It’s old news now that the way you eat can have a massive impact on how you feel. With fad diets popping up every other week, suggesting you need to slash sugar, forget fat, cut carbs, it can feel more than a bit frustrating to try to begin any journey towards healthy eating.
Making adjustments to your diet can be tough at the best of the times, but going through perimenopause inevitably makes it ten times harder.
Food can be one of the greatest joys in life, and any attempt to totally remove any of the treats you enjoy, or begin any extreme crash-course diet can leave you feeling worse than before you started it. Maybe you stuck it out for a few days or weeks until your body was so desperate it caved in and you gained all the weight back, or maybe you felt so lethargic and peaky that you had to throw in the towel.
Perimenopause can often cause weight gain, confidence issues, anxiety and self-esteem problems, alongside the physical symptoms of constipation, bloating, poor sleep and lowered energy. You may be looking for any solution to help, and fad diets are often some of the first you may be able to find – but they might be doing more harm than good! Yo-yoing weight can just make you feel worse, and cutting out food groups is neither sustainable nor good for your body and your mind.
You may just give up all together! However, eating and drinking like you used to might not be the best option either. The best course of action to help your perimenopause experience might be to change your diet – but in a healthy way. Adequate nutrition and regular exercise could do a world of good to help alleviate some of your toughest symptoms and make you feel stronger, brighter, and back to your old self – without giving up delicious and filling food. Don’t worry – answers are out there! Here’s our handy guide to help you understand what the best diet for perimenopause might look like so starting your journey towards healthier eating and a better perimenopause can be easy and fuss free.
How does perimenopause affect your metabolism?
When perimenopause starts, our hormones start to fluctuate with the aim of bringing our menstrual cycle and fertility to an end through menopause. Progesterone and oestrogen, the main hormones affected by perimenopause, can cause a host of mental and physical changes, some of which specifically affect your body and fitness levels, and as a result can worsen your symptoms. Another culprit is the stress hormone, cortisol, which often increases due to hormonal changes alongside the daily stressors of life such as children, parents, and employment. Reduced oestrogen and increased cortisol can be a troublesome pairing, and have been linked to problems with the stomach and gut, alongside weight gain. Changes in progesterone and oestrogen alone are also linked to poor sleep, low energy and mood, fatigue, joint issues, and struggles with anxiety and confidence. These symptoms might lead you to snack more to give yourself a sugar rush to bump up your energy levels, or to comfort yourself through the psychological stressors. This is normal and not something to feel ashamed about – your body and your mind are going through a lot, and reaching for food is a natural reaction, especially if you’re struggling to spike up the energy to do your everyday tasks.
However, with the gut problems already present and lurking at the door of perimenopause, reaching for food might sometimes make it worse, making your digestive issues worse and perhaps contributing to increased weight gain. As such, perimenopause can lead to a frustrating cycle – you’re struggling with confidence and weight, as well as low energy and a bad stomach, so you turn to food to get you through it, but the food you’re eating might make those confidence, weight, energy and stomach issues, starting the vicious circle all over again!
Here’s more information on how perimenopause and menopause can affect your body.
How can perimenopause impact your daily life?
You might feel like you’re struggling more with your mental perception of yourself and your self-esteem, while if your food intake is upsetting your energy levels and disturbing your sleep cycle through pain and discomfort, physical symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, and irritability. Alongside the perimenopause-specific problems of the body and digestive systems, as a result of general ageing the digestive enzymes and stomach acid which help us to digest food properly are produced in lower amounts. This lowering can cause problems for the gut bacteria. Gut bacteria is vital for producing key vitamins we need to stay healthy and function properly, and when it’s damaged or not as diverse it can cause heartburn, indigestion, bloating, gas, and constipation. Alongside general age problems related to the digestive tract, as our muscle mass decreases naturally with time, our likelihood for insulin resistance, which makes it more difficult for us to break down sugar, weight gain and fat retention can become more likely.
What can you do to help relieve the impact of perimenopause on your diet?
Most importantly, remember that you do have options – and hope! The above may read a bit like a depressing laundry list of problems, but there are easy steps you can make with your diet and lifestyle to alleviate these symptoms. Exercise, like yoga for instance, has been linked to improved stomach issues, alongside increased muscle mass, weight loss, better mood, energy and cognition. For more information and what exercises are best to help you through perimenopause and menopause, check out our comprehensive menopause exercise guide for information on what exercises are best for menopause symptoms. Alongside exercise and resistance training, diets that are low in sugar, high in fibre, and have moderate protein with good fats included can do you a world of good and boost you back up to feeling the top of your game.
Probiotic supplements can sometimes help with gut problems and discomfort from digestion.
What foods help with perimenopause?
There are definitely a few food groups you should try and hit to make sure that your body is getting adequate nutrition. These are:
As your muscle mass starts to decrease during perimenopause, it can mean that your body is more prone to fat retention, which might not only hurt your self-esteem but can also affect your health. So, we want to aim to eat food that will help us retain that muscle mass. Making sure you get an adequate amount of protein is crucial – and it can also help to regulate your appetite and blood sugar, helping sort out that low energy.
Foods to focus on: lean protein like salmon and chicken, sugar-free natural peanut butter, beans, nuts, pulses, lentils, eggs, yogurt and spinach.
One of the biggest worries during perimenopause and menopause is the threat of osteoporosis and heart disease. During perimenopause and menopause, our bone density begins to decrease, leading to brittle bones, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The heart also suffers from not receiving the critical nutrients it requires. Making sure that your diet includes calcium can be a great way to help prevent this. Seeking out some calcium and vitamin D supplements can also be a good way to ensure you’re getting enough for your bone health.
Foods to focus on: broccoli, milk, fish and legumes.
Phytoestrogens are naturally-occurring compounds found in plants that belong to a group of substances called polyphenolic compounds. They have a similar chemical structure to oestrogen and often behave in a similar way when ingested into the body. Like HRT (hormone replacement therapy), some nutritionists believe that increasing your phytoestrogen intake during perimenopause and menopause can help relieve symptoms caused by fluctuating oestrogen. Making sure that your diet includes some of these can be tied to alleviating some of the difficult symptoms of menopause, or if you’re not fussed on soy products (where phytoestrogens are most commonly found), a good option may be to consult a supplement that contains them, such as Health & Her’s Perimenopause supplement. For more information, check out how phytoestrogens play an important part in keeping you healthy through menopause.
Foods to focus on: peas, beans, soy products such as tofu and tempeh, alfalfa and Brussel sprouts
Ensuring that you have enough fibre in your diet is crucial to help your perimenopause journey. Not only can fibre keep you fuller for longer, it can help with constipation and stomach pain, and has also been tied to preventing heart disease and cancer. Fibre can help with digestion and gut bacteria, but is also great for helping to manage your weight and boost your energy.
Foods to focus on: fruits, vegetables, grains from sprouted breads or vegetable pastas
This is the crucial one! Though you might be tired of hearing all of the benefits of water, keeping well hydrated can be incredibly beneficial for your general health and mood. Making sure you get the recommended 6-8 glasses a day can go toward making you feel a lot better, and also can improve your skin and hair.
Specialty Ingredients beneficial for Perimenopause
Some ingredients might be a little bit more off the beaten path, but can provide a great boost for your mood and physical health. Some good specialist food items to try and incorporate into your daily routine can be:
Fermented soya products
Typically eaten in countries such as Japan, China and Korea, fermented soya products are a fantastic way to introduce live bacteria into your gut whilst pleasing your palette, with dishes such as Natto, Kimchi, Cheonggukjang, Miso, Gochujang. Whilst some of these might not instantly appeal, they are a tasty and healthy way to support gut health – an important factor at any life stage. The element of soya in these dishes means that they will feature plant components that help to balance female hormones, managing the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
Most easily found in supplements, beneficial bacteria is a great way to improve overall health. Did you know that gut bacteria produce 90% of your body’s serotonin? Serotonin is a hormone that helps to improve mood and leads to the creation of melatonin- the hormone that enables us to sleep. Taking a bacteria supplement daily is advised for general wellbeing.
What foods make perimenopause worse?
There are unfortunately some food and drink products that might be making your experience a bit worse. You don’t have to cut them out completely, but reducing your intake of them might help you feel a lot better.
Found in animal products such as red meat, cheese, milk and butter, alongside oils such as coconut and palm oil, saturated fats can raise your cholesterol and contribute to weight gain.
Refined sugar like fructose and processed carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and pizza can wreak havoc on your hormones and leave you feeling sluggish and low energy. They can also contribute to weight gain and low mood.
While a sip of wine can help you relax, overconsuming alcohol can often be one of the key reasons your perimenopause symptoms seem to be worse after a night out. Alcohol consumption can interfere with internal body temperature, sleep schedules, and leave you feeling tired and fatigued.
Caffeine is a nightmare for inducing anxiety and making worrying worse, as well as throwing your sleep schedule way out of line, which can lead to an increase in troubling symptoms such as fatigue. Caffeine can also have an impact on issues with bladder control.
What are the best swaps you can make?
Though this may all seem a bit daunting, the move from a diet that can exacerbate perimenopause symptoms to one that alleviates them is actually relatively easy to do. There are plenty of tasty and easy swaps for products you enjoy to ones that taste just as good but that won’t hurt your symptoms.
- Fruit flavoured yoghurts – swap for full fat Greek yoghurt (this has less sugar and more protein than low fat versions, and also contains good bacteria for wellbeing)
- Trifles/Mousse – Coconut & Chia seed puddings (soak chia seeds in coconut milk overnight)/ coconut yoghurt/avocado and dark chocolate mousse (hand blended together) with a pinch of salt
- Coffee – swap for decaffeinated or barley/chicory drinks e.g. A.Vogel Bambu
- Tea – swap for decaffeinated or caffeine free herbal teas – not all are – opt for ones that state caffeine free on the packaging like those found from Pukka.
- Pasta – swap for vegetable pasta (courgette, cucumber, pepper etc)/quinoa/buckwheat/wild rice/beans/lentils
- Rice– swap for cauliflower rice/konjac rice/cabbage rice/mushroom rice
- Noodles– swap for konjac noodles/shirataki noodles/aubergine noodles
- White or wheat-based bread– swap for sprouted breads/protein such as pumpernickel
- When baking with wheat flour – swap for coconut or almond flour
- Soft drinks – swap for fresh fruit spiced water – mineral water with herbs/fruit: ginger/lime/lemon/crushed watermelon & mint/cinnamon
- Juices – swap for smoothies that contain the peel and rind of fruits along with a protein and fat component such as Planet Paleo Protein drink or Innocent protein drink (limit your intake to 250 ml)
- Burger & fries – swap for bun-less burger and salad
- Sweets & confectionary – swap for dark chocolate (90% cocoa solids)
- Sugar – swap for agave nectar, cinnamon, palmera jaggery (coconut sugar),
- Mashed potato – swap for mashed cauliflower/sweet potato/root veg
- Cocktails – swap for red wine or soda water & spirits
- Barbeque sauce – swap for soy sauce
- Tomato sauce – swap for mayonnaise
Perimenopause Diet Plan
A typical day of the very best diet for perimenopause should ensure that you have all the nutrition you need to keep you feeling on top of your game – but it should be tasty too! An example of a beneficial perimenopause diet could be eating foods like this:
Mexican baked eggs – 2 eggs, black beans (handful) & tomatoes (1 plum) in a pan with black pepper, paprika, chives, garlic & turmeric.
Cooked broccoli with a base of chili, garlic, anchovies and spring onion, made with rice pasta (spaghetti).
Courgetti spaghetti with sardines and tomato sauce, parsley to serve.
Olives and gorgonzola, coconut yoghurt.
Eating for your symptoms does not need to be tasteless or depressing, and neither does it mean you have to throw your all into a very restrictive diet. There is no magic answer or miracle food that you need to eat to take away your symptoms or act as a complete treatment, but making a concerted effort to swap out some of the more dangerous or unhealthy parts of your diet for some that are equally tasty, but beneficial for your symptoms, could really raise your quality of life. Try it – you deserve to feel good from the inside out!