Menopause is a natural life cycle stage that ends the window of the female reproductive years. This significant milestone often comes with a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain. The good news is there are things you can eat and do to help! A well-planned diet specifically geared toward menopause can help you navigate this transition with greater ease, improving your overall health.
Menopause ends the reproductive stage of life for women and is defined as having 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle. During this transition and change in hormones, hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes are very common issues.
Because body chemistry is changing during menopause, so are nutritional needs. Focusing on the right foods and getting enough of specific nutrients will help curb negative symptoms of menopause and help make the transition easier and more comfortable.
Diet alone may not be enough support for some. Research shows social support and professional guidance significantly improve symptoms, mood, and overall health of people going through menopause.
As always, be sure to discuss any major dietary changes with your doctor or healthcare professional.
In this article, we will explore the best foods to eat during menopause and introduce a few helpful apps that can assist you during this life-changing phase.
Stages of menopause
Before we delve into foods and apps that can help you navigate menopause, let’s do a quick review of the stages of menopause.
- Perimenopause. The body begins to show signs of hormone changes, menstrual cycles are more irregular but still present. Symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, night sweats, and weight changes begin.
- Menopause. As symptoms progress (often becoming more intense than perimenopause) and cycles become less frequent, you are approaching menopause itself. Menopause is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle.
- Postmenopause. Subsequent years after menopause has occurred.
Regardless of which stage you’re in, this article reviews foods, nutrients, and apps that can support your transition, making it less painful and improving overall health.
Menopause and health
A menopause diet isn't just about managing symptoms — it's about promoting overall health and well-being. As women's bodies undergo hormonal changes, there are specific dietary considerations that can make this transition smoother and more comfortable. Here are some things to consider:
Hormonal fluctuations are a hallmark of menopause, and this is unavoidable as the body gears down its reproductive years. The good news is certain foods can help balance these hormones. Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants that mimic estrogen's effects in the body, which can alleviate some menopausal symptoms.
Osteoporosis becomes a significant concern during and after menopause due to a decrease in estrogen. One of estrogen’s jobs is to prevent bones from getting weaker, so when the body no longer produces as much estrogen, bone health can become a concern. Weight-bearing exercise and a diet rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3, and vitamin K2 are essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones (ideally preventing the possibility of developing osteoporosis).
Weight management. Many women experience weight gain during menopause, primarily due to a slower metabolism and a decrease in energy. The right diet can support weight management and is crucial for overall health. In addition to the right diet, the right support can significantly improve peri and menopausal years, making weight and body changes less severe.
Heart health. Another job of estrogen is to help manage cholesterol (lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and raising “good” HDL cholesterol). When the body stops making estrogen, these cardiovascular-protective actions leave with it. Cardiovascular risks can increase during menopause, making it vital to focus on heart-healthy foods.
Foods to eat during menopause
Now that we know what health issues to consider during menopause, let’s review some essential nutrients that can help with this life cycle stage.
Phytoestrogens (isoflavones and lignans)
Soybeans, soy-based foods (like tofu, soy milk, and edamame), and flaxseeds are all excellent sources of phytoestrogens. Soy contains high levels of isoflavones, and flaxseed contains high levels of lignans, both of which can act like estrogen in the body. These compounds can help alleviate hot flashes and mood swings by providing a mild estrogenic effect. Studies have shown that consumption of these foods can significantly reduce menopausal symptoms.
A study published in Menopause found that soy foods “reduced frequency and severity of hot flashes and improved quality of life in vasomotor, psychosocial, physical, and sexual domains in postmenopausal women.”
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can help combat mood swings and joint pain, which are common during menopause. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t eat fish or seafood, you can get your omega-3 intake from flaxseeds (which are also phytoestrogens like soy), walnuts, seaweed, and marine algae. Fish oil, omega-3 oil, and algae oil are also available in supplement form (just be sure to discuss this with your doctor before starting).
Research published in Nutrition Research and Practice suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of depression and improve mood in menopausal women.
During menopause, the body's ability to absorb calcium decreases, so it’s essential to get enough calcium in your diet. Calcium works alongside magnesium, vitamin D3, and vitamin K2 to ensure a strong bone matrix, preventing things like osteoporosis and tooth loss. Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin K.
A study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that increased consumption of leafy greens was associated with higher bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
High-fiber whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread provide a steady source of energy and can help stabilize blood sugar levels. This is crucial for managing weight during menopause as insulin sensitivity tends to decrease (potentially increasing risks for type 2 diabetes). Not only does fiber help stabilize blood sugar, but it also keeps digestion and bowel transit times regular (preventing constipation and supporting a healthy weight).
A study published in Nutrients demonstrated that a diet rich in “dietary fiber intake is reported to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in menopausal women through various mechanisms, such as improving blood lipid profiles and reducing blood pressure and insulin resistance.” As such, increased fiber intake can protect your heart, regulate digestion, potentially prevent diabetes, and support healthy weight management.
Oxidative stress is associated with higher inflammation, higher disease rates, and worse/more painful symptoms during menopause. Antioxidants directly combat this oxidative stress, supporting overall health. Estrogen acts as an antioxidant, so without it, we need to find something to replace these beneficial effects. Eating high-antioxidant foods like berries, tomatoes, colorful fruits and vegetables, turmeric, citrus, and soy is an effective way to ensure you get the antioxidants you need. Many foods high in antioxidants also promote heart health because they’re also high in fiber and can lower cholesterol levels.
Per the research published in the Journal of Midlife Health, “antioxidants were found to be beneficial to women in the perimenopausal and postmenopausal phases specifically Vitamin C, Vitamin E, phytoestrogens, melatonin, Acanthopanax senticosus, klamin, Curcuma longa, grape polyphenols, and lycopene.” They showed significant improvement in the intensity and duration of hot flashes, as well as general improvement with other menopause-related issues.
Food can be a very powerful tool when navigating the uncomfortable signs and symptoms of menopause. Studies in Nutrients journal found that “specific nutrients, including isoflavone phytoestrogens, fiber, omega-3, and calcium” can “reduce the risk for chronic metabolic diseases and alleviate menopausal symptoms in middle-aged women.” Like Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, has said, “let thy food be thy medicine.” This is a perfect example of how food can directly support health through an important life cycle stage like menopause.
In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, the use of apps can be a valuable tool for women going through menopause. Studies have shown that social support (having people going through the same life cycle stage together) and professional guidance (from a nutritionist or physician) can significantly improve menopause outcomes, lowering the severity, intensity, and duration of symptoms and improving overall health. We all need extra support sometimes, and the good news is there are apps that can help.
Here are three apps that can aid in managing menopausal symptoms and supporting a healthy lifestyle:
Reverse. Reverse is an app that specifically targets menopausal women seeking help to manage their weight. The app offers extensive support in all areas of life during menopause, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight, prevent disease, and improve overall health. Reverse includes a comprehensive coaching course around weight management during menopause. Additionally, it has personalized meal plans, supplement recommendations, professional support from dietitians, health coaches, and physiotherapists, social support from a community of like-minded women, exercise plans, progress trackers, and even daily accountability support to keep you successful. Think of Reverse as your one-stop shop for menopausal weight management support.
Maven Clinic. Maven Clinic is an app that offers telemedicine services with women's health specialists, including gynecologists, nurse practitioners, and dietitians. It provides expert guidance on managing menopause symptoms, hormone replacement therapy (if needed), and dietary recommendations.
MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal is a widely popular app for tracking daily calorie intake and exercise. It's a helpful tool for women looking to manage their weight during menopause by setting goals and monitoring their progress.
Navigating the complex changes that come with menopause can be challenging, especially if you’re doing it alone. The right diet and the right support can make a great impact during menopause. Incorporating foods high in phytoestrogens, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants into your diet can help alleviate symptoms and promote overall health during this transitional phase. Additionally, leveraging apps like Maven Clinic, MyFitnessPal, and Reverse can provide valuable tools and support to manage your menopause journey with confidence and ease. With the right dietary choices and the assistance of these apps, you can embrace menopause as a new beginning and enjoy a vibrant and healthy life beyond this transformative stage.
- AHA Journals. Estrogen Signaling and Cardiovascular Disease.
- Journal of Nutrition. Estrogen Signaling and Cardiovascular Disease.
- Oregon State University. Soy Isoflavones.
- Menopause. The Women's Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS): a randomized, controlled trial of a plant-based diet and whole soybeans for postmenopausal women.
- Nutrition Research and Practice. Association between dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake and depression in postmenopausal women.
Show all references
- Nutrients. Meal-Based Intervention on Health Promotion in Middle-Aged Women: A Pilot Study.
- Journal of Midlife Health. The role of oxidative stress in menopause.