“Regardless of what some people have claimed, there does appear to be a biological basis for the changes you’ve noticed in your body and your weight. It’s not in your mind. It’s related to your hormones”, states the author Katheryn Petras. Welcome back ladies to part two of my search for the answer to“Do young women experiencing menopause gain weight the same way older menopause women do?” In part two the article looks at eating well and how you can empower yourself with nutritional information to prevent or at least manage, a healthy weight during this time of fluctuating hormones.
Eating Right for Early Menopause
Now on to something that’s talked about widely, but not always in a menopausal context: How we eat. Since weight gain is so prevalent when you go through early menopause, it’s vital to be sure you’re eating the best foods given this change in your body. And, happily, it’s really not that difficult.
Here are a few very simple tips that can help — many of which are really obvious, but they definitely bear repeating!
Keep a balanced diet — to keep your weight down and to cut down on the risk of disease
This is clearly one of the best things you can do for the overall health of your body. First, as you know, premature menopause increases your risk of heart disease. By consuming whole foods and keeping processed foods to a minimum, you can help shift the odds in your favour and help prevent heart disease.
For a long time saturated fats have taken the brunt of the criticism in dietary guidelines. They are believed to raise your blood cholesterol level — so a low-fat diet has long been recommended to help you keep your cholesterol levels down. However, newer evidence suggests that saturated fat might not actually be the great driver of heart disease it was once thought to be.
In fact, a more useful rule of thumb for eating might be to avoid processed foods, rather than to obsessively eliminate fats. The former method doesn’t rule out foods like nuts, seeds and fatty fish, all of which are known to be highly beneficial to heart health.
It’s not just your heart health that can benefit from focusing on a whole food, plant-based diet. If you’re on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and concerned about breast cancer, eating right and staying trim is likely to lower your risk of developing the disease.
As for weight control, both low-carb and low-fat meal plans have been shown to be effective. More often than not, high fat foods are also high calorie foods — which certainly doesn’t help you keep your weight down. One gram of fat has over twice the calories as a gram of protein.
However, processed foods high in carbohydrates are notorious for their “binge potential” and recent reviews of the evidence have actually shown superior effectiveness for low-carb meal plans over low-fat in both heart disease prevention and weight loss.
Keep your fibre intake up
Fiber is your friend when it comes to eating properly. It fills you up, keeps your digestive tract healthy, and helps maintain a healthy heart. In addition, it has a protective effect against certain types of cancer.
You need both insoluble and soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre helps keep your bowel movements regular and helps protect against cancers of your intestinal tract. Foods high in this include: whole grains; fruits and vegetables.
Although debate has surrounded carbs and their impact on health, whole grains are nevertheless a better choice than highly refined grains. They are higher fibre and generally more nutritious than their more processed cousins.
The fibre in whole grains may help you keep your weight down too. It fills you up quickly and keeps you feeling satisfied for a longer amount of time than other carbohydrate-dense foods — which is a definite plus when you’re trying to avoid overeating.
As for fruits and vegetables, they too can fill you up and provide a rich source of fibre. Not only that but the nutrients they provide (and perhaps, their antioxidants) may help your heart and help fight cancer risks.
Soluble fibre keeps your blood sugar levels stable, and is metabolised slowly — a real help in keeping you from overeating. Foods high in soluble fibre include: apples, barley; beans; flax seed; prunes; rolled oats, oat bran.
Don’t forget protein — for overall health and (a nice plus) weight loss
Protein can help you maintain lean muscle mass, which in itself burns calories — quite an effective one-two punch! But all too often, especially recently, people tend to overlook the benefits of protein, especially as a way of keeping weight in check.
Around the turn of the century, the emphasis was heavily focused on whole grains. In effect then, books and doctors were extolling the virtues of high-carbohydrate, low-fat eating.
But the pendulum is shifting back in more ways than one, and more support has emerged asserting that a higher balance of protein might be beneficial in weight control and all around health.
Regardless of whom you believe in this debate, there is no question that protein is a necessity in your diet. Amino acids are vital “building blocks” in your body, some of which your body makes — and others of which you can only get by eating protein-rich foods.
It is, in one form or another, present in every cell of your body. It makes, maintains and repairs cells — from muscle to other tissues. It is a crucial ingredient in everything from your bones to your hair; and makes up such vital substances as hormones (such as insulin) and disease-fighting antibodies.
It’s clear, then, that protein is a must in anyone’s diet. But it’s especially important if you’re tackling the fallout of premature menopause — and here’s the big reason why:
Protein’s thermic effect is higher than that of carbohydrates or fats. In other words, you burn more calories simply in the process of digesting the food you ate with a high protein meal than one high in fats or carbs. So you’re getting more bang for your buck when you eat protein.
One other big plus: protein may help to keep blood sugar levels stable — a big plus when it comes to preventing both mood swings and food cravings.
Because it may be easier to add or keep weight on due to premature menopause, remember to keep an eye on calories.
For a while there, it seemed as though everyone forgot about calories! Articles, books, and nutrition experts were focusing on low-fat eating as a way of keeping your weight down.
But is calorie-counting really the most effective (or the most pleasant) way to lose weight?
It’s a simple scenario: Calories are, in effect, energy units. They’re what your body burns as fuel. But if you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight.
But… not all calories are “equal” in the sense that like-for-like, calories from some food sources lead to greater satiety or a superior intake of nutrients.
Nevertheless, on the simplest level, if you’re trying not to gain weight, you have to burn the calories you eat — and, of course, be sure you don’t wind up with too many calories in the course of a day’s eating.
How much is too much? It really depends on the individual — your height and weight, your body build, your fitness level, and how active you are. But it’s good to keep in mind that only 3,500 calories add up to one pound (0.500gms) of added fat — and those 3,500 calories can add up over time, especially if you’re not exercising.
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Adapted from The Premature Menopause Book, by Kathryn Petras. Edited by EarlyMenopause.com.