Q. Once menopause sets in the body goes through a lot of changes, as one is now on the path to old age. Keeping this in mind, what are the diet and lifestyle changes that one needs to make when one enters menopause?
A. “Menopause ain’t equivalent to old age!!!!!” In fact, it’s a time of freedom to experience life which may have been restricted in the earlier years due to the associated menstrual irritations!!! Yes, the hormonal changes associated with menopause does call for more concentrated efforts on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but do not stress on making drastic changes that can even be the cause of health setbacks as you enter your 50s and 60s.
Production of the female hormone, estrogen, is drastically decreased once menopause sets in. Estrogen is the female protective hormone that cushions a female (in the reproductive years) from cardiovascular disease and maintains bone density. However, the hormone is also associated with gender-specific cancers such as breast and uterine cancers. At menopause, it becomes even more important for a woman, therefore, to pay close attention to her calcium, vitamins D, B, C, & K, protein, and antioxidant nutrients intake.
Including a vitamin C food at each meal/snack – sprouts, curds, buttermilk, citrus fruits, papaya, pineapple, berries, guava, capsicum – will help maintain bone health, as will an optimal intake of dark green leafy vegetables which are an excellent source of vitamin K. Calcium from seafood, nuts, beans and greens, lean meats, and low-fat dairy is an excellent way to increase bone density; ensure, however, that you get your daily dose of vitamin D by exposing yourself to sunlight for 15-20 minutes each day. Mushrooms and fish are the only known food sources with an appreciable vitamin D content, but the sun is your best bet for ensuring calcium deposition on your bones. Avoid using sunscreens and long sleeve clothes or walking around with an umbrella/driving in cars with tinted glasses when you are making a concerted effort to get your requirement of vitamin D. Protein is also needed for bone formation; hence, do not ignore the importance of fish, pulses, nuts, and low-fat dairy in your diet. Cardiovascular health can be maintained by including foods rich in vitamin B such as whole grains, seeds, and eggs in your diet.
Urinary tract infections become more common once one reaches menopause. Ensuring hygiene and drinking at least 3 litres of water each day will help keep the infection at bay. Weight gain is another common complaint of those approaching menopause. Getting at least 30-45 minutes of concentrated physical activity 3-5 times a week will help ensure weight loss/maintenance and healthier bones too. Include strength training as part of your exercise routine; this will help maintain bone density and counteract bone resorption. Flaxseeds, sesame seeds, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), garlic, soy, prunes, dried apricots and dates are foods that contain phytoestrogens that are known to mimic the hormone in our body; including a portion of these in your daily diet will go a long way in ensuring ‘healthy ageing’!
Begin by including 2 new habits every week, and build up on your changed dietary and lifestyle patterns till you realize you are sailing through menopause without the associated baggage of medications! Being ‘happy’ is another realm to reckon with as menopause is often associated with ‘depression’. Calming foods such as fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and low-fat dairy (curds, paneer and milk) will help one deal with chemical imbalances in the brain that are often the reason for despair. And exercise will go a long way in helping in the release of “feel-good” hormones called endorphins that will help one overcome menopausal melancholy.
Approach this new phase of your life with renewed zest and vigour as you discover the joys of eating and exercising!
SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO) & DEPT. HEAD (PG DEGREE DEPT, FOOD TECHNOLOGY, CARMEL COLLEGE)