This month we talk to Sabrina Zeif, the midlife food guru. She is a Menopause Nutritional Therapist, and Nutrition Lead at Liberty Health Clinics which specialises in holistic menopause care. Having experienced a lack of support during her own menopause Sabrina now combines her nutrition expertise with her love for food to help women embrace change and guide them on how best to use good nutrition to support a positive menopause.
Nourishing your body is crucial especially during midlife and menopause. It’s about adding in rather than taking away, balance rather than restriction. Making the right food choices can help regulate hormone imbalance, protect your heart, boost energy, reduce cravings and improve mood.
Here are some Nutritional Core Strategies for eating optimally during menopause.
Balance Blood Glucose
It reduces stress on your body, balances energy levels, allows the body to release fat, protects lean muscle, and helps with cravings and weight gain. It’s crucial to mental health as low blood sugar can leave you feeling hangry, anxious, irritable, low mood, brain fog and poor concentration.
Eat Protein with every meal
It slows down the release of carbohydrates, keeps feeling full for longer and maintains blood sugar.
Every cell in our body needs protein. As we age, muscle mass decreases. Protein helps build and maintain muscle mass, which is essential for strength, boosting metabolism and helps with weight management.
Sources of protein include a palm sized portion of meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, tofu, tempeh, beans, chickpeas, lentils, cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, quinoa, nuts and seeds.
A great example is to add nuts and seeds to Greek yoghurt.
Stop avoiding carbs
You can enjoy complex carbohydrates in moderation. They are the primary energy source in a healthy diet and are slow releasing, provide a sustained form of energy and are packed with nutrients and fibre for healthy elimination. Headaches, irritability, fatigue, constipation, sugar cravings, high cholesterol and bloating can all be down to a lack of complex carbs in your diet.
Sources include beans, pulses, fruit (berries, apples, pears, citrus), vegetables, brown rice, wholemeal bread, maize, millet, oats and sweet potato. Top Tip – fill half your plate with vegetables and ¼ plate with starchy carbs.
Not all fats are bad
Healthy fats provide energy, protect the heart, boost the brain and benefit bone health.
Sources include oily fish (sardines, mackerel, herrings), nuts, seeds, oils (olive, rapeseed, flax, and sesame seed). Top Tip – a small amount of olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds go a long way. A balanced meal should include some healthy fat: ¼ avocado, a matchbox amount of nuts or 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or seeds.
Fill up on fibre
Most of us don’t get enough. Fibre is needed to support the detoxification pathways in the liver that regulate our hormones. It keeps your regular and can reduce bloating.
Sources include oats, whole grains, seeds, fruits, beans, peas, chickpea, and cruciferous vegetables.
Add phytoestrogens to your diet
They are naturally occurring compounds which mimic the effects of oestrogen by binding weakly to oestrogen receptors in our body. They may also help with hot flushes.
Sources include tofu, soy, yoghurt, edamame beans, soya beans, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chickpeas and lentils, cruciferous vegetables, and berries.
Top tip – make a seed mix of two parts flax seeds plus one part each of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. Sprinkle on vegetables, salads, porridge, cereals and soups; add to smoothies and yoghurt.
Feed your gut
As hormone levels change, this can affect your gut health, leading to digestive problems, flatulence, bloating, and even energy levels. Chronic stress can also impact gut health. Grumpiness, anger, anxiety, weepiness, and low moods may reflect an out-of-balance gut microbiota.
Boost gut health with prebiotic and probiotic foods. Sources include prebiotics which are fibrous plant foods that feed the gut microbes, e.g., Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, mushrooms, beetroot, bananas, apples, grains, pulses, and cruciferous vegetables. Probiotics are fermented foods that promote good bacteria growth e.g., sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, fermented vegetables, kimchi, and kombucha.
Eat more Plants
The fact is that most of us don’t eat enough variety of plants, and they provide essential prebiotics that helps gut microbes thrive. Look at your current diet. How many fruits and vegetables do you eat daily? Try to increase by a portion or two every week.
Top Tip – fill half your plate with various vegetables, beans, pulses, and salad greens.
Make small changes and not a complete overhaul. Do what feels realistic. Food is not good or bad. It’s what you eat most of the time that matters.