From mood swings and weight gain to hot flashes and fatigue, perimenopause is a time that is loaded with life-draining physical and emotional changes.
And while perimenopause symptoms are common, they are not normal.
You do not have to struggle through this time or just hope and pray that you will feel better once menopause officially starts (who wants to wait that long to start enjoying life?!).
As with all situations involving hormonal changes, food plays a key role in determining whether you sail through perimenopause (or struggle every step of the way).
So, in this article, we’re going to talk about the essentials of a perimenopause diet by looking at:
- The role that food plays in supporting your body.
- Foods to include – and avoid – in your perimenopause meal plans.
- Bonus tips to have success with your perimenopause diet.
Hormonal Changes During Perimenopause and Why Diet Matters
Most of the conversations around perimenopause focus a lot on estrogen and ignore two other important hormones: progesterone and cortisol.
Here’s why these two hormones can significantly impact your experience with perimenopause:
- Progesterone counterbalances estrogen. These two hormones must be within a certain ratio. If your progesterone is low for any reason, you can find yourself in a situation where estrogen dominates. Furthermore, progesterone is a calming hormone and plays a role in stabilizing our mood, alleviating PMS and helping us to process emotions.
- Cortisol goes up when we are stressed. The stress can come from family, career and or even, unhealthy diet (be it pesticide residue, not enough nutrients and more). In addition, the more stress you face, the more your blood sugar goes up, the more likely you are to face insulin resistance and the less progesterone you have (because more of your progesterone is used up to make cortisol).
- Nutrients get depleted when we’re stressed. The more stressful elements you have in your life, the more your body uses up your nutrients (in an attempt to fight off the damaging effects of stress). So it becomes even more important to eat healthy.
Overall, the combination of lower progesterone levels and potentially higher cortisol levels, can drive many of the symptoms associated with perimenopause, including:
- Weight gain.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Hot flashes.
- Mood swings.
- Irregular cycles and period imbalances (such as more intense PMS and heavy periods).
THE BEST DIET FOR PERIMENOPAUSE: ANTI-INFLAMMATORY
The hormonal changes caused by our diet and lifestyle can trigger our inflammatory or stress response. Subsequently, this can worsen how we experience the natural changes that occur with perimenopause.
So, to break that inflammatory cycle you need an anti-inflammatory diet to address the root cause of symptoms.
Now, there’s only one category of foods that are anti-inflammatory: whole foods.
- All plants: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and pulses.
- Some animal foods: eggs, fatty fish, lean protein and little to no red meat.
- Herbs and spices (which technically are plants).
We will dive into the specifics of these food categories a little later in the article.
But for now, just know that these are the foods that fall under the anti-inflammatory label.
FOODS TO AVOID DURING PERIMENOPAUSE
While anti-inflammatory foods help alleviate perimenopause symptoms, some foods exacerbate symptoms.
Here’s a list of some of the most common foods to avoid:
- Processed foods and drinks: Things like chips, crackers, pastries, soda and cookies often contain high levels of refined sugar and refined fats. These are highly inflammatory and can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
- Coffee: While coffee isn’t inherently bad, it does stimulate the adrenals. If your adrenals are already working overtime, coffee can worsen things. Consider avoiding coffee for a while so that your body can bounce back as you eat healthier.
- Alcohol: your liver treats alcohol like an emergency. It has to take time to process and break down the alcohol. So, while it’s busy doing that, it’s not able to focus on clearing out other hormone-disrupting compounds and helping you maintain healthy hormone levels.
- Unfermented, Non-organic Dairy: conventional dairy – especially unfermented types – can be inflammatory and worsen symptoms like bloating. Consider switching to non-dairy alternatives such as almond or coconut milk.
- Red meat: unfortunately, red meat tends to be pro-inflammatory. Try to cut back your intake and opt for anti-inflammatory proteins instead (like plant proteins and fatty fish).
- Gluten: for some people, gluten can be inflammatory (even if you don’t have Celiac disease). Consider switching to gluten-free grains like quinoa, rice, and oats.
PERIMENOPAUSE DIET PLAN: FOOD LIST AND TIPS FOR SUCCESS
There is no one perfect fruit, vegetable or eating style that works for every single woman.
But there are some foundational guidelines that can help you get started.
In this section I’m going to outline those guidelines. Please adjust them as necessary based on how body responds:
- Enjoy a variety of phytoestrogen-rich foods: these foods can help with symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood. Although soy is the most abundant source of phytoestrogens, other sources include flaxseeds, cherries, beans, sprouts, plums, pear, onions and berries.
- Don’t skimp on healthy carbs: unrefined carbs help stabilize blood sugar levels and support healthy energy levels. Good sources include sweet potatoes, beets, squash, brown rice, oats, quinoa and legumes.
- Go organic for animal products: whether it’s eggs, butter or lean proteins, organic is best. You want to avoid the growth hormones and antibiotics that are often given to animals. As for fish, stick with wild-caught varieties.
- Don’t skimp on fats: fats are essential for producing all of our sex hormones and for supporting the menstrual cycle. So make sure to enjoy plenty of healthy fats like avocados, coconuts, nuts and seeds.
- Prioritize plant proteins: get into the habit of eating more plant proteins. They are anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense.
- Stay (or get) regular: if you’re not having at least one bowel movement a day, add more fiber and whole foods to your diet. Daily bowel movements are a must to get rid of hormone disruptors in your body. So, eat foods that support gut health. This includes fermented vegetables, leafy greens and prebiotic-rich foods like artichokes or mushrooms.
- Take a daily multivitamin: whether it’s magnesium for sleep, vitamin E for hot flashes or vitamin K for bone health, there are lots of nutrients that your body needs. A good multivitamin and multi-mineral complex can help you fill in gaps from your diet.
- Consider eating for your cycle: with so many changes happening in your body, your cycle can be strongly affected. This is a good time to consider adapting your food choices to the phases of your cycle. Get started with this guide on what to eat during each phase of the menstrual cycle.
- Support progesterone production: besides counterbalancing estrogen, progesterone is critical for the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and for balancing mood. Healthy fats, along with foods that are rich in magnesium, vitamin C and zinc are helpful for the production of this calming hormone.
To wrap up this section, here’s a short sample of foods to consider adding to your grocery list (you are not limited to these…it’s just a suggestion to get you started).
- All berries
- Citrus fruits
If you have signs for estrogen dominance – such as heavy periods, weight gain or tender breasts – cruciferous vegetables can be very helpful.
They help your body metabolize estrogen and can go a long way towards alleviating many perimenopause symptoms. Some cruciferous veggies to enjoy include:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
NOTE: Don’t forget to mix things up with other vegetables. This will keep you from getting bored with the same foods and also give your body a wide range of nutrients.
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies)
- Red meat (sparingly)
- All nuts and se
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
- All nuts
- All seeds
- Cooking oils like coconut, olive, ghee, sesame and so on.
- Dried dates
- Chia seeds
- Cruciferous vegetables (Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.)
Herbs and Spices
When it comes to herbs and spices, there really is no limit.
Go with whatever you like.
Even though many people say to avoid hot spices – because they trigger hot flashes – these spices are not the underlying cause of hot flashes.
They are triggers.
So, work on addressing the underlying imbalance in the body and you can enjoy cayenne (and hot other spicy ingredients)!
Here’s a very short list of some herbs and spices that you can add to your routine:
- Sage (helps hot flashes in tea or supplement form)
- Peppermint (helps hot flashes in tea and essential oil form)
- Hibiscus (cooling and may help hot flashes and blood pressure)
For even more foods you can enjoy, use this hormone balancing diet guide.
By focusing on nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods, you can experience more ease and thrive during perimenopause.
Just remember that the changes you are making are meant to be long-term (not just a quick fix).
By developing these healthy habits during perimenopause, you’ll have an easier time when your body officially transitions into menopause and beyond.
You Might Also Like:
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Everything You Need To Know About Estrogen Dominance During Perimenopause
Herbs for Menopause Weight Gain (+ Best Supplements)
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