What and how you eat during menopause can have a significant impact on your health, energy levels and symptoms. At Bia, we take a food first approach, where we encourage you to try and get as much nutrition from your diet, before topping up extra supplements. In this article, we will cover the glycaemic index of foods and phytoestrogens.
The glycaemic index is a rating system for foods that contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted into sugars by the body. The GI shows how quickly sugar is converted from foods and released into your blood stream. High GI foods are quickly broken down by the body, resulting in faster sugar release and a rapid increase in blood sugar whereas foods with a lower GI don't lead to a quick spike in blood sugar.
High GI foods are linked to increased risk of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease. Too much of these foods will also make you feel tired and lethargic. Examples of high GI foods include pasta, rice and potatoes; where possible these foods should be replaced with low GI foods such as fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain foods.
Eating this way will help you reduce weight gain during the menopause as well as increase overall energy levels.
Phytoestrogens are plant substances that have a similar structure to oestrogens made by the body and can mimic some of the same effects. Phytoestrogens are available from certain foods, or you can buy them as food supplements. The results vary between each person with more scientific research still needed, but many women report improved symptoms when they increase the number of phytoestrogens in their diet.
There are many different types of phytoestrogens, but the most important for menopause symptoms are called 'isoflavones' and 'lignans'. Isoflavanes can be found in soybeans, soy milk, chickpeas, beans and peas. Whereas oily seeds, such as flaxseeds and sunflower seeds; rye, broccoli, kale and other legumes are rich in lignans. Women worldwide who have high levels of isoflavones in their diets, such as vegetarians and the Japanese, appear to have lower rates of menopause symptoms, heart conditions, and cancers. There is even evidence that higher consumption of isoflavones improves bone health!
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published menopause treatment guidelines in 2015 that include phytoestrogens. Substances such as red clover and black cohosh may relieve some menopause symptoms and can be tried. We advise you to check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any supplements as they may not be suitable for everyone, especially if you already take medication or have a history of cancer.
Each person has an individual profile of bacteria in their gut. Research has shown that about 30-50% of people have the enzymes to convert food sources of phytoestrogens into active substances that relieve symptoms, which means only half of us may benefit from the effects. Interestingly, vegetarians and people in Eastern cultures typically have higher levels of these gut converting bacteria – between 60-80% of these populations.