Whether you’re approaching menopause or you’ve already turned the corner, staying vibrant and making the most of a lifetime of wisdom are big priorities for women in midlife. Who wouldn’t want to avoid the potential downsides of menopause, from lethargy and brain fog to hot flashes and weight gain?
Nutritionist Kaayla Daniel, PhD, CCN, believes women can make healthy lifestyle choices that will help them sail through menopause at their very best.
In today’s post, Daniel shares practical ideas for making menopause the most productive time of your life.
Decipher the soy myth. One of the most common nutritional myths is the idea that soy is good for women during menopause. It’s been credited with everything from preventing breast cancer to mitigating hot flashes. Daniel says soy is actually very detrimental to women’s health, especially if they start consuming it several times a day to get its perceived benefits.
“The research on this is inconsistent and contradictory at best,” she says. “We have almost 70 years of studies on soy, and while some women report that it helps, other data suggests that it can damage the thyroid,” she says. “Thyroid damage, of course, contributes to weight gain, lethargy, malaise, loss of libido, thinning hair and many other complaints.”
Daniel says there is an unnecessary epidemic of thyroid disease in the U.S. “Because it happens to a whole lot of people at midlife, we’re accepting it as if it goes with getting older,” she says. “Instead, we need to understand that our lifestyle and food choices are the more likely culprits.”
Eat and drink clean. Daniel says it’s important for people of all ages to be conscious of food quality, but especially for women in menopause. In a perfect world, we would all know where and how our food is grown. Realistically, we can at least attempt to eat organically-grown foods that are free from chemicals and additives as often as possible.
Like many experts in alternative medicine, Daniel is a big believer in broth for gut health. In her book, Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World, she touts broths, soups and stews as dense in nutrition and satisfaction, but modest in calories.
- Avoid processed, packaged and fast foods. Instead, eat whole foods, real foods and slow foods.
- Include coconut oil in your diet, which can be very nourishing to the thyroid.
- Use slow cooking (think crock-pots) to prepare food if you lack time to cook.
- Shop occasionally in groceries like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s where organic foods are more abundant.
- Select restaurants where meals are prepared with quality ingredients. It may be more expensive, but it’s typically healthier.
Likewise, it’s best to drink filtered water from glass containers—not plastic—to eliminate the risk of BPA and other toxins. Daniel says today’s tap water is contaminated by hormones, chlorine and fluoride and other substances that can damage the thyroid. Daniel suggests having a good filter on your tap water and showerhead to clean up the water you use.
It’s unlikely that anyone can make all these changes immediately. Who needs the added stress of trying to achieve a perfect diet? “All these things will help, not only with weight, but also with overall health,” she says.
Take an honest look at how you use alcohol. How alcohol relates to women’s health is not completely understood. Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person. In some studies, women show an increased risk of breast cancer if they consume more than seven drinks a week. The risk rises with each additional drink.
While a glass of wine can promote relaxation, it’s a form of sugar that adds empty calories, contributing to weight gain. Some critics of the research point to French women, who consume wine and rich foods, yet have lower rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Daniel suspects other factors help them reap health benefits from wine.
“Wine is part of a social event with the French,” she says. “That could make it very different in terms of its whole effect. People obsess over the perfect foods, but the real question may be, ‘Do you have friends? Do you have family? Do you have pleasure?’” Considering these mixed reports, look as honestly as you can at your alcohol consumption and decide whether you think it’s contributing to good health.
Rethink your ideal weight. While healthy body weight is important, Daniel says women shouldn’t panic when they go from a size four to a size six. “Studies suggest that lifting weights protects the bones, so if you were super skinny when you were young, and you weigh 15 to 20 pounds more at midlife, it may actually protect your bones from brittleness because you’re carrying around more weight,” she says. A healthy weight isn’t always fashionably thin.
Daniel encourages women to add strength training to their routines to keep bones healthy and rev up the metabolism. Accepting your new body may also merit a change in clothing to accentuate a more voluptuous shape.
If you liked this post, share it with a friend! What are your strategies for staying sharp, maintaining your ideal weight and feeling energetic through menopause?