Rachel Kelly, author of The Happy Kitchen suggests five key nutrients to help us through the menopause.
As a menopausal woman myself, and one who has eschewed using HRT, I’ve let food be my medicine over the past few years to deal with my mood swings and hot flushes. I’ve written my new book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. She has helped me stay calm and steady and ride the hormonal rollercoaster of menopause. In our book, we include recipes using these ingredients and synthesise the research explaining why they make such a difference to our hormonal balance. I hope eating these foods will help you as much as it has helped me. Here are my top five choices:
Seaweed contains iodine, an important nutrient for female hormonal health and thyroid function. The thyroid is a hormonal gland that plays a major role in our metabolism, as well as boosting our energy, contributing to digestive health, temperature regulation and mood.
The thyroid needs iodine from the foods we eat to make two main hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) and deficiency can contribute to an increased risk of thyroid issues, which appears to be common for menopausal women.
Those suffering with low energy, mood and hot flushes like me could often use a boost in iodine, so go for seaweed. I find the taste of seaweed hard work, so I add it to smoothies. Probably the easiest variety to use is wakame, which you can get dried in a packet from Tesco. You need to rehydrate it with cold water and let it stand for around five minutes. You can also add it to soups and salads. Meanwhile if you eat sushi, then buy sushi rolls wrapped in nori, the Japanese name for edible seaweed.
Another nutrient needed by the thyroid is selenium, which is present in many foods, particularly Brazil nuts. Although toxic in high doses, just 1 or 2 Brazils a day helps you to reach your daily RDA for this mineral. In addition to supporting the thyroid, selenium also plays a key role in the immune and nervous system and helps keep our skin looking young – a bonus for any menopausal woman! I find it easy to snack on Brazil nuts themselves, or I add them to chocolate brownies – we have a great recipe in our book!
Phytoestrogens are also sometimes called ‘dietary oestrogens’. They are compounds derived from plants and are found in a wide variety of foods, notably soy, flaxseed and wheatgerm. Some scientists believe that phytoestrogens can benefit the health and mood of menopausal women because they gently boost their oestrogen supplies. Seeing as these naturally dwindle as our ovaries stop producing oestrogen, this is a useful boost and can help protect bones, boost sex drive and keep us limber.
The only way to find out if these foods will benefit you is to try eating a moderate amount, around one decent fistful sized-portion phytoestrogens three times a week, and keep a record of how you feel. I would start with unprocessed soy in the form of edamame beans: they are now easy to buy, are a good source of phytoestrogens, and provide plenty of fibre too. I love the taste too and found they certainly helped with my symptoms. Edamame are also a fantastic source of calcium, to support our bones which are vulnerable to becoming brittle as we age. I adore the cheery acid green brightness of these beans – an added bonus.
Probably the easiest food to supplement your diet with if you’re menopausal, and indeed for anyone suffering with hormone issues is flaxseed. Like soy, flaxseed contains a variety of gentle phyto-oestrogens as well as plenty of fibre to help keep digestion moving.
I recommend having 1 desert spoon per day, added to smoothie, breakfasts (porridge is ideal) and on salads. I have a big jar on the kitchen table which makes it really easy to remember to sprinkle it on almost anything at mealtimes.
Leafy greens such as kale provide folate as well as some B vitamins. These nutrients are essential for our livers — which in turn are partly responsible for breaking down and regulating a number of hormones and helping support the delicate balance of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. A happier liver tends to mean a happier menopausal woman. Folate in particular may also support our mood. Deficiencies in folate and B12 may play a role in liver diseases, and have also been associated with depression, probably due to their role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters.
Kale is also rich in fibre, which helps support a well functioning digestive system, so it’s another top choice for a menopausal woman.
The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food available to preorder on Amazon : coming January 2017