Read this article published on the Daily Times. Nutritional guidance on the journey through menopause.
Over the course of Jennifer Lawrence’s 10-year career as a registered dietitian, she has seen many women nearing their 50s spend years with their body feeling different as they journey through menopause and experience a host of different signs and symptoms.
According to the AARP, while menopause is defined as the point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period, perimenopause (the transition to menopause) most often begins between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts an average of seven years, but can be as long as 14 years.
While hot flashes, night sweats, moodiness and irritability are some of the more common physical signs, others might surprise you once you get your blood labs back after your annual check-up.
“It’s common to see lab results start to change,” Lawrence said. “There can be a change to cholesterol numbers and fasting glucose.”
Lawrence, the co-author of Prevention Magazine’s 28-Day Get-Lean Diet for Women Over 40, which includes tips on tackling the major obstacles that happen during perimenopause and menopause, further explained that our risk of insulin resistance increases when estrogen levels start to decline, which can lead to pre-diabetes or other negative health outcomes.
Quality of diet
When it comes to cholesterol, Lawrence usually takes an overall look at the quality of one’s diet. She highlighted two factors, fiber and unsaturated fats, that can contribute to healthier cholesterol levels, so it’s important to be mindful of them.
High cholesterol can increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, and when our estrogen and progesterone levels are altered during menopause, our body doesn’t have the same support for managing cholesterol.
Dietarily, she said that fiber, especially soluble, is really important for managing cholesterol, which is an important compound of the body.
“There are a lot of really good sources,” she said. “Oats are one of the highest in soluble fiber.”
Other good sources Lawrence recommended are sweet potatoes, beans, avocados and Brussels sprouts.
Mono and polyunsaturated fats
In terms of fats, Lawrence said one should consume a higher percentage of mono and polyunsaturated fats in your diet over saturated fats.
“Unsaturated fats can help raise your HDL, which is your good cholesterol,” she said. “What they have found through studies is that HDL is more anti-inflammatory and LDL is more inflammatory, which is more linked to heart disease.”
Lawrence isn’t saying you have to omit saturated fats, found in things such as marbled red meat, butter or ghee, but suggests eating them in moderation with a higher focus on consuming unsaturated fats, such as those found in avocado oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and olives.
In addition to keeping your cholesterol in check, Lawrence emphasized the importance of being mindful of your bone health.
“It is absolutely essential for women at this stage to be aware of their bone health since they are at a higher risk for bone density loss,” she said.
Top four nutrients for bone health
According to Lawrence, the top four nutrients to be aware of for bone health are vitamin D, calcium, vitamin K2 and magnesium, which lowers inflammatory response and is good for digestion and our heart.
“You can get magnesium from dark, leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, which are one of the highest forms, spinach, almonds, avocado and black beans,” she said. “You can get calcium from dairy products, dark leafy greens and sesame seeds.”
While your calcium and magnesium needs can be met through food, Lawrence said that since an adequate amount of vitamin D and K2 may be harder to obtain through diet, it’s important to discuss with your doctor whether or not supplements may be necessary. K2 is essential for your body to properly get vitamin D and calcium to the bones.
“It’s important to go to the doctor to get your bloodwork,” she said.
To help manage symptoms related to menopause, Lawrence educates her clients on foods that are high in phytoestrogens, such as natural forms of soy, like edamame, tempeh and tofu, as well as other foods, such as apples, lentils, chickpeas, ground flax seeds and yams.
“These are all plant-based foods that have estrogen-like characteristics,” she said. In studies, women who consume these report less symptoms related to menopause.”
She suggests adding more of these foods to your diet, so it gets more variety.
“These are all really healthy, wonderful and beautiful foods, and they’re going to help you feel better and more supported through the menopause process,” she said. “We can’t stop the biological change, but we can wake up to our diet and it can be one of the many tools in our toolbox to help us manage the transition.”
Right Balance Integrative Nutrition
Jennifer Laurence, registered dietitian, Integrative and functional nutritionist, is the founder and owner of Right Balance Integrative Nutrition in West Chester and the co-author of Prevention Magazine’s 28-Day Get-Lean Diet for Women Over 40.
For more information, visit www.rightbalancenutrition.com or call 484-401-7837.