Going through menopause? The Mediterranean diet may help

Rated one of the healthiest in the world, the Mediterranean diet is proving to be an effective natural way to help manage menopause symptoms.

Feeling the heat of hot flushes? Cranky and irritable? Jeans not buttoning like they used to?

Menopause brings with it a host of unpleasant symptoms.

The good news is research suggests diet can play a pivotal role in how hard, and when, these symptoms hit.

And according to a recent study, the Mediterranean diet may provide an ideal nutritional strategy for women to manage symptoms of menopause.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Prioritising plant foods, the Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, with legumes, fish and other seafood a key source of protein.

Red meat features far less than in a typical Western diet, and is consumed once a week or less.

Dietitian Nicole Dynan says the Mediterranean diet consistently ranks as the easiest diet to follow and the best for healthy eating across the globe.

And, as research mounts, it’s proving to be the best choice for women going through menopause.

“We are learning the food we eat can impact the intensity of the symptoms of menopause, like hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness,” Nicole says.

“If we eat a diet rich in oily fish and legumes – cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet – research out of the UK has found it not only supports a reduction in symptoms, but can (also) delay the onset of menopause.”

Gut health, menopause and the Mediterranean diet

Nicole says the UK research findings make a lot of sense, considering the gut-hormone connection.

“Our gut microbes are involved in oestrogen recycling, a process where a group of gut bacteria, known as the estrobolome, reactivate old oestrogen back into the bloodstream to continue working, rather than it being excreted,” Nicole explains.

Vera Women’s Wellness gynaecologist Dr Peta Wright says a high-fibre diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help the gut metabolise oestrogen.

“It feeds the microbiome and encourages the growth of the good bacteria, which deal with metabolising oestrogen,” Dr Wright says.

“The liver is also involved in hormone metabolism, and because the diet is low in processed foods and sugar, the liver is less strained.”

Dr Wright says there’s some evidence the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on unprocessed foods, benefits menopausal symptoms because it’s lower in endocrinedisrupting chemicals.

“Diet is such a huge part of optimising your health in that next chapter and reducing the risk of chronic diseases,” Dr Wright says.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet for menopause

Maintain a healthy weight

Dr Wright says weight gain is common during menopause, “(and) many women notice a bit of weight gain around their middle.”

Nicole explains a diet that emphasises whole foods, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats is associated with better weight management and decreased waist circumference.

Support bone health

Oestrogen declines with the onset of menopause, affecting bone density.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in nutrients associated with bone health, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D.

“Because it’s high in fish, chickpeas and green leafy vegetables, it’s high in calcium, which is important in menopause when oestrogen goes down and we are more likely to have weaker bones,” Dr Wright says.

Boost your mood

Menopause can increase the risk of mood disorders such as depression.

Nicole says a diet high in plant foods, whole grains and healthy fats is associated with improved mental wellbeing.

Easy ways to start following the Mediterranean diet

  • Swap your cooking oil for extra virgin olive oil.
  • Eat seasonally, like those who live in the Mediterranean.
  • Incorporate legumes into meat-based dishes.
  • Snack on fresh fruits and nuts.

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Written by Sarah Vercoe.