General Nutrition

What to eat during menopause

January 18, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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women's health
Contents
Contents

Key Points

  • Menopause is often accompanied by symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and bone density loss.
  • Your diet can positively (or negatively) impact your menopause symptoms.
  • Focusing on protein, whole grains, and certain vitamins and minerals can help improve your symptoms.

Menopause can be a challenging period of life. Defined as occurring 12 months after your final menstrual cycle, menopause comes with a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can be difficult to handle and even debilitating. But the good news is there are many steps you can take to improve and mitigate them, including adjusting your diet. Here are some guidelines on what to eat during menopause.

What are menopause symptoms?

Perimenopause and menopause come with a host of symptoms that vary by individual. These symptoms often start during perimenopause as your estrogen levels begin to decrease and can last for years. Typical menopausal symptoms include:

  • Hot flashes caused by decreasing estrogen, which impacts your body’s internal thermostat
  • Mood swings due to rapidly changing hormone levels
  • Sleep problems which can be related to hot flashes and night sweats
  • Changes in metabolism which can affect weight
  • Vaginal atrophy which can lead to pain and discomfort during sex, as well as urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Changes in body composition wherein you lose muscle mass and gain more fat
  • Bone mineral density loss which is typically the most rapid in perimenopause and the first five years of menopause

How diet affects menopause

“Menopause is often a difficult time of life,” says Rita Faycurry, RD. “Women get frustrated by both their symptoms and their bodies themselves. The most important thing to focus on is how to support your body in this time of need. And one of the best ways to do that is through diet.”

What you eat directly impacts your body – specifically, your hormones. Given hormones’ role in menopause, it’s important to adjust your eating patterns to account for your decreasing hormones, which increases the need for certain vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients.

Choosing foods that support realistic weight, your activity level, bone health, and balanced hormone levels can make a tangible difference in your symptoms and the overall menopausal transition.

What are the best foods to eat during menopause?

There are several foods and food groups to focus on to promote women’s health during menopause:

Increase protein intake

Because your body is losing muscle mass, it is wise to increase your protein intake. In one systematic review, higher protein intake (1.2 g per kg body weight) was associated with a 32% lower risk of frailty and better physical function. Stronger bodies are at lower risk for osteoporosis, which is critical considering women lose up to 10% of their bone mass in the first five years after menopause.

“I recommend prioritizing lean meat when it comes to protein,” says Rita Faycurry, RD. “Red meat is fine in limited quantities, but we want to watch cholesterol levels too to ensure those numbers stay where we want them to.”

Whole grains

Focus on whole grains, rather than processed carbohydrates, to promote a sense of satiety and healthy blood sugar. They contain more fiber and nutrients than their processed counterparts. Whole grains are linked to reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and premature death, and may lessen symptoms of menopause. Some good options for whole grains include:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Barley
  • Rye

Phytoestrogens

Foods containing phytoestrogens can alleviate menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats since they can convert into estrogen. Many legumes contain phytoestrogens, like soy (soybeans, tofu, soy flour, soy milk), chickpeas, and peanuts, as well as flaxseeds and green or black tea.

However, phytoestrogens can only convert with a certain enzyme, which not everyone carries, so adding in these foods can be hit or miss. A registered dietitian can guide you in testing whether phytoestrogens support your hormone levels.

Calcium

Calcium is a critical point of focus for menopausal women to address bone density loss. Calcium can be found in dairy products, like milk, yogurt, or cheese, as well as other foods like oats, oranges/orange juice, leafy greens, and tofu.

Vitamin D

With a focus on calcium comes a focus on vitamin D, because it helps your body absorb calcium. While sun exposure is the best way to get vitamin D, a daily supplement is a good idea to ensure your levels are high enough. Check with your healthcare provider if a daily vitamin D supplement is the right choice for you.

General menopause diet guidelines

There are other general best practices to follow when it comes to the best menopause diet.

Prioritize fruits and vegetables to get in all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you can.

Get omega-3s and healthy fats from fatty fish like salmon and seeds to promote overall health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Certain diets have proven successful for some people. The Mediterranean diet is associated with decreasing inflammation and insulin resistance, while others find a low-fat diet improves their symptoms. Both diets are associated with a greater intake of fruits, vegetables, and grains, all of which are beneficial for menopause.

What diets help with hot flashes?

All of the above foods and dietary guidelines can help balance your hormones and improve hot flash symptoms. There are, however, foods you should specifically avoid to ensure you’re not worsening your symptoms.

Foods to avoid during menopause

Certain foods have been found to negatively impact menopausal and postmenopausal women, impacting symptoms, hormonal changes, and weight.

  • Spicy foods can worsen hot flashes by raising your temperature and triggering or worsening symptoms
  • Caffeine can also worsen hot flashes
  • Alcohol can contribute to hot flashes and night sweats, trouble sleeping, or weight gain
  • Starchy carbs like pasta, white bread, and potatoes aren’t processed as easily throughout menopause and might cause you to gain weight
  • Processed sugar is similarly difficult to process
  • High-salt food can be dangerous in menopause due to increasing blood pressure, putting you at greater risk for hypertension

Why am I gaining weight during menopause?

Weight gain is associated with menopause and is common for many women. However, it is more likely linked to a sedentary lifestyle rather than menopause itself. Menopause does decrease your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain, but many adults also slow down as they age. With less physical activity comes an increased risk for weight gain – as well as bone loss, joint and muscle pain, and more.

Body fat also naturally redistributes during menopause. You might not gain weight but might notice it appearing in different places. Typically, fat moves from the thighs and hips to the stomach. This can make it seem like you gained weight even if you didn’t.

Menopause can be a difficult enough period of time without worrying about weight on top of it all. Learn more about what causes menopause weight gain here and what you can do to manage it.

Can a dietitian help with menopause symptoms?

With all this information, you can see just how much impact a healthy diet can have on menopausal symptoms. While there is no singular approach for what to eat during menopause, there are certain changes you can make to support your body as your menstrual cycles end to support a healthy weight and an overall healthy lifestyle.

A registered dietitian is the most qualified nutrition professional to support you throughout menopause. They can assess your current diet and activity levels and make informed recommendations to meet your specific needs.

“An RD is an excellent partner to have throughout menopause,” says Rita Faycurry, RD. “I’ve seen women transform both their symptoms and their general outlook through meaningful changes in their diet.”

After an initial intake, you and your dietitian will meet regularly to discuss your progress. You will report on any symptoms changes, weight gain or loss, and overall mood. Your RD is also there to answer questions and make you feel as supported as possible as you go through this significant life transition.

This service doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. With Fay Nutrition, you can find registered dietitians covered by your health insurance. Many of them specialize in women’s health and menopause.

With Fay, you can pay as little as $0 per session. Click here to get started and find the best menopause dietitian near you.



The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine - Introduction to Menopause
  • Better Health Victoria - Menopause and osteoporosis 
  • Nutrients - Nutrition in Menopausal Women: A Narrative Review
  • Cleveland Clinic - Menopause Diet: What To Eat To Help Manage Symptoms
  • Healthline - Menopause Diet: How What You Eat Affects Your Symptoms
  • Menopause: The Journal of the Menopause Society - Caffeine and menopausal symptoms: what is the association?
  • Journal of Menopausal Medicine - Postmenopausal Hypertension and Sodium Sensitivity


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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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