Top Nutrients You Need in Menopause
Much to our dismay, there are many aspects of menopause we can’t control. However, what we choose to eat is one major area we can control that will substantially impact optimal health and quality of life now and later.
Nutritional needs change across our lifespan, especially for women. As we shift from a reproductive (premenopause) to a non-reproductive life stage (postmenopause), our bodies change, and certain nutrients become essential to good health. Before we dive into what they are, let’s talk about how our bodies are changing across the menopause life stage.
Menopause and Its Impact On Nutritional Needs
Estrogen plays a part in bone and muscle health, cardiovascular health, and metabolic function. Hormone changes during menopause lead to various physical changes affecting nutritional needs.
Bone loss accelerates dramatically due to estrogen changes in menopause and continues into postmenopausal life. It was estimated in a 2014 study that 10.2 million adults have osteoporosis in the US, 80% of which are women.
During menopause, estrogen-induced metabolic shifts naturally cause a progressive loss in muscle mass and a simultaneous increase in fat mass. Losing weight or even maintaining weight can become much more difficult in menopause.
Finally, the combination of metabolic changes that happen with aging is amplified during menopause and increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease for women.
All these changes can impact what nutrients are most important during midlife. Many health changes during menopause will also last into the postmenopause phase of life. Early awareness of changing nutrient needs during menopause is important for your long-term health.
Five Nutrients You Need During Midlife
There are many nutritional considerations for women at each stage of life. However, there are five top nutrients for optimal midlife health:
Adequate calcium is vital to protecting bone health as women age. Ensuring you consume enough calcium will help mediate bone loss and protect against fractures. The recommended daily calcium requirement for women over 50 is 1,200 mg daily. That is the equivalent of about four glasses of milk. Dairy products are the best source of calcium, but other plant foods such as nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, and beans are also great foods to boost calcium in your diet.
Vitamin D is essential to many health functions, but Vitamin D is key to optimizing calcium absorption for bone health. Vitamin D status is also linked to risk factors for heart disease, so this nutrient is vital for various reasons as women age. The benefits of calcium will only be effective with adequate Vitamin D as well. At least 800 IUs per day is recommended, but your doctor may be able to assess your needs based on blood tests for a more customized recommendation. You can get Vitamin D from daily exposure to the sun – 10-15 minutes is all you need. Vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified dairy, and cereal products are also helpful.
Among its many jobs, magnesium plays a role in hormone levels, thyroid function, and bone health, all of which are of particular concern for women during menopause. Inadequate magnesium can negatively affect bone mass. There is evidence that blood magnesium levels naturally decline in menopause and beyond. Adequate magnesium can also improve bothersome symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Supplements should not be necessary if you’re eating a proper amount of green vegetables, nuts, cereals, meat, fish, and fruit.
B Vitamins are essential for normal metabolism and energy production, including Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), B6, B9 (Folate), and B12. Aging affects adequate absorption of B Vitamins; thus, dietary needs naturally increase. Sufficient B Vitamins are essential for symptom management to improve energy, brain health, and even cardiovascular disease. Meat, poultry, fish, especially shellfish, eggs, fortified cereals, and citrus fruits are excellent sources of B Vitamins.
Adequate fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help both heart disease risk and improve constipation symptoms common in menopause. At least 21 g per day of fiber is recommended.
Your Best Source of Nutrients
The food you eat daily should always be the priority to ensure your nutrient needs are met. Some research has shown supplementation can only do so much for bone health. For example, a study published in 2020 determined that calcium supplementation lessened bone mineral loss but not the risk of bone fracture.
In some cases, supplements are warranted and beneficial to your health, but you can also overdo it on supplements and create other health issues. Talk with your doctor about what may be recommended based on your personal health needs and lifestyle.
Superfoods – Fact or Myth?
No single food can do the work of ensuring your nutrient needs are met during menopause. Following a healthy eating pattern such as the Mediterranean diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods rich in vitamins and minerals is your best bet for health and quality of life as you age.
Inadequate dietary intake is the most common reason for any vitamin or mineral deficiency. A balanced diet with extra attention to nutrients of concern in menopause is essential.
Lindsey Jerke has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for over 10 years and currently works in the food industry. She is passionate about food and cooking and loves writing on just about any food topic. She believes in the power of food to fuel both our physical health and everyday joy.
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