FOOD plays an important role, especially for women going through menopause.
With World Menopause Day falling on Sunday (Oct 18), 3Age speaks to Indra Balaratnam, consultant dietitian, owner and founder of Indra Balaratnam Nutrition – The Food Expert Clinic. She shares her thoughts and tips on the best diet and nutrition for those going through menopause.
“Women should focus on eating a healthy diet with a good variety of various foods from the 5 main food groups – such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and dairy,” says Indra.
According to her, the variety will provide a wider spectrum of nutrients that all work towards your general wellbeing, more so in the time of menopause.
Her advice is to go for whole grains as they are high in fibre. “We are recommended to have 20-25g of fibre per day. But most women could do better at meeting the recommendation.
“Weight gain is a potential risk in menopause as your hormone levels change. To minimise this, go for high fibre foods such as whole grains, fruit and vegetables as they help you stay full for longer. So, you can get away with eating a little less without feeling too hungry.
“Make some simple swaps such as switching to wholemeal bread from white bread; wholegrain cereals or oats instead of refined sweetened cereals; try brown rice in place of your usual white rice; and wholegrain crackers instead of sweetened biscuits.
“As a tip, when reading food labels, look for at least 3g of fibre per serving,” says Indra.
According to her, this is also the time to make sure you get enough calcium for strong bones. Women are at risk of developing osteoporosis after menopause because of the decrease in oestrogen, the hormone that protects the bone.
“Aim to get 1,200mg of calcium in a day. Milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium. So aim to get 2-4 servings of dairy per day. A serving is a cup of milk (250ml), a slice of cheese or a carton of yoghurt. Dark leafy green vegetables, canned fish, ikan bills and small fish where you can eat the bones are other good sources of calcium,” explains Indra.
She also advises women to take enough iron as low levels of iron can make you feel lethargic.
She suggests women aim for 8mg per day. They can get iron from red meat, beans, eggs, dark leafy green vegetables and iron-fortified whole grains.
In addition, don’t forget to take Vitamin C as it helps the body to absorb iron more efficiently.
“So, for example, if you’re eating a dish with beef, have fruits after the meal to make the most of it,” says Indra.
She warns menopausal women to be careful of portion sizes of food as eating too much will make it difficult to control your weight.
“In menopause, with the change of hormones, women will experience an increase in belly fat levels. This makes your risk for heart disease go up as well. Your best defence is being mindful of how much you eat. Exercise helps as well. I recommend going for daily walks to burn off calories, strengthen your heart and muscles and also relieve stress.
“As you are now more aware of portions and weight control during this time of menopause, do increase your intake of vegetables and fruit. Aim for 2-3 servings of fruit and at least 3-5 servings of vegetables per day.
“Vegetables and fruit are relatively low in calories but high in fibre and nutrients. They help you to stay full. When fixing yourself a plate of food to eat, fill up half your plate with vegetables. Have fresh fruits as a snack instead of junk food tidbits,” says Indra.
Menopausal women should also be mindful of eating foods that are greasy or prepared with a lot of oil. These kinds of foods are high in fat, says Indra.
She adds that too much fat intake in a day is not healthy for your heart and arteries, which are at risk after menopause.
“Learn to enjoy other delicious cooking methods that don’t deep fry or use too much oil. Malaysia has a lot of choices. Look for dishes that are steamed, braised, grilled or lightly stir fried. Have light vegetables such as kerabu, salads or stir fried vege,” she says.
According to her, plant-based foods such as beans, especially soya beans, have natural compounds known as isoflavones that mimic the effects of the female hormone oestrogen.
“Hence, they may help with the effects of menopause symptoms. It is not definite in everyone, but there is no harm adding beans and tofu as part of your variety of healthy choices. Beans and tofu are high in protein but lower in fat than meats. So, having them in place of meat is a good way to balance out your fat intake to protect your heart,” says Indra.
She also recommends women drink at least 10 cups of water per day to stay hydrated. Our bodies lose hydration the older we get, and water is a much-needed element for our body systems to function well.
“Caffeine drinks such as coffee and tea are diuretics, which mean they draw out water from our bodies. so as a rule of thumb, for every cup of coffee or tea you have, make sure you replenish with a cup of water,” says Indra.