5 Ways Your Diet Should Change During Perimenopause
By Sarah Watts | Originally Published August 3 on Prevention | Featuring Dr. Sherry Ross
Many women worry how their bodies will change when they reach menopause. But what you might not realize is that perimenopause—AKA the change before the change—is when you’re most apt to start noticing symptoms.
Menopause, which women hit, on average, around 51, simply means that you’ve gone a full year without having a period. Some people get there with nary a glitch, so you won’t necessarily notice anything before your periods vanish. But many others aren’t quite so lucky: As your body wraps up its fertile years, your hormone levels can start to fluctuate—and symptoms like mood swings and hot flashes may arise.
Being in perimenopause—which can start as early as 10 years before menopause—also means that certain aspects of your health are about to change. Right now your estrogen levels may be slowly dropping, but it’s only a matter of time before they reach an all-time low… and stay there for the rest of your life. As a result, your risk for health conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease are about to go way up.
That might sound scary, but by making some changes to your eating habits you might be able to ease a lot of the discomfort and keep your body healthier as you age, says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Here are five dietary moves worth making when menopause is on the horizon.
Get more calcium.
The official word from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is that your calcium needs increase to 1,200 mg per day (from 1,000 mg) starting at age 50. But don’t wait until 50 to focus on this important mineral: As soon as you enter perimenopause your estrogen levels start declining, and as that happens your bones have a harder time retaining calcium. That puts you at risk for thinning bones, AKA osteopenia or osteoporosis, which can later lead to debilitating fractures.
Fortunately, calcium is pretty easy to consume. “One glass of milk or one cup of yogurt has about 300 mg,” says Ross. Some leafy greens (like kale and bok choy), canned fish containing bones (like sardines and canned salmon), and fortified juices, breads, and cereals also contain calcium. (Dairy-free? Here are 10 more milk-free sources of the bone builder.)
If you suspect you won’t get enough through diet alone, talk to your doctor. Calcium supplements carry an increased risk of kidney stones and heart attacks, and research has shown that they might not even prevent fractures or broken bones.
Track your triggers.
About 75% of women struggle with sudden hot flashes and night sweats, according to the North American Menopause Society. While no one knows exactly what causes them, it likely has to do with the drop in estrogen and a super-sensitive hypothalmus—the portion of the brain that controls body temperature. (Here are 6 reasons you might be sweating more after 40, besides menopause.)
Although hot flashes can seemingly come out of nowhere, some women notice that certain foods up their chances of overheating. Be on the lookout for spicy foods and those with caffeine and alcohol so you can cut back if necessary.
Meanwhile, adding more oats and fatty fish like salmon to your diet might help. These foods may lower your cholesterol, and studies have found that women with high cholesterol levels more frequently suffer from hot flashes.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
“Drink as much water as possible,” says Ross. The reason? Hormonal changes during perimenopause can result in water retention and increased gas, both of which lead to bloating. The perfect antidote to water retention and bloat, strangely enough, is to drink even more water. Ross recommends sipping two to three liters every day, or eating ample water-based foods like berries, celery, cucumber, lettuce, and watermelon. Drinking green tea—a natural diuretic—may also help banish bloat. (These five simple snacks help eliminate belly bloat.)
Conversely, it’s important to watch your intake of salty foods, as well as gas-producing ones like beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Drink less alcohol.
A glass of Riesling may be a welcome treat after a long day, but too much booze could increase your risk of breast cancer. A 2015 review published in the journal Women’s Health showed that alcohol consumption was positively associated with breast cancer risk, and your chances are already going up just by being over 40.
Alcohol seems to be problematic because it causes estrogen to spike, and elevated levels of this hormone have been linked to breast cancer. Cocktails and beer also have a tendency to pack on the pounds, and fat cells also produce estrogen. If you do decide to imbibe, one drink a day should be your max.
Eat less junk.
As you age, your muscle mass naturally decreases while your fat stores increase. Not surprisingly, many perimenopausal women have trouble losing or even maintaining their current weight. If the scale starts creeping up on you, Ross recommends cutting back by 200-300 calories per day to maintain your size—but not at the expense of good nutrition. (These are the 14 best weight loss-friendly snacks you can buy on Amazon.)
“If you have to cut calories, choose to nix foods with less nutritional value, like alcohol or fats,” she says. Cutting the junk and adding in lean proteins and water-based foods will also reduce your risk of heart disease and improve cognitive function as you age.