Can a plant-based diet help during menopause?
Menopause is the permanent absence of menstruation that occurs due to loss of ovarian function. It is diagnosed when the menstrual period stops for 12 months or more without any obvious cause, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding.
It is a natural process that most likely occurs to all women between the ages of 45 and 60.
Have you heard of perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the time before menopause in which hormonal changes start to appear. It is common to experience irregular menstruation that may skip a month or more and return randomly.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Hot flashes are feelings of warmth, skin flushing, and sweating. They are the most common symptoms which affect approximately 85% of menopausal women, especially during the initial phase of menopause.
They differ in intensity and length of time from one female to another. However, almost 25% of females will complain of hot flashes for 5 years or more after menopause.
Its exact reason is unclear. However, research suggests that it is mostly due to hormonal changes, especially the absence of estrogen production.
This occurs due to low estrogen levels which results in loss of elasticity and decreased moisture as well as vaginal atrophy and narrowing.
It could be treated medically using menopausal hormone therapy (MNT). However, MNT increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and breast cancer in menopausal women.
Sleep disturbance and insomnia:
Menopause also affects sleep quality and might lead to insomnia. Difficulty sleeping could also lead to mood disorders and stress.
What are the complications of menopause?
Menopause increases the risk of several chronic diseases such as:
The decrease in estrogen level increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases as estrogen helps protect the artery walls. Therefore, loss of estrogen production increases the risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, and higher blood cholesterol.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which there are weak and brittle bones that can be easily fractured. It is common during menopause due to the loss of estrogen hormone which plays an important role in maintaining bone strength. leads to a rapid loss in bone density.
Therefore, the intake of food rich in calcium and vitamin D is very important to avoid further loss in bone density or the development of osteoporosis.
Calcium is found in green leafy vegetables ( broccoli, cabbage, okra), soya beans, tofu, sesame seeds, dried fruits and nuts. Furthermore, we can get vitamin D by exposure to sunlight. Both of them are also found in fortified food as fortified plant based milk beverages.
Supplements could be another option to ensure optimal intake of calcium and vitamin D if needed. In Canada, it is recommended to take vitamin D 1000IU during the winter months (October to May).
It’s important to note that not all vitamin D3 available are plant-based. Therefore, for vegan options, try vegan lichen multivitamins or Mykind Vitamin D3. Additionally, it is always best to contact your doctor before taking any medications or supplements.
Weight gain is common during the menopause period, especially around the abdominal area. Women may gain an average of 2 – 2.5 kg due to menopause, while others may gain even more.
This weight gain is caused by several factors:
o Loss of estrogen hormone which slows down metabolism.
o Loss of muscle mass with age also decreases the rate of metabolism.
o Decrease physical activity and lack of exercise.
o Modified lifestyle factors and disturbed sleep could lead to weight gain as well.
Urinary incontinence is the inability to voluntarily control urination. Females feel a sudden need to urinate accompanied by involuntary leaking of urine. It could also happen while laughing, coughing, or exerting any abdominal pressure.
This occurs due to loss of vaginal elasticity and weakness of pelvic floor muscles. Therefore, to reduce this, females could apply local vaginal estrogen to moisturize the area as well as focus on pelvic exercises to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles.
What are the benefits of plant-based diets during menopause?
Plant-based diets are beneficial as they are rich in vegetables, fruits, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are also low in saturated fats.
Therefore, plant-based diets have been known to:
- Decrease cholesterol levels or abnormal lipid profiles.
- Reduce the risk of weight gain.
- Reduce high blood pressure.
- Reduce the risk of cancer.
- Decrease menopausal symptoms.
A study showed that a plant-based diet reduced mortality from coronary artery diseases compared to animal-based diets.
Can a plant-based diet help reduce hot flashes?
Plant-based diets are rich in soy protein as a primary source of protein. Soy protein is a high-quality protein that contains a great amount of essential amino acids which makes it similar to milk and whey protein.
Furthermore, isoflavones have similar molecular structures and properties to estrogen, so they can attach to estrogen receptors leading to estrogen-like effects.
A study in 2018 showed that plant-based diets helped significantly decrease menopausal symptoms especially hot flashes and vaginal dryness when compared to omnivores.
According to a randomized controlled trial, consuming half a cup (86g) of soybeans every day helped significantly reduce total hot flashes in comparison to the omnivore group during a 12-week period.
Ways to include more soy protein into your diet:
After learning about the benefits of soy proteins, allow us to talk more about some examples of soy-based food products:
- ( Edamame (soybeans):
Edamame are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also low in calories and are naturally gluten-free.
It can be boiled, steamed, or microwaved and it usually cooks fast. It can also be frozen for later use.
- Soy milk:
It is one of the most popular plant-based milk beverages. It is made by soaking, blending and straining soybeans in water. Furthermore, it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cardioprotective properties.
- Soy nuts:
Soy nuts are delicious crunchy snacks made from soybeans. Therefore, they help promote bone health, help in weight loss, decrease menopausal symptoms and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and some cancers.
Furthermore, they can be easily added to snacks and salads to make a healthy nutritious meal. The soy nuts can be available in several flavors such as unsalted, salted, or spiced.
Tofu is condensed soy milk that originally came from China. It is produced by a process similar to making cheese. It is protein-rich and it consists of all essential amino acids. It is also rich in many vitamins and minerals.
It is another soy food that originally came from Indonesia. It is produced from cooked and fermented soybeans.
Want to add more soybean recipes to your diet?
To make it easier for you, we added some interesting soybeans recipes for you to try:
- Miso Sesame Soba Noodles
- Savoury Miso Sesame Oatmeal
- Roasted Edamame: 2 Ways
- Kimchi Noodle Jar
- Green Pea, Edamame & Mint Dip
- Deconstructed Sushi Bowl with Sweet Sesame Dressing
Are you ready to make a shift to a plant-based diet?
It is only one phone call away! Get a vegan registered dietitian to help create your healthy vegan diet!
Start with a free discovery call with one of our plant-based dietitians who will gladly assist you in planning your new vegan diet, answering your questions, and providing several tools to help you get on track.
Want to learn more?
If you are interested in learning more about plant-based diets, please take a look at our beginner’s guide to starting a vegan diet which helps provide simple tips and advice to guide you through the process.
Furthermore, if you would like to read more about vegan diets and what to eat, check out this article.