You know that you should eat a sensible, balanced diet to stay healthy during the menopause - but do you know that some foods and drinks can make your symptoms worse? Here are seven things you might want to cut back on...
1. Saturated fat
Low-mood and irritability is common during the menopause, caused by fluctuating hormone levels. Studies show that eating saturated fat can lower levels of serotonin, making your mood plummet further. Swap red meat for oily fish, opt for lean options like chicken or turkey, or go vegetarian.
Menopausal women are also at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease - another good reason to cut back on saturated, animal fats.
2. Fizzy drinks
After the menopause, the long-term effects of lower oestrogen levels can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Upping your intake of calcium and vitamin D can help - but be careful. Phosphorous (found in fizzy drinks, red meat, and processed foods) can leach calcium and magnesium from your bones, making them weaker.
If you're concerned, add more alkaline foods to your diet, such as vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and yogurt. Foods that are rich in magnesium and boron, including nuts, apples, pears, grapes, dates and raisins, can help in the replacement of bone and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Or take a supplement formulated especially for menopausal women.
Because alcohol dilates the blood vessels, it can make hot flushes and night sweats worse. Most women gain weight during the menopause, and alcohol contains lots of empty calories – another good reason to cut back. Not only that, women who have two to five drinks a day are 1.5 times more likely to get breast cancer than their teetotal counterparts, according to the North American Menopause Society.
4. Sugar and white carbs
Fluctuating hormone levels are linked to low-mood and irritability. While it's only natural to want a pick-me-up, avoid eating too much of the sweet stuff. Foods that release their energy quickly, such as sugar and white bread and pasta, will cause your blood-sugar levels to rise and then plummet – making your irritability worse. Opt for low GI foods and eat regularly to help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
5. Processed foods
Experts believe that changing levels of progesterone slows the digestive process during the menopause, making you feel more constipated, bloated, and gassy.
Processed foods like microwave ready-meals and crisps tend to be high in salt, and can cause you to retain water and make bloating worse. Check food labels carefully – many cereals and breads can be surprisingly high in salt and even fresh soups that are branded healthy can contain high levels of sodium. The maximum amount of salt recommended for adults is 6g per day.
A 2014 study published in the journal Menopause found that women who consumed caffeinated coffee were more likely to experience hot flushes than those who did not. So skip your morning coffee and have a herbal tea instead.
7. Spicy foods
Think twice before you order an Indian take away or add that chilli sauce to your dinner. The capsaicin in chillies dilates blood vessels, as does the piperine in black pepper - making hot flushes worse. If you want to add some kick to your dishes, try using spices that provide flavour without having too much heat, such as cumin, turmeric, and coriander.