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Weight Control and Diet in Menopause
Advice About Dietary Nutrition and Weight Management During Menopause
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Effects of Menopause on Weight, Health and Shape - Diet Guidelines For Menopause
Menopause Diet: Fruit & Vegetables - Menopause Diet: Sodium - Menopause Diet: Refined Sugars - Control Weight Through Better Diet
Exercise, Weight & Menopause - HRT & Mid-Life Weight Gain - Weight Gain in Menopause - Middle Age Weight Gain & Exercise Activity

Diet Nutrition & Exercise Advice to Reduce Menopausal Symptoms

Diet and Weight Control in Menopause

What is Menopause

Menopause occurs when a woman's ovaries stop producing female hormones (e.g., estrogen and progesterone) and menstrual cycles end. Technically, menopause occurs with the final menstrual period and involves only 1 day. The hot flashes, mood swings, and other symptoms associated with menopause occur during perimenopause, the transitional years preceding and following actual menopause. The word "menopause" is used throughout this document to refer to menopause and perimenopause.

Effects of Menopause on Body Weight, Health and Shape

There are three important health and weight related events that occur during menopause.

Our body shape changes and we start to deposit body fat around our middle. Estrogen promotes fat deposits on our hips and thighs, so as our estrogen levels fall, our weight stops going to our hips and goes to our tummy area instead.

Our cholesterol levels rise due to reduced estrogen. Estrogen helps promote a favorable cholesterol level, so when we run short of it, our cholesterol level tends to rise. Other conditions, like osteoporosis can also start to appear at this time.

We tend to gain weight, possibly due to declining estrogen. Although experts do not agree whether or not menopause affects such weight gain, or whether it is solely a combination of age and lack of exercise. In animal studies, scientists found that estrogen is important in regulating weight gain. Animals with their ovaries surgically removed gained weight, even if they were fed the same diet as the animals with intact ovaries.

Diet, Nutrition and Exercise Can Reduce Menopause Effects

Good nutrition and regular physical exercise improves health in everyone. Some doctors feel these factors can also affect menopause. Although these areas have not been well studied in women, anecdotal evidence is strongly in favor of eating well and exercising to help lower risks for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and osteoporosis, as well as weight gain and body shape.

Diet Guidelines for Menopause

No one knows what constitutes the optimum menopause diet. Each woman responds to menopause in her own unique way. But here are some general dietary guidelines to help maintain health and weight.

Menopause Diet and Calcium

Make sure you get enough calcium in your diet. Choose calcium-rich foods whenever possible.

  • A healthy pre-menopausal woman should have about 1,000 mgs of calcium per day.
  • A 1994 Consensus Conference at the National Institutes of Health recommended that women after menopause consume 1,500 mgs per day if they are not using hormonal replacement or 1,000 mgs per day in conjunction with hormonal replacement.
  • Foods high in calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products; oysters, sardines and canned salmon with bones; and dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli.
  • In calcium tablets, calcium carbonate is most easily absorbed by the body. If you are lactose intolerant, acidophilus milk is more digestible.
  • Vitamin D is also very important for calcium absorption and bone formation. A 1992 study showed that women with postmenopausal osteoporosis who took vitamin D for 3 years significantly reduced the occurrence of new spinal fractures. However, the issue is still controversial. High doses of vitamin D can cause kidney stones, constipation, or abdominal pain, particularly in women with existing kidney problems.
  • Coffee seems to interfere with calcium and bone-building. According to the American Dietetic Association, each cup of coffee removes the calcium in one teaspoon of milk.

Menopause Diet and Soy Foods

Include some more soy foods in your diet. Substitute some soy protein for your usual animal protein.

  • Soy foods contain antioxidants, essential fatty acids, calcium, fiber and carotenoids and flavonoids, all of which assist good diet nutrition, especially in menopause.
  • Soy protein products can be good substitutes for animal products because, unlike some other beans, soy offers a "complete" protein profile.
  • FDA has determined that diets with four daily soy servings can reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the so-called "bad cholesterol" that builds up in blood vessels, by as much as 10 percent.
  • In moderation, soy foods are good for the menopause.

Menopause Diet and Fat

Choose foods low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

  • The American Heart Association stresses that a diet to effectively lower cholesterol, a main contributor to heart disease, should consist of no more than 30 percent of total daily calories from fat (less is better) or 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.
  • Fats contain more calories (9 calories per gram) than either carbohydrates or protein (each have only 4 calories per gram). Given that our energy (calorie) needs fall with age, this caloric difference between fat, carbs and protein is significant for weight control.

Menopause Diet and Fruits & Vegetables

Make fruits and vegetables a regular part of your daily diet.

  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereal products, especially those high in vitamin C and carotene. These include oranges, grapefruit, carrots, winter squash, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and green leafy vegetables.
  • These foods are good sources of vitamins and minerals and the major sources of dietary fiber. Fiber helps maintain bowel mobility and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Young and older people alike are encouraged to consume 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
  • Fruit and vegetables are low in calories.

Menopause Diet and Salt

Eat very little salt-cured and smoked foods such as sausages, smoked fish and ham, bacon, bologna, and hot dogs. High blood pressure, which may become more serious with heavy salt intake, is more of a risk as you age.

Menopause Diet and Refined Sugars

Avoid food and drinks containing processed sugar. Sugar contains empty calories which may substitute for nutritious food and can add excess body weight.

Menopause, Calories and Weight Gain

As you age, your body requires less energy because of a decline in physical activity and a loss of lean body mass. This means you need fewer calories, or to put it another way:

A calorie level sufficient to maintain weight in your 30s, probably will cause you to gain weight in your 50s.

How to Control Weight in Menopause - Diet

Staying happy and eating healthy food are both important contributors to healthy weight.
In addition:

  • Watch your fats. Fat contains twice the calories of other foods. Choose good quality vegetable fats and oils, and limit animal fats. Go easy on added fats, like mayo and cream.
  • Reduce your intake of junk food.
  • Increase your consumption of fiber. This aids digestion, promotes good health and helps reduce calorie-intake.
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is relatively high in calories (7 calories/gram) and both undermine your nutrition levels.
  • Reduce your salt intake. High levels of salt (sodium) is linked to higher blood pressure, a contributor to heart disease.

How to Control Weight in Menopause - Exercise

Exercise is extremely important throughout a woman's lifetime and particularly as she gets older. Regular exercise benefits the heart and bones, helps regulate weight, and contributes to a sense of overall well-being and improvement in mood. If you are physically inactive you are far more prone to coronary heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Sedentary women may also suffer more from chronic back pain, stiffness, insomnia, and irregularity. They often have poor circulation, weak muscles, shortness of breath, and loss of bone mass. Depression can also be a problem. Women who regularly walk, jog, swim, bike, dance, or perform some other aerobic activity can more easily circumvent these problems and also achieve higher high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels. Studies show that women performing aerobic activity or muscle-strength training reduced mortality from CVD and cancer.

Just like muscles, bones adhere to the "use it or lose it" rule; they diminish in size and strength with disuse. It has been known for more than 100 years that weight-bearing exercise (walking, running) will help increase bone mass. Exercise stimulates the cells responsible for generating new bone to work overtime. In the past 20 years, studies have shown that bone tissue lost from lack of use can be rebuilt with weight-bearing activity. Studies of athletes show they have greater bone mass compared to nonathletes at the sites related to their sport. In postmenopausal women, moderate exercise preserves bone mass in the spine, helping reduce the risk of fractures.

Exercise is also thought to have a positive effect on mood. During exercise, hormones called endorphins are released in the brain. They are "feel good" hormones involved in the body's positive response to stress. The mood-heightening effect can last for several hours, according to some endocrinologists.

Consult your doctor before starting a rigorous exercise program. He or she will help you decide which types of exercises are best for you. An exercise program should start slowly and build up to more strenuous activities. Women who already have osteoporosis of the spine should be careful about exercise that jolts or puts weight on the back, as it could cause a fracture.

Source: National Institutes of Health. Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.

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