.3) and potentially cause further disruption to your already disrupted sleep. Limit your caffeine to mornings (and try not to go beyond 2pm) and bear in mind that fizzy drinks, chocolate and some pain killers can all contain caffeine. Tea typically contains less than half the caffeine of coffee so that could be a preferable alternative, as would fruit or herbal teas if you still fancy a hot drink.
7. So what about Soy
“Soy” as in edamame beans, soy flour, tempeh, tofu, soy milk, or soy sauce; they have become increasingly popular as an alternative treatment for menopausal symptoms. Asian women raised on a diet rich in soy have much lower rates of hot flushes and breast cancer, so what's in it?
Soy contains isoflavones (naturally occurring plant chemicals). Some isoflavones exert a mild estrogenic effect and are therefore called phytoestrogens. Structurally similar to our own natural estrogen, soy isoflavones have the capacity to bind to empty estrogen receptors, mimic oestrogen and relieve the hormonal based symptoms of menopause.
8. Good fats all the way
Fats make many of us uneasy; it's a conflict between moderating the Calories eaten but wanting the benefits that fats can provide. I'm talking about the 'good fats' the healthy omega-3 fats you find in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, rapeseed and olive oils, avocado, nuts and seeds. These fats can help protect and restore our skin cells and also provide an anti-inflammatory action and should be a regular part of our diet. The fall in oestrogen associated with menopause reduces the skins ability to produce skin smoothing oils and collagen; it becomes drier and more susceptible to irritation. Some will suffer with itchy, crawling skin which can drive one to distraction and a diet rich in omega-3's may, just may provide some relief.
Of course, dietary changes won't be the sole answer to improving your symptoms. Keeping active and working on your sleep hygiene (your bed time routine and sleep preparation) to improve your sleep quality sleep are also vital. If you'd like to know about HRT and other treatment / therapy options for menopausal symptoms, please ask your GP or other specialist health professional.
As for exercise, aim for 30 minute exercise a day (a nice walk is ideal) to help reduce stress, lower stress hormones and obtain numerous numerous other benefits:
- get your feel-good endorphin release (a natural anti-depressant)
- provides a happy distraction
- boosts your immune system
- improves sleep quality
- helps with weight management
Can you recommend any more tips? Why not share them in the comments below