Eating a healthy balanced diet is important at any age but at the time of perimenopause and menopause it becomes even more significant. Certain foods can help to balance and regulate your hormones which can help to minimise unwanted symptoms like hot flushes and brain fog. Just as importantly, choosing the right nutrients can also help reduce your risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis (fragile, brittle bones) and heart disease. So, what are the foods you should be going for and what are the best hormone balancing diets for menopause?
Which foods are important for hormone balance in menopause?
1. Protein – including eggs, lean meat, fish, nuts and pulses or protein powder which can be added to smoothies and juices.
Why? The drop in oestrogen during menopause is linked to a decrease in muscle mass and bone strength and it is recognised that eating more protein can help compensate for this. In one study on postmenopausal women, for example, those given five grams of collagen peptides (a protein powder) daily had significantly better bone mineral density compared to those taking a placebo. Significantly, protein is also filling and has also been shown to help keep you feeling fuller for longer (in part because it reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin) so you are less likely to over-eat and put on weight (and on average women gain five pounds around the time of the menopause). Eating a little protein with every meal or snack can also help to stabilise blood sugar levels and mood – helping to reduce energy dips and mood changes and brain fog.
2. Dairy foods – like milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Why? They contain a range of nutrients including calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K, all of which are essential for bone health. Whilst it is generally accepted that eating more dairy foods help to increase bone strength – and there is some evidence to suggest postmenopausal women who ate more cheese and yogurt are at a lower risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis  – a 2020 study published in the journal Menopause found no conclusive link between eating more dairy and increased bone density. There is, however, research to show that foods high in the amino acid glycine – found in milk and cheese – can lead to better sleep in women going through perimenopause and menopause. Plus there is evidence to show consuming adequate levels of dairy foods is linked to a lower risk of early menopause 
3. Fruit and vegetables – including apples, grapes, berries, cherries, pomegranates and green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale.
Why? They are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants plus they are generally low in calories so can help you to maintain a healthy weight. There is extensive evidence exists to show women who eat more fruit and veg are less likely to experience unpleasant menopausal side effects. One study, for example, involving over 17,000 menopausal women found those who ate more fruit, veg, fibre (and soy) has a 19% reduction in hot flushes compared to a control group. Vitamin C-rich dark berries are also thought to be beneficial – one study on middle aged women given grape seed extract daily had fewer hot flushes, slept better and reported lower incidences of depression compared to a control group.. Discover more about vitamins and supplements for menopause.
4. Healthy fats – including omega 3 fatty acids found in olive oil, avocados and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds or flaxseed.
Why? Research shows that increasing consumption of omega 3 fatty acids decreases menopausal symptoms including the frequency of hot flushes, may help reduce vaginal dryness, joint pain and improve low mood. They are also known to help support your brain health and a higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids is linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms. Omega 3 fatty acids appears to support blood flow to the brain and good blood flow helps with memory – which can help reduce perimenopausal and menopausal brain fog.
5. Whole grains – like brown rice, whole-wheat bread, oats, bulgur wheat, and quinoa.
Why? Including more of these in your daily diet will increase your fibre intake, which in turn helps to lower your risk of heart disease. Oestrogen is known to have heart protective effects and diminishing levels of it during and after menopause put you at an increased risk of higher blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. Research has shown eating wholegrains at least three times a week lowers this risk in older adults and women.  Whole grains are also important sources of fibre which can contribute to a healthy gut microbiome.
6. Prebiotics and probiotics – including onions, garlic and leeks and yoghurt, sourdough bread, kimchi and sauerkraut.
Why? There is increasing research to show that having a healthy gut microbiome plays a big part in oestrogen regulation. Your gut health can be impacted by stress, lack of sleep, too much alcohol and other lifestyle factors but what you eat plays a pivotal role in nurturing it: Prebiotic foods like leeks, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, apples (and ideally keep the skin on), asparagus and bananas and pulses contain a kind of fibre which act as a food source for healthy bacteria, enabling them to flourish and multiply. Probiotics like live unsweetened yoghurt, sourdough bread and fermented foods including sauerkraut and kimchi can potentially improve and restore gut health and research shows they may have a role to play in controlling your appetite and keeping your weight down. If you are not regularly eating many probiotic foods, taking a quality live culture supplement regularly can also be beneficial. We also know that good gut health leads to improved brain health and may help to mitigate against menopausal brain fog. Discover more about live culture supplements for menopause
7. Phytoestrogens – including wholegrains like oats, fruits and vegetables, seeds, soybeans and soy products.
Why? Phytoestrogens are plant-derived oestrogens that can mimic the effects of endogenous oestrogen – the oestrogen that you produce naturally. Eating three to four portions of these plant-based phytoestrogens each day can help to support hormone regulation and reduce unwanted menopause symptoms.  Good sources include soybeans and soy products, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, rice bran, rye, and wheat bran. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts and kale are among the richest vegetable sources. Seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flax and chia are also potent sources of phytoestrogens (see below). The best option in terms of dietary phytoestrogens is fermented soy, it is 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. Read more here for everything you need to know about phytoestrogens and menopause.
Foods to avoid in menopause
- Alcohol – because alcohol can increase hot flushes and night sweats, lead to poor sleep, and disrupt beneficial gut bugs and create blood sugar imbalances. In a recent Health & Her study 4 in 10 women said they became increasingly intolerant to the effects of alcohol during their perimenopause.
- Caffeine – this can potentially cause anxiety, fatigue and insomnia as a result of increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels. In Health & Her research 2 in 5 women said caffeine noticeably triggered their perimenopause symptoms.
- Fatty foods – Foods high in trans fats (which raise the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease) are thought to reduce serotonin (the so-called ‘happy hormone’ responsible for stabilising mood) in the brain, leading to low mood, depression and memory problems.
- Sugary foods – It is well-documented that sugary snacks and drinks cause high spikes in blood sugar followed by crashing lows which impact on your energy levels and mood. Evidence also shows that those who eat a diet high in sugar tend to sleep less deeply and are more restless at night due to the stimulating effects of sugar.
How healthy seeds could help your hormones
An emerging food trend that is said to help balance your hormones and ease menopause symptoms is seed rotation or seed cycling. It is claimed that by consuming particular seeds you can help regulate oestrogen in the first half of your menstrual cycle and progesterone in the second half. It should be pointed out, however, that as yet there is little evidence to support the theory. That said, many women say it has helped them and there is little doubt that seeds are little nutrient powerhouses – providing a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytoestrogens and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
How does seed cycling work?
- In the first part of your cycle – the follicular phase – your oestrogen levels can be boosted by having a tablespoon of pumpkin and flax seeds each day.
- In the second part – from the point of ovulation at around day 12-14, called the luteal phase – your progesterone levels may be supported through consumption of one tablespoon of sesame and sunflower seeds each day.
While we wait for more evidence to support the claims of seed rotation, adding a tablespoon of the seeds mentioned to smoothies and/or sprinkled over Greek yoghurt, porridge or salads can only help to boost your intake of beneficial nutrients. For example, chia seeds have been linked to a reduction in high cholesterol and blood pressure levels  and there is some evidence that flax seeds may protect against breast cancer. 
Hormone balancing recipes for menopause
However much time you have to spare there are quick and easy meal ideas which include the food groups most likely to help manage your menopause symptoms. Nutritionist Helen Roach suggests:
5-minute hormone healthy menopause recipe ideas:
Shake of your choice:
Vegan friendly. Allergens: Contains nuts & seeds.
You will need a blender.
- Add one scoop of your chosen protein powder: hemp/soy/collagen/rice/pea
- Add a handful of berries or citrus fruits, and a handful of leafy greens
- Add some fluid: coconut water/milk, soya/oat milk, or mineral water
- Finish with chia or flax seeds (milled) or nuts
Tip! Try adding a tablespoon of ‘superfood’ powder such as maca root, goji berry or turmeric for a power punch.
Example shake: Hemp protein powder, blueberries, kale, coconut milk and chia seeds.
Salad guide with toppers Vegan & vegetarian options:
Allergens: Contains nuts & seeds and/or milk/lactose in cheese option
- Select two handfuls of salad leaves: rocket, spinach or watercress are good options
- Choose a palm-sized protein portion of fish, seafood, cheese, beans or poultry
- Add a phytoestrogen ingredient or two, such as pomegranate, rhubarb, strawberries or cranberries
- Dress with a healthy oil, such as olive oil, and top with seeds or nuts like flaxseed or walnuts
Example salad: spinach, asparagus, apple and cucumber dressed in olive oil and topped with pumpkin seeds.
Homemade hummus- Vegan friendly. Allergens: Contains sesame seeds (Tahini)
Blend a small tin of chickpeas with 1tsp tahini, 1 clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of ground cumin a tablespoon of olive oil in a blender until smooth. Add around two tablespoons of red peppers or onions for a punchier flavour.
Sunshine squash dip – Vegan friendly
Blend half a cooked butternut squash, a pinch of cumin, a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of paprika.
Onion and chive dip –Vegetarian friendly. Allergens: milk/lactose
Blend full-fat Greek yoghurt with garlic and chives
Eat with carrots, radishes, cucumbers, asparagus, or sweet potato wedges.
Wrap guide – Vegan & vegetarian options:
Allergens: Gluten in some wrap flours, contains nuts & seeds.
- Choose your leaves: romaine or round lettuce, rocket, kale or red chard
- Add a phytoestrogen ingredient or two, such as edamame, pear, peach or avocado
- Choose your protein: tofu, chicken breast, halloumi, crab, or beans
- Add a drizzle of healthy fat, such as virgin rapeseed oil
- Top with a sprinkle of nuts or seeds, such as sunflower seeds and almonds. Finish with a herb such as basil or mint.
Example wrap: romaine lettuce, celery, white beans, pear, chives and crushed walnuts
Tip! Try an alternative wrap, such as a sweet potato variety.
10-minute hormone healthy menopause recipe ideas
Omelette guide – Vegetarian friendly.
Allergens: mushrooms, milk/lactose, sesame if chosen.
- Whisk two large eggs
- Chop one or two vegetables, such as broccoli, cucumber, chestnut mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes or courgettes, into small cubes or slices
- If you want, add some goat’s cheese, halloumi, cheddar or ricotta
- Top with a herb or seeds such as pumpkin seeds or broccoli sprouts
Example omelette: two eggs, mushrooms and sesame seeds
Flash-fry guide – Vegan and vegetarian options
- Choose your protein, such as eggs or halloumi, tofu or tempeh
- Choose a phytoestrogen rich food, such as asparagus or avocado
- Drizzle with a healthy fat, such as rapeseed
- Garnish with a herb, for example, parsley
Flash-fry example: Two fried eggs with asparagus and tomatoes, topped with chopped avocado
15-minute hormone healthy menopause recipe ideas
Stir-fry guide – Vegan & vegetarian options
- Select three to four quick cooking vegetables, such as leaves, carrots, beetroot, corn, spring onions, mushrooms or cabbage
- Choose a protein source, such as chicken, seafood, tofu, beef or pork
- Add a hormone-healthy fat, such as olive oil
- Top with fresh herbs, such as basil or parsley
Stir-fry example: beansprouts, kale, beetroot, prawns, sesame oil and seasoning (soy sauce and tahini optional)
20–30-minute menopause friendly recipes
Veggie burgers – Vegan & vegetarian friendly.
Allergens: nuts, mushrooms, gluten if chosen
- Add one cup of warmed, ready cooked, sticky short-grain rice to two tablespoons of milled flax and breadcrumbs (optional) with a dash of Worcester sauce
- Turn in a handful of chopped nuts for crunch and phytoestrogen properties – walnuts work well
- Add a handful of flash-fried chestnut, shitake or Forestiere mushrooms, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a teaspoon of tamari, tabasco or soy sauce
- Meld into burger shape and place under the grill at 180 degrees centigrade or gas mark 4 for 15 minutes.
Broccoli and asparagus soup – Vegetarian friendly.
- Boil 100g of purple sprouting broccoli until slightly crunchy while flash-frying 100g of asparagus
- Use the broccoli and around 50ml of its water to add to a blender along with the asparagus
- Add 100ml of sour cream and seasoning
Tip! Mixing a phytoestrogen-rich vegetable with two of your favourites should help increase its beneficial effects!
Vegetable oven bake – Vegetarian friendly.
- Add three chopped vegetables of your choice to a baking tray – try sweet potato, butternut squash, green beans, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes or beetroot
- Add sunflower oil, paprika or hormone-healthy oregano and bake for 15 minutes
- Add diced halloumi or goat’s cheese to the tray and bake for a further five minutes, then season
Oven bake example: butternut squash, green beans, halloumi and beetroot
Tip! This can be used as a main or side dish.
Sourdough super breads – Vegan & Vegetarian friendly. Allergens: gluten
Bread has been a long-standing staple at many a table for centuries – but the content of many prepared breads in supermarkets fails to offer a lot in the way of nourishment these days, and can instead exacerbate symptoms of gastric discomfort for many. The inclusion of standard white, sliced, shop-bought breads into your diet, can contribute to blood sugar spikes, which is particularly ill-advised for women of perimenopausal age and beyond.
If, like me, you are a bread lover, opt for alternative breads that offer gut support or hormone health benefits, such as sourdough and seeded varieties.
Ingredients in sourdough bread
- sourdough starter (either homemade sourdough starter, or shop-bought sourdough starter)
- bread flour
- Optional extras: rice/rye flour (50/50 with bread flour), fennel seeds, caraway/sunflower/flax/pumpkin/chia seeds (handful)
- Mix the ‘wet’ ingredients in one bowl and the ‘dry’ in another.
- Blend the two together gradually and stir with a wooden spoon until sticky & heavy. Incorporate all ingredients to form one uniform loaf with hands through kneading if necessary.
Total sourdough prep and baking can be a long process…Rising time of dough is affected by weather and seasons. In winter, cold kitchens will lengthen the rising time. In summer, or warm weather, hot kitchens will shorten the rising time. This is an estimated schedule, based on 20C/70F weather:
- 8 to 10 am: Feed the sourdough starter. 8-12 hours before you plan to mix up the dough, feed your starter. (Or use an unfed starter for a more “sour taste”, straight from the fridge at 8 pm)
- 8 pm: Mix the dough. Stretch & fold x 2, 15 mins apart
- 8:30 pm: Proof Overnight. Cover, and proof overnight at room temperature
- 6-8 am: Shape. When dough has doubled in size, stretch, fold, and shape. Place in a parchment-lined bowl seam side down. Place this in the fridge for 1 hour while you preheat the oven to 220C.
- 8-9 am: Place & Score. Lift your shaped dough, lifting out by the parchment, and carefully place into the hot oven. Score the bread using a sharp knife, cut a single slash, one inch deep, or smaller tiny cuts.
- 9:00 am Bake for 20-25 minutes. Lower heat to 200C and bake 15 more minutes, until a deep golden shade – you will want it darker than you might think so that it is baked thoroughly throughout. Let it cool on a rack before cutting. If you like a softer crust bake covered for 25 minutes, uncovered 10 minutes.
- 9:45 Remove from oven and let cool before slicing to serve.
References & sources:
 Health & Her research with 55,047 women experiencing perimenopause symptoms, conducted Oct 2020 – Sept 2022
 Health & Her research with 55,047 women experiencing perimenopause symptoms, conducted Oct 2020 – Sept 2022