Women in menopause may experience uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, mood changes and weight gain. Studies show that incorporating healthy superfoods into your diet, such as fruits and vegetables, may alleviate menopause symptoms.
Let’s take a look at five superfoods thought to improve menopause symptoms.
What are symptoms of menopause?
Menopause is a stage of womanhood marked by the end of monthly menstrual cycles, per the Mayo Clinic. The average age to begin menopause in the United States is 51, although some women may begin menopause during their early 40s.
Maintaining a health diet can alleviate menopause symptoms and “have beneficial effects down the line, when it comes to things like bone health, weight gain and cardiovascular health,” Dr. Hoosna Haque, an OB-GYN at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told The New York Times.
During the months and years leading to menopause, known as perimenopause, some women experience the following symptoms:
- Irregular periods.
- Hot flashes.
- Night sweats.
- Weight gain.
- Slowed metabolism.
- Mood changes.
- Loss of bone density.
- Thinning hair.
- Dry skin.
“Having a well-balanced diet is crucial during any stage of life, but during menopause, your body needs some extra patience and care,” reports the Cleveland Health Clinic.
While incorporating healthy foods, such as superfoods, into a balanced diet during menopause can alleviate menopause symptoms and be beneficial to overall health, it is not a cure-all. It is important to note that if your menopause symptoms are severe, you should seek advice from a medical professional.
5 superfoods thought to improve menopause symptoms
1. Fruits and vegetables help decrease hot flashes
Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Maintaining a diet rich with fruits and vegetables is linked to several health benefits such as lowered risk of heart disease and stroke, protection against cancer, decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes and improved gastrointestinal health, per Harvard Health. Higher fruit and vegetable intake is also linked to fewer menopausal symptoms, according to a 2020 study.
Two common symptoms experienced by menopausal and postmenopausal women are hot flashes and night sweats. Researchers studied more than 17,000 women over the course of one year, they found that women with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, fiber and soy experienced a 19% decrease in hot flashes and night sweats, compared to women with lower intakes.
A 2014 study reports that grape seed extract supplements may also decrease hot flashes and improve sleep during menopause. Researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in nearly 100 women experiencing symptoms of menopause. Women who took the grade seed extract supplements experienced significantly fewer hot flashes and improved sleep.
2. Whole grains may improve sleep
Whole grains are made up of three parts: the germ, the bran and the endosperm — they have the “complete package” in terms of health benefits, per Harvard Health. Whole grains include foods such as: quinoa, brown rice, corn, oats, rye and barley. Maintaining a diet rich with whole grains is linked to lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality, according to a 2016 study.
Consuming more whole grains and fiber is associated with lower risk of insomnia in post-menopausal women, per a 2020 study. Comparatively, women with higher consumption of refined grains and starches experienced higher rates of insomnia.
A whole grain heavy diet is also associated with reduced risk of premature death. In a study of more than 11,000 postmenopausal women, researchers found that women who consumed 4.7 grams of whole-grain fiber per 2,000 each day a lowered risk of any-cause mortality by 17%, compared to women with lower consumption of whole grains.
3. Yogurt and other calcium-rich foods
Bone loss becomes more pervasive during menopause, increasing risk of conditions like osteoporosis. To combat these symptoms, it can be advantageous to step up dairy intake. Women in menopause may benefit from consuming more yogurt, milk, cheese and other calcium-rich foods such as orange juice and leafy greens, according to Cleveland Health Clinic.
“Your body is building bone up until age 30. After that, you start to lose bone,” women’s health specialist Dr. Lynn Pattimakiel tells Cleveland Health Clinic. “Since you’re losing that estrogen around menopause, there’s an accelerated decline of that bone.”
A 2017 study of more than 740 menopausal women found that women with higher dairy and protein consumption had significantly higher bone density than women with lower intakes.
Incorporating more calcium-rich foods into your diet might also prevent early menopause. About 5% of women begin menopause between 40 and 45, which is considered premature menopause, per the Office on Women’s Health. Increasing consumption of calcium and vitamin D rich foods may also lower risk of early menopause by 17%, a 2017 study found.
Consuming yogurt could lower risk of weight gain and obesity during the menopausal transition. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition followed more than 119,000 women between 1989 and 2015, researchers found that the women who ate at least 2 servings of yogurt per week — compared to 1 serving per month — experienced a 31% lower risk of obesity and lowered risk of weight gain during the menopausal transition.
4. Salmon and healthy fats may also decrease hot flashes
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as healthy fats, are found in fish like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds. Studies show that healthy fats may improve menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes.
“When it comes to managing heart health risks associated with menopause, omega-3 fatty acids are a great diet addition. This is largely due to their ability to positively influence cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Foods high in these healthy fats also help to boost satiety, supporting healthy weight maintenance,” reports Real Simple.
A 2019 study found an association between increased consumption of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines) and decreased severity of hot flashes and night sweats. An earlier study found similar results, regular consumption of fatty acids was linked to improved hot flashes as well as lowered risk of depression and cognitive disorders.
5. Soy products contain phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds found in plants, such as soybeans, chickpeas, flax seeds and barley, per a 2007 study. Because phytoestrogens can behave similarly to and even mimic estrogen, researchers believe soy products may alleviate symptoms of menopause, per the Cleveland Health Clinic.
A recent study asked post menopausal women, who reported experiencing at least two moderate to severe hot flashes per week, to eat a reduced-fat vegan diet with daily soybeans. After a a duration of three months, these women experienced improved menopause symptoms.
“A dietary intervention, combining a reduced-fat vegan diet and daily soybeans, was associated with a marked reduction in postmenopausal vasomotor events (hot flashes, night sweats), significant weight loss, and reductions in physical and sexual symptoms,” the study reports.
Foods to avoid during menopause
Some foods may exacerbate symptoms of menopause, such as caffeine, alcohol and highly processed foods.
It may be beneficial to cut back on “spicy food, caffeine, alcohol and also really high-concentrated sugary foods and highly processed foods,” Haque tells The New York Times.
Studies have shown that frequent consumption of caffeine and alcohol on menopausal women may escalate the severity of hot flashes, although they do not increase frequency.
Cutting back on highly-processed and starchy foods may help combat weight gain during menopause.
“There’s never any magic solution, but starchy carbs tend to be the biggest culprit,” says Pattimakiel told Cleveland Health Clinic. “During menopause, it’s much harder for your body to process these foods because it just gets converted to sugar in the body.”
Maintaining a balanced diet and listening to your body is the best way to alleviate symptoms during menopause, per the Cleveland Health Clinic. Changes in diet is unlikely to eliminate symptoms completely, but it can alleviate them.