Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life as her menstrual cycles come to an end.
It’s confirmed 12 months after your last period. However, the transition and symptoms associated with menopause can last for several years (1).
While menopause is linked to many uncomfortable symptoms and increases your risk of certain diseases, your diet may help reduce symptoms and ease the transition.
This article discusses how what you eat may affect your symptoms.
What Changes Happen During Menopause?
During the transition to menopause and beyond, the hormone estrogen begins to decline, disrupting your normal cyclical patterns of estrogen and progesterone (1).
Declining estrogen levels negatively impact your metabolism, potentially leading to weight gain. These changes may also affect your cholesterol levels and how your body digests carbs (2).
Many women experience symptoms like hot flashes and difficulty sleeping during this transition period (3, 4).
Additionally, hormone changes lead to declined bone density, which can increase your risk of fractures (5).
Fortunately, making changes in your diet may help relieve menopause symptoms.
Summary Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life as her menstrual cycles come to an end. Changes in hormones can cause symptoms like hot flashes and poor sleep and may negatively affect metabolism and bone density.
Foods to Eat
There is evidence that certain foods may help relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, poor sleep and low bone density.
The decline in estrogen levels during menopause can increase women’s risk of fractures.
Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, contain calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins D and K — all of which are essential for bone health (6, 7).
In a study in nearly 750 postmenopausal women, those who ate more dairy and animal protein had significantly higher bone density than those who ate less (8).
Dairy may also help improve sleep. A review study found that foods high in the amino acid glycine — found in milk and cheese, for example — promoted deeper sleep in menopausal women (9).
Furthermore, some evidence links dairy consumption to a decreased risk of premature menopause, which occurs before the age of 45.
In one study, women with the highest intake of vitamin D and calcium — which cheese and fortified milk are rich in — had a 17% reduced risk of early menopause (10).
Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may benefit women going through menopause.
A review study in 483 menopausal women concluded that omega-3 supplements decreased the frequency of hot flashes and the severity of night sweats (11).
However, in another review of 8 studies on omega-3 and menopausal symptoms, only a few studies supported the beneficial effect of the fatty acid on hot flashes. Therefore, results were inconclusive (12).
Still, it may be worth testing if increasing your omega-3 intake improves your menopause-related symptoms.
Foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon and anchovies, and seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds (13, 14).
Whole grains are high in nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins, such as thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid (15).
A diet high in whole grains has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and premature death (16).
In a review, researchers found that people who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day had a 20–30% lower risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, compared to people who ate mostly refined carbs (17).
A study in over 11,000 postmenopausal women noted that eating 4.7 grams of whole-grain fiber per 2,000 calories per day reduced the risk of early death by 17%, compared to eating only 1.3 grams of whole-grain fiber per 2,000 calories (18).
Whole-grain foods include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, barley, quinoa, Khorasan wheat (kamut®) and rye. Look for “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient on the label when evaluating which packaged foods contain primarily whole grains.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, fiber and antioxidants. For this reason, American dietary guidelines recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables (19).
In a one-year intervention study in over 17,000 menopausal women, those eating more vegetables, fruit, fiber and soy experienced a 19% reduction in hot flashes compared to the control group. The reduction was attributed to the healthier diet and weight loss (20).
Cruciferous vegetables may be especially helpful for postmenopausal women. In one study, eating broccoli decreased levels of a type of estrogen linked to breast cancer, while increasing levels of an estrogen type that protects against breast cancer (21).
Dark berries may also benefit women going through menopause. In an eight-week study in 60 menopausal women, 25 grams a day of freeze-dried strawberry powder lowered blood pressure compared to a control group. However, more research is needed (22).
In another eight-week study in 91 middle-aged women, those who took 200 mg of grape seed extract supplements daily experienced fewer hot flashes, better sleep and lower rates of depression, compared to a control group (23).
Phytoestrogens are compounds in foods that act as weak estrogens in your body.
While there has been some controversy on including these in the diet, the most recent research suggests they may benefit health — especially for women going through menopause (24).
Foods that naturally contain phytoestrogens include soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, flax seeds, barley, grapes, berries, plums, green and black tea and many more (24).
In a review of 21 studies on soy, postmenopausal women who took soy isoflavone supplements for at least four weeks had 14% higher estradiol (estrogen) levels compared to those who took a placebo. However, results were not significant (25).
In another review of 15 studies ranging from 3 to 12 months, phytoestrogens including soy, isoflavone supplements and red clover were found to lower incidences of hot flashes compared to control groups, with no serious side effects (26).
The decline in estrogen from menopause is linked to decreased muscle mass and bone strength (27).
For this reason, women going through menopause should eat more protein. Guidelines recommend that women over 50 eat 0.45–0.55 grams of protein per pound (1–1.2 grams per kg) of body weight daily — or 20–25 grams of high-quality protein per meal (28).
In the US, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight for all adults over age 18, which represents the minimum needed for health.
The recommended macronutrient distribution range for protein is 10–35% of total daily calories (29).
In a recent one-year study in 131 postmenopausal women, those taking 5 grams of collagen peptides daily had significantly better bone mineral density compared to those taking a placebo powder (30).
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body.
In a large study in adults over 50, eating dairy protein was linked to an 8% lower risk of hip fracture, while eating plant protein was linked to a 12% reduction (31).
Foods high in protein include eggs, meat, fish, legumes and dairy products. Additionally, you can add protein powders to smoothies or baked goods.
Summary Incorporating dairy products, healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, foods high in phytoestrogens and quality sources of protein into your diet may help relieve some menopause symptoms.
Foods to Avoid
Avoiding certain foods may help reduce some of the symptoms linked to menopause, such as hot flashes, weight gain and poor sleep.
Added Sugars and Processed Carbs
High blood sugar, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been linked to higher incidence of hot flashes in menopausal women (32, 33, 34).
Processed foods and added sugars are known to raise blood sugar rapidly. The more processed a food is, the more pronounced its effect on blood sugar may be (35).
Therefore, limiting your intake of added sugars and processed foods, such as white bread, crackers and baked goods, may help reduce hot flashes during menopause.
US guidelines recommend keeping your added sugar intake to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake — so if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, less than 200 calories, or 50 grams, should come from added sugars (36).
Alcohol and Caffeine
Studies have shown that caffeine and alcohol can trigger hot flashes in women going through menopause (37, 38).
In one study in 196 menopausal women, caffeine and alcohol intake increased the severity of hot flashes but not their frequency (39).
On the other hand, another study associated caffeine intake with a lower incidence of hot flashes (40).
Therefore, it may be worth testing whether eliminating caffeine affects your hot flashes.
Another factor to consider is that caffeine and alcohol are known sleep disruptors and that many women going through menopause have trouble sleeping. So, if this is the case for you, consider avoiding caffeine or alcohol near bedtime.
Avoiding spicy foods is a common recommendation for women going through menopause. However, evidence to support this is limited.
One study in 896 women going through menopause in Spain and South America examined the association between lifestyle factors and incidences of hot flashes and associated spicy food intake with an increase in hot flashes (41).
Another study in 717 perimenopausal women in India associated hot flashes with spicy food intake and anxiety levels. Researchers concluded that hot flashes were worse for women with overall poorer health (42).
As your reaction to spicy foods may be individual, use your best judgment when it comes to including spicy foods in your diet and avoid them if they seem to worsen your symptoms.
High salt intake has been linked to lower bone density in postmenopausal women.
In a study in over 9,500 postmenopausal women, sodium intake of more than 2 grams per day was linked to a 28% higher risk of low bone mineral density (43).
Additionally, after menopause, the decline in estrogen increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Reducing your sodium intake may help lower this risk (44).
Furthermore, in a randomized study in 95 postmenopausal women, those who followed a moderate-sodium diet experienced better overall mood, compared to women who followed a generally healthy diet with no salt restriction (45).
Summary Avoiding processed carbs, added sugars, alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods and foods high in salt may improve symptoms of menopause.
The Bottom Line
Menopause is linked to changes in metabolism, reduced bone density and increased risk of heart disease.
Additionally, many women going through menopause experience unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flashes and poor sleep.
A whole-foods diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein and dairy products may reduce menopause symptoms. Phytoestrogens and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish, may also help.
You may want to limit added sugars, processed carbs, alcohol, caffeine and high-sodium or spicy foods as well.
These simple changes to your diet may make this important transition in your life easier.