The start of the menopause brings many symptoms with it, such as hot flushes, night sweats, aches and pains in the joints, irritability, low mood, mood swings and lack of concentration. These are all caused by depleted levels of oestrogen which continue to decline throughout the menopause. It’s not all bad news though as there is something that we can do to help improve our oestrogen levels. We can boost our oestrogen levels by eating plant oestrogens (phytoestrogen) which are in certain foods. These have been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms if we eat enough of them and eat them regularly. This might explain why some women don’t seem to suffer as badly as others, if they have a diet rich in phytoestrogens.
Plant oestrogens are very similar to human oestrogen and, if enough is consumed, can ease menopausal symptoms, and make them less troublesome. This will be different for every woman and can take up to 3 months to see a difference, according to the British Dietetic Association. You need to eat these foods regularly at least 2 or 3 times a day, every day to get the most benefit, so trying to add some into every meal is the best way to do this.
For the phytoestrogens to work properly, you need to make sure that the bacteria in your gut is healthy or friendly, so in order to do this you need to eat more fermented foods such as:
Yogurt – any yogurt is good for gut health, as it naturally contains many probiotic cultures, but yogurt such as Fage Greek yogurt or yogurt labelled ‘live and active’ are especially beneficial
Sauerkraut – the probiotics in sauerkraut can help to improve the balance of bacteria in your gut
Kefir – a fermented milk drink that tastes like a yogurt drink, just watch the sugar levels in some of the flavoured ones
Gherkins – my favourite – these are low in calories and are a great source of healthy probiotic bacteria which may help to improve gut health
Other things to look at to help with digestive health are eating less sugar, reducing stress, getting enough exercise and sleep and avoiding taking unnecessary antibiotics, as these kill the good bacteria as well as the bad.
So, once your digestive system is back on track (this alone can help with menopausal problems) here are some foods rich in oestrogen that you can eat on a daily basis:
- Soya – you want to be eating fermented soya foods such as miso and tempeh. Miso is a fermented paste made from soybeans, that adds flavour to foods such as soups and stir frys. You can add it wine vinegar to make a salad dressing or marinade or add to cooked onions to pop on your burger. Tempeh is a protein rich, meat substitute with a firm texture, made from soybeans. It has a nutty flavour and can be used in sandwiches, stir frys, salad and curries. These are both available in supermarkets and local health food shops. Try to avoid soya products like milk, yogurt and cheese as these are difficult to digest and can cause bloating.
- Nuts – in particular, walnuts have been shown to increase certain bacteria that can improve digestive health. These are an energy dense, high calorie food so aim to be having no more than 2-3 a day, and try to eat them every day.
- Seeds – in particular, flaxseed, linseed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. These are high in lignans, a type of phytoestrogen. Make sure that you are using ground seeds in order to get the hormonal benefit from them. Whole seeds are excellent in helping with things like constipation. They are very versatile and can be used in smoothies, yogurt and soup as well as adding them to bread, cereal and salad. I sprinkle a handful on my branflakes every morning.
- Edamame beans (soybeans) – these are one of the most effective oestrogen boosting foods and one of my favourites. I add these to soups, chillis, curries, stews, sandwiches and even scrambled eggs!
- Hummus – hummus is made from chickpeas which is a good source of phytoestrogens. This is a very healthy snack when combined with carrot, cucumber and celery sticks.
- Lentils – these are another good source of phytoestrogens and another of my favourites as they are so versatile. They can be added into soups, stews, chillis and stirfrys, almost anything, in fact. I like to add a mix of different colours.
- Fruit – add this to your diet in moderation as it is quite high in sugar. The best fruits are berries, peaches and dried fruit – just watch portion sizes.
- Garlic – this is easy to incorporate into your daily diet as garlic is widely used in all types of cooking, add some to your dinners each night.
- Wholegrain bread including flax, rye, wheat and barley have high levels of lignans (a kind of phytoestrogen) and is a great way to boost oestrogen levels. I often have dark rye bread as a snack.
- Alfalfa Sprouts – these have very high levels of phytoestrogens as well as being low in calories and having high levels of vitamin K and vitamin C. Add these into salads, sandwiches, stirfrys or pop some on top of your burger.
To give you an idea of how I incorporate these foods into my diet, as an example, I have a handful of flaxseed on my branflakes for breakfast, then I might have some Greek yogurt with blueberries and nuts either after my morning workout or just mid-morning. Lunch is usually chicken and avocado with edamame beans on wholemeal pitta and then in the afternoon I might have a peach, some hummus and cucumber, a slice of dark rye bread with peanut butter or a handful of nuts and seeds. Tea might be a chilli, or stirfry which will include edamame beans, garlic and lentils, or salad including gherkins and seeds with dark rye bread. If I’m having meat or fish, I include lots of vegetables (usually over half my plate), including broccoli and/or cauliflower as these are both rich in phytoestrogens.
Try to make small changes to your diet and see if it makes a difference ????
Take a look at our other blogs on menopause!
- Symptoms of the menopause; how they can affect your workouts – and what to do about it
- Menopause and sleep – or lack of it!
Caroline & Hannah xx