Menopause, Nutrition & You

Katie Horrell, MS, RDN

Our bodies experience physical and physiological changes over time. Women experience a unique change, known as menopause, that occurs between the age of 45 and 51. Menopause is defined by menstrual cycle cessation or the end of a woman’s production of eggs in the ovaries. The “culprit” behind the often dreaded menopausal symptoms is the changes in hormone levels that occur, primarily low estrogen and androgen levels.

Women may notice that weight doesn’t come off the way it used to, changes in mood occur, energy lowers, and the libido dips. To add to it, behind the scenes, our risk for osteoporosis increases.  Sounds pretty unfair, doesn’t it? While we can’t run from these inevitable changes, we can put our best foot forward in managing our symptoms and maintaining a healthy weight for life.

The Importance of Maintaining Lean Body Mass

The number one bummer that happens as we age is that our metabolism slows down. This metabolism shift doesn’t happen overnight, but rather, over a span of time.  Generally, our resting metabolic rate (or the number of calories we burn at rest) starts to slow in our 30s and declines by approximately 3-8% per decade. Since women naturally have less lean body mass than men, this hits us particularly hard. Although we have little control over our body’s hormonal changes during menopause, one area that we are more likely to manage is the amount of exercise we can get. Physical activity helps build muscle, which helps burn calories, both actively and at rest.   

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 70 minutes of vigorous exercise, per week. (Make sure to check with your doctor before making changes to your current exercise routine!) This recommendation equates to about 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, 5 days per week. Adding weights not only helps increase lean body mass, it also helps strengthen bones to lower osteoporosis risk. Already doing the recommended amount weekly?  Try switching it up! Changing exercises regularly keeps our muscles from adapting to a workout, thus helping to build stronger muscles.

Nutrition Key Points During Menopause
Protein

When we mention building muscle, we first think of protein! Protein is one macronutrient to be particularly mindful of as we age. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For the best absorption of protein, stick to no more than 25-30 grams of protein per meal. It’s important to build lean muscle as we age, and in order to build those muscles, there has to be enough protein available to be used for muscle synthesis. Protein can also help the body feel fuller for longer, which helps when attempting to lose or maintain weight.

Calcium & Vitamin D

Bone mineral density lowers as we age, particularly after menopause in women.  Consequently, getting enough Calcium and Vitamin D is extremely important for our bone health. Calcium is recommended at 1000-1200 mg per day, and can be found in: milk, cheese, tofu, spinach, and fortified cereal. Recommendations for Vitamin D vary, but as little as a 15 minute walk outside could help boost these levels. Food sources of Vitamin D include: fortified dairy and soy milk, eggs, cheese and liver.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for numerous metabolic functions, however a more specific concern for adults is the lowered ability to absorb the vitamin starting around the age of 50. When a person is deficient, they can experience a lack of energy and “brain fog” because of B-12’s assistance in brain neuron function and the creation of new blood cells. B12 can be found in animal products and fortified cereals and can also be taken as a supplement.

And a note

… be cautious of sneaky calories! Fancy coffee drinks, processed foods, granola bars, juices, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are all common offenders for adding extra sugar and calories to our diet. When we’re looking to cut calories to compensate for our metabolism’s decline, we have to pick and choose our battles!

Can you never have a treat again? The key point is enjoying calorie-dense foods in “moderation”.  To define the ambiguous term, “moderation,” in more concrete terms, it’s recommended that we limit sugar to 10% or less of our total daily calories (e.g. – 150 calories in a 1,500 calorie diet). The best way to cut back on sugar? – increase those whole foods!