Health & Diet

Weight loss: ‘Essential’ foods for menopausal women – and what to avoid

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Nicki Williams is an award-winning nutritionist, founder of Happy Hormones for Life, and author of It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones – The Essential Guide for Women Over 40 to Fight Fat, Fatigue and Hormone Havoc. She spoke to about why it’s common for women to put on weight during menopause and what can be done about it.

Nicki explained: “Increased stress in midlife, as well as changing hormones, can increase cortisol levels, and this can create stubborn belly fat that is very hard to shift. As oestrogen levels decline, the body switches production to the adrenals and fat stores.

“A bit of extra fat is beneficial for the body for extra oestrogen so it can try to hang on to it. Women going through peri-menopause and menopause are more prone to insulin resistance and weight gain.

“This is due to metabolic changes related to adrenal, thyroid and sex hormone fluctuations, and increased difficulty in tolerating carbohydrates. Whether it’s due to a slower metabolism, increased fat to muscle ratio, being less active or more stressed, we just can’t handle carbs like we used to.

“Our thyroid hormones can be less than optimal as we get older, and this can slow down our metabolism making it very hard to lose any weight.”

The nutritionist went on to recommend a healthy diet women going through the menopause can follow to maintain a healthy weight.

“Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ diet for every woman but I’ve seen time and time again how food can transform your health,” Nicki said.

“And it’s the same for hormones and the menopause transition. Hormones need a steady stream of nutrients for them to work efficiently.

“Without the right nutrients your menopause symptoms can worsen and your natural instinct is to go for a fast fix with the wrong foods, making things even worse. We need to start focusing more on the nutrients in foods, not just calories.”

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Nicki advised that women over 40 limit the amount of sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and alcohol they consume.

She said: “In addition, limit or avoid any foods that cause bloating, fatigue, headaches or any other symptoms you notice after eating them. Common culprits include gluten and dairy.

“Try eliminating them for three to four weeks then re-introduce one product at a time and notice how you feel.”

So, what are the best foods for women to eat while going through the menopause?

Nicki continued: “Fill your plate half full of vegetables – the more colourful the better. These are healthy carbohydrates that will supply plenty of plant nutrients to your hormones and are also great for your gut bacteria.

“Focus on the cruciferous family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, chard, rocket. These veg are particularly helpful for detoxifying excess hormones through the liver.

“Good healthy fats are essential menopause foods. You need them for hormone production, absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and keeping blood sugar stable, filling you up so you are not hungry between meals.

“The best fats to add to your diet include coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter, avocado, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.”

Good sources of protein are also “essential for blood sugar balance, energy, detoxification, transport and storage of hormones, bone and muscle repair”.

Nicki advised: “Go for good quality meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, nuts, and seeds.”

Another tip Nicki recommended for women to follow if they want to maintain a healthy weight was to “avoid snacking between meals”.

She said: “This just encourages more insulin production. Try to leave four to six hours between meals – this encourages your body to use up the sugar stores and start burning fat for energy.”

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