Menopause is a natural phase of every woman’s life. But the side effects of fluctuating hormones feel anything but normal. Additionally, hormonal changes during menopause increase the risk of serious diseases, including osteoporosis, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. But increasing your consumption of the following seven foods can help.
Technically a seed (not a whole grain), buckwheat is an excellent source of complex carbs, essential for serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked with memory and mood. Studies show that complex carbs help relieve depression and elevate mood. According to other research, having a carb-containing meal at dinner may shorten sleep onset. Buckwheat is gluten-free and rich in B vitamins, which also impact mood.
Try this: Stir-fry cooked buckwheat with eggs, green onions, carrots, ginger, and tamari for a twist on fried rice; toss cooked buckwheat with chopped parsley, red onions, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and olive oil; soak uncooked buckwheat, chia seeds, and coconut milk overnight, then serve with berries and honey as a quick breakfast.
2. Collard greens
Calcium is essential during menopause; osteoporosis affects one of three postmenopausal women, and for those women, the lifetime risk of fractures is higher than the risk of breast cancer. One cup of collards has as much calcium as a cup of milk, and some studies suggest the absorption of calcium from vegetables is twice as high as from dairy. Plus, collards are rich in vitamin K and magnesium, also critical for bone health.
Try this: Sauté shredded collard greens, chickpeas, and garlic in olive oil and harissa; tear collard leaves into chip-sized pieces, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast until crispy; massage thinly sliced collard leaves with olive oil and vinegar, then toss with radishes, sweet onions, and crumbled feta cheese for a quick salad.
Like salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish, sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent hot flashes and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and breast cancer. Omega-3 fats also reduce triglyceride levels and protect the heart—especially important for women receiving hormone therapy, which can increase triglyceride levels. And if you eat canned sardines with bones, you’ll also be getting calcium.
Try this: Mix canned sardines with bread crumbs, minced onions, chopped parsley, and eggs, form into patties, and cook in olive oil; in a food processor, combine smoked sardines, yogurt, smoked paprika, and black pepper, process until just smooth, and serve with vegetables for dipping; spread mashed avocado on toast, layer with grilled onions and sardines, and sprinkle with parsley.
Flaxseeds are the richest source of lignans—phytoestrogens that are structurally similar to estrogens and may reduce breast cancer risk. Flax has also been shown to reduce night sweats and hot flashes and improve quality of life during menopause. In some studies, 40 grams per day of flaxseed had effects similar to hormone replacement therapy for decreasing menopausal symptoms.
Try this: Beat ground flaxseeds with buckwheat flour, honey, and eggs, and make silver-dollar pancakes; blend ground flax with sunflower seeds, basil, garlic, arugula, and lemon for a nut-free pesto; mix flaxseeds with chia seeds, coconut milk, and coconut sugar, then top with cacao nibs and toasted coconut chips.
5. Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce is a concentrated source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, some studies show that lycopene can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. While tomatoes in general are high in lycopene, cooking them breaks down cell walls and makes the lycopene more available; adding olive oil further increases bioavailability.
Try this: Cook tomato sauce with pumpkin purée, shallots, and stock, add miso paste and purée until smooth; simmer tomato sauce with minced onion, garlic, Kalamata olives, capers, and anchovies for a fast puttanesca sauce; heat tomato sauce and chopped spinach in a shallow pan, crack in eggs, simmer until whites set, and serve hot with shaved Parmesan.
Like flax, soy contains phytoestrogens that mimic the actions of estrogen and can relieve symptoms of menopause. Findings on the effects of isoflavones—phytoestrogens in soy—are mixed, but some studies show a benefit to hot flash frequency and/or severity. In one study, soy reduced hot flashes by 45 percent. Populations with a high soy consumption also have a significant reduction in breast cancer incidence, and isoflavones may also have protective effects on cardiovascular and bone health. Soy can be hard to digest, so stick to tempeh; because it’s fermented, tempeh is easier to digest and has a higher content of B vitamins and increased antioxidant capacity.
Try this: Stir-fry sliced tempeh with broccolini, thinly sliced onions, shiitake mushrooms, and cashews; simmer crumbled tempeh with onions, peppers, tomato sauce, and seasonings for a vegan sloppy Joe; marinate tempeh cubes in tamari, olive oil, and garlic powder, then bake until crispy for grain-free croutons.
7. Black Beans
Black beans and other legumes are loaded with fiber, which protects against breast cancer after menopause. They’re also rich in B vitamins, important for mood, and magnesium, which protects bone health, improves sleep, and may relieve anxiety and depression. Black beans have higher levels of antioxidants than other varieties of beans; they’re especially rich in anthocyanins, which have been shown in studies to protect against the risk of heart disease after menopause.
Try this: Cook black beans with shredded sweet potatoes, chopped kale, and cumin for quick-and-easy breakfast hash; simmer black beans with green bell peppers, onions, bay leaves, and oregano, and top with avocado, cilantro, and sour cream; purée black beans with tahini, olive oil, and garlic, then stir in finely minced jalapeño peppers for a spicy hummus for snacking.